Korean Names

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A Korean personal name consists of a family name followed by a given name. Both of these are usually composed of hanja, which are Chinese characters in Korean pronunciation. Hanja are no longer used officially in North Korea, and their use in given names is restricted to 5,038 characters in South Korea.

In most cases, the family name consists of a single syllable, and the given name of two syllables. When using European languages, some Koreans keep the original order, while others reverse the names to match the Western pattern. In Korea, a married woman does not change her family name to her husband’s. Middle names are not recognized in Korea in the Western sense, in which there is a clear differentiation from the given name. Despite this fact, entering one of the two syllables of the given name in place of middle name on non-Korean document is common, due to either the lack of understanding or just for convenience.

Only about 250 Korean family names are in use. Of these, Kim, Lee, and Park are the most common. However, most holders of a particular name are not closely related. Current family names have their origin in the lineage system used in previous historical periods. Each clan is associated with a specific place, such as the Gimhae Kim. In most cases, such a clan traces its origin to a common patrilineal ancestor.

In the course of Korean history, the use of names has evolved. Early names based on the Korean language are recorded in the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE -668 CE), but were gradually replaced by names based on Chinese characters with the growing adoption of Chinese writing system. During periods of Mongol and Manchu influence, the ruling class supplemented their Korean names with Mongol and Manchu names. In addition, during the later period of Japanese rule in the early 20th century, Koreans were forced to adopt Japonified names.

45 percent of Korean people bear the family name Kim, Lee, or Park