Korean Last Names: 86 Popular Surnames And Their Meaning

last names in korean

Are you wondering why many Koreans have the same last names? It’s a mystery for most people, which 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, husbands, and/or masters back in the day.

You’ll find many people with the same last names in North and South Korea, like Lee, Kim, and Park. For example, the Korean family surname ‘Kim.’ After listening to this word, you most likely remember many famous people with this surname, such as Kim Bum, Kim Tae-hee, Kim Ji-soo, and Kim Da-mi.

As outsiders, the first time we encounter Korean last names, 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 most common Korean last names?

Well, if you want answers to those questions, keep on reading!

The Most Popular Korean Last Names

Here’s the top 10 list of popular Korean last names:

  1. Kim (김)
  2. Lee (이)
  3. Park (박)
  4. Choi (최)
  5. Jeong (정)
  6. Kang (강)
  7. Cho/Jo (조)
  8. Yoon/Yun (윤)
  9. Jang (장)
  10. Im (임)

Korean Last Names: A Brief Background

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 were used by Koreans. If you think about it, this number is extremely low for a country with a population of 51 million. This is because 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 21.5% of South Korea’s population. Another popular Korean last name is Lee which covers 14.7% of the population, and Park, which covers 8.4% 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 all the way back to the first Korean Kingdom, which is the Gaya and Silla. Back then, the last name of the royal family of both kingdoms was 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.

Common Korean Last names - cute last names

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.


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.

What Is The Prevalence Of Korean Last Names?

During 500 years of ruling Joseon, commoners gradually acquired their Korean last names. In fact, even the slaves had their last names in the last hundred years and chose to adopt the Korean last names Kim, Lee, and Park. These last names have grown so significant to the point that even commoners and slaves used them to hide their social hierarchy. So, if you’re asking if all Koreans with 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 chose Lee, Park, Kim, Jung, Choi, Jo, Yoon, Kang, Im, Jang, Shin, and Yu.

Today, many Koreans have Kim, Park, and Lee as their last names. These “big three” are the prestigious Korean last names that are primarily associated with royals and the upper class. The last name Kim means gold, and it is also the last name of Kings.

What Are The Surnames Used In South Korea?

Korean surnames have varying meanings based on the Chinese characters used. Here, we list the most commonly associated meanings for each name. For a more precise interpretation, please verify the Chinese characters for the surname.

MeaningsKorean Last Names
tranquilityAhn (안)
clothBae (배)
whiteBaek (백)
directionBang (방)
lawByun (변)
givingChang (장)
quiet, or gentleCheong (정)
land, or groundChi (지)
nationCho (조)
moving shape, or highChoi (최)
autumn, or seasonChu (추)
comfortable, great roadGang (강)
goldKim (김)
equipped, or completeGu (구)
summer, or waterHa (하)
The Han DynastyHan (한)
admitHeo (허)
wide, or bigHong (홍)
yellowHwang (황)
forestIm (임)
fieldJeon (전)
The Jin DynastyJin (진)
amazingKi (기)
auspiciousKil (길)
countryKuk (국)
circumference, edgeKwak (곽)
plum treeLee (이)
horseMa (마)
southNam (남)
kind of treePark (박)
calm, or quietSeo (서)
stoneSeok (석)
fulfilledSeong (성)
The Song dynastySong (송)
repeatShin (신)
king or monarchWang (왕)
wooden bridgeYang (양)
overcomeYoo (유)
reliable, shinyYoon (윤)

What Are The Rarest Last Names In Korea?

Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without the rarest last names. These rare last names are usually reserved for people whose relatives were from a noble rank before South Korea’s democratic government. It may even be hard for celebrities to bear these unique surnames.

Here are just some of the rarest last names in Korea that you may (or may not) encounter.

  1. Sam (삼)
  2. Jeo (저 <邸>)
  3. Noe (뇌)
  4. Cheon (천)
  5. Geun (근)

Learn Korean With The Ling App

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 need help from a reliable language-learning platform to help you succeed in learning a language like the Ling app.

With the Ling app, prepare yourself for a fun-filled language-learning experience. Enjoy the variety of topics, mini-games, and quizzes that the app has prepared for you to keep yourself engaged while learning. You can also practice what you have learned through dialogues and talking with chatbots to strengthen your learning. Through this app, you can learn Korean and 60+ other languages conveniently. You don’t need to bring bulky books with you because you can learn anywhere and anytime by downloading the app on your mobile phone.

So, grab your phone and download the Ling app on the Play Store or App Store now!

Updated by: CJ

5 Responses

  1. While Korean last name have phonetic sound, last name also have different characteristic spelling (hanja). As they say do not judge a book by its cover, and with Korean last name, do not make assumption based on the sound but also look at its origin from the character associated with its original ideogram.

  2. Has anyone ever heard of the last name “Whee”? Or spelled that way? I am very flummoxed. My mother’s maiden name is Whee.

    1. Hey there! “충” is not a surname, you will commonly see it in Korean names. Thank you for reading our blog!

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