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.
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.
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.
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.
The first but very uncommon way to get the last name is when the King gifted the last name to someone as a favor.
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.
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.
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 last manes||Meaning|
|An (안)||within, interior, or back|
|Ahn (안)||a common Korean surname that means tranquility|
|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|
|Gang (강)||a Korean family name that originated from the Chinese word Jiang, which means ginger|
|Gok (곡)||a prevalent last name among Chinese individuals from the Tang Dynasty|
|Gwan (관)||pipe or tube|
|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|
|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|
|Kong (콩)||to hallow, empty, or sky|
|Ki (기)||tree or wood|
|Kim (김)||among the top Korean surnames, which means gold, metal, or iron|
|Ku (구)||utensils or tools|
|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|
|Nam (남)||man or south|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Yoo (요)||Willow tree|
|Yun/Yoon (윤)||the eldest|
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