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86 Most Popular Korean Last Names

April 19, 2022

Are you wondering why many Koreans have the same last names? It's a mystery for most people and this is what we will tackle in today's post. Basically, Korean last names are known as 성 (pronounced as seong) and are usually gotten by the locals through their parents, husband, and/or masters back in the day. Let's dive deeper into this in the sections below.

If you're going to talk on a pool of people in North and South Korea, you'll find a lot of people with the same last names like Lee, Kim, and Park. Just the Korean family name Kim, you probably know a lot of famous people like Kim Bum, Kim Tae-hee, Kim Ji-soo, and Kim Da-mi.

As an outsider, we cannot stop ourselves from becoming curious. Are all Koreans with the same last names both in South Korea and North Korea related to each other? Why do they have the same surnames? What are the common Korean last names? If you want answers, just keep on reading.

 

Korean Last Names: A Brief Background

Last Names Seong

One of the most interesting things about Korean culture is their last names. The Korean word for last name or surname is 성 (seong). With a total of 51 million population, isn't it amazing to know that Korean last names are mostly just Kim, Lee, and Park? These Korean last names are called "the big three".

In the year 2015, there were a total of 286 Korean last names that were used by Koreans. If you think about it, for a country that has a 51 million population, this number is extremely low. The reason behind this is that Korea is dominated by "the big three" of Korean last names, which are Kim, Lee, and Park.

The Korean last name Kim is on the top with a total of 10,689 967 people whose last name is Kim. This is equivalent to 20.6% of South Korea's population. Another popular Korean last name is Lee which covers 14.1% of the population, and Park, which covers 8.1% of the population. Other popular Korean surnames are Choi, Jung, Kang, Jo, Yoon, Jang, and Im.

 

Why Do Koreans Have The Same Last Name?

The answer can be traced down all the way back to the first Korean Kingdom, which is the Gaya and Silla. Back then, the last names of the royal family of both kingdoms are Kim. The surname Kim became the most sought-after last name in Korea. But, what's interesting about this is that during those times, last names are only reserved for individuals with power or for people in the upper class.

 

How Do Koreans Get Their Last Names?

If the Korean last names Kim, Lee, and Park are mostly for the royals, how do commoners get these Korean last names? Koreans have three ways to get their surnames.

Gifted

The first but very uncommon way to get the last name is when the King gifted the last name to someone as a favor.

Genealogy Books

This is also a rare situation, but it still happens. In Korean, a genealogy book is called jokbo or chokbo. It is used to record the family history and ancestors.

Census

The census is the most common and definitely the easiest way to get the last name. An individual will just have to register during the census, which happens every three years.

 

The Prevalence Of Korean Last Names

During 500 years of ruling Joseon, commoners have gradually acquired their Korean last names. In fact, even the slaves had their last names in the last hundred years, and they chose to adopt the Korean last names Kim, Lee, and Park. These last names have grown so big to the point that even commoners and slaves used them to hide their social hierarchy. So, if you're asking if all of the Koreans who have the same last names are related by blood, well, definitely not.

During the Japanese colonization period, Koreans were forced to have last names, and people ended up choosing Lee, Park, Kim, Jung, Choi, Jo, Yoon, Kang, Im, Jang, Shin, and Yu.

Today, there are a lot of Koreans with Kim, Park, and Lee as their last names. These "big three" are the prestigious Korean last names that are mostly associated with royals and the upper class. The last name Kim means gold, and it is also the last name of Kings. So, if your last name is one of the "big three", people will look at you with respect.

 

Korean Surnames Used In South Korea

Korean last manesMeaning
An (안)within, interior, or back
Ahn (안)a common Korean surname that means tranquility
Bae (배)pear
Baek (백)white
Bang (방)derived from a Korean word that means room
Bu (부)wealth, fortune, or part
Bin (빈)empty or void
Byun (변)derived from the Chinese surname that has lots of references like excitable, impatient, or edge
Cha (차)This last name relates to a chariot and dates back to the 10th century AD on the Korean peninsula
Chay (어떤 것)brushwood
Chai (차이)derived from a Chinese word that means firewood
Chang (창)another popular Korean surname derived that has a Chinese origin that means prosperous or flourishing
Cheong (청)quiet, or gentle
Chi (치)limb or a branch
Cho (초)second, beginning, or candle
Choi (최)derived from the Korean term high tower or lofty
Chu (추)derived from the Chinese word Zhu. It can refer to the name of an ancient state in China, "Zhu". It can also mean vermilion red. It was the family name of Ming dynasty emperors and is derived from the ancient state of Zhu
Dang (당)justice, party, or sugar
Dong-Geun (동근)East root or foundation
Gae (개)dog
Gang (강)a Korean family name that originated from the Chinese word Jiang, which means ginger
Geun (근)ax
Gok (곡)a prevalent last name among Chinese individuals from the Tang Dynasty
Gwan (관)pipe or tube
Geum (금)gold
Goe (좋은)high
Gim (김)gold
Gu (구)phrase
Gyeon (견)"scenery" or view
Ha (하아)derived from Xia, which means summer
Hak (학)crane or learning
Hahm (흠)Weighing scales seller. This surname came from the western Korean occupational surname
Han (한)a country or a leader
Heo (허)one of the rarest Korean surnames that means to permit or advocate
Ho (호)one of the famous Korean family names that mean fierce or brave
Hong (홍)derived from the Chinese word that means great
Hwang (황)also has a Chinese origin that means yellow
Hyun (현)a unique Korean surname that means mysterious and profound
Im (임)a popular Korean last name derived from the Korean word Lin which means forest
In (에)stamp or India
Jang (장)bowyer or archer
Jee (지)came from the word Zhi which means ambition or will
Jeon (전)field
Jeong (정)chisel, tablet, or quiet
Jin (진)camp, lost, true, or a sign of a dragon
Joh (조)came from an ancient city in Shanxi province
Jong (목)bell, end, or species
Jung (정)young
Kang (강강)ginger
Keng (넓은)ginger
Kong (콩)to hallow, empty, or sky
Ki (기)tree or wood
Kil (길)cool
Kim (김)among the top Korean surnames, which means gold, metal, or iron
Ku (구)utensils or tools
Kuk (국)country
Kwak (곽)a variant of the Korean last name "Kwack" that means the surrounding area
Kangjeon (강전)a Korean last name originally from Japan
Lim (임)one of the common Korean last names, which means dependable
Lee (이)Formed from the Sino-Korean word "Li". This Korean surname means "plum tree"
Ma (마)after the Mokch’ŏn Ma clan
Man (만)only or just
Mae (매)falcon or clan
Mok (목)neck
Nam (남)man or south
Noe (뇌)thunder
Park/Bak (박)another one of the most common Koren last names in Korea means gourd
Pan (판)plate, edition, or board
Pae (패)came from the name of the Pae clan
Pung (풍)wind
Ryu (유)number four
Seo (瑞)felicitous omen or auspicious
Seok (石)tin or stone
Seo-jun (瑞)to unfold, be comfortable, open up, unfold, or be easy
Seong (성)succeeded or finished. Othe Korean variant of this last name is Sung, Soung, and Song
Seong-Hun (성훈)rank or meritorious deed
Si-u (시우)to start or begin
Song (송)The Song dynasty was the source of Song
Sun (순)net
Shin (신)The Shin Clans of the Chinese and Korean Peninsular regions are the origins of the surname Shin (신)
To (에)derived from the Chinese word dou. This last name means dipper or unit of measure
Wang (왕)King or monarch
Yang (양)bridge
Yoo (요)Willow tree
Yun/Yoon (윤)the eldest

 

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Did you enjoy learning about the most common Korean last names? You might also enjoy reading about Basic Korean Words And Phrases, Korean Food, and Korean Music. But, why not go further and learn more about the Korean language. Imagine watching K-dramas without subtitles or listening to K-pop music without translating the lyrics. Isn't it amazing? To do that, you'll be needing help from a reliable language learning platform that will help you achieve your success in learning a language like Ling App.

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