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|Hangul||이름 / 성명|
|Hanja||- / 姓名|
|Revised Romanization||ireum / |
|McCune–Reischauer||irŭm / sŏngmyŏng|
A Korean name consists of a family name followed by a given name, as used by the Korean people in both North Korea and South Korea. In the Korean language, 'ireum' or 'seong-myeong' usually refers to the family name (seong) and given name (ireum in a narrow sense) together. A long history of the use of family names has caused surname extinction. There are only about 250 Korean family names currently in use, and the three most common (Kim, Lee, and Park) account for nearly half of the population.
The family name is typically a single syllable, and the given name (in most cases) two syllables. There is no middle name in the Western sense. Many Koreans have their given names made of a generational name syllable and an individually distinct syllable, while this practice is declining in the younger generations. The generational name syllable is shared by siblings in North Korea, and by all members of the same generation of an extended family in South Korea. Married men and women usually keep their full personal names, and children inherit the father's family name.
Modern family names are subdivided into bon-gwan (clans), i.e. extended families which originate in the lineage system used in previous historical periods. Each clan is identified by a specific place, and traces its origin to a common patrilineal ancestor.
Early names based on the Korean language were recorded in the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE – 668 CE), but with the growing adoption of Chinese writing system, these were gradually replaced by names based on Chinese characters. During periods of Mongol influence, the ruling class supplemented their Korean names with Mongolian names. In addition, during the later period of Japanese rule in the early 20th century, Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names. In recent decades, there has been a trend towards using native Korean words as names, although still a small minority.
Because of the many changes in Korean romanization practices over the years, modern Koreans, when using European languages, romanize their names in various ways, most often approximating the pronunciation in English orthography. Some keep the original order of names, while others reverse the names to match the usual Western pattern.
 Family names
|리 (N) |
|李||Ri (N) |
|Ri (N) |
|Lee, Yi, Rhee, Rhie, Reeh, Yie, Ee|
There are roughly 250 family names in use today. Each family name is divided into one or more clans (bon-gwan), identifying the clan's city of origin. For example, the most populous clan is Gimhae Kim; that is, the Kim clan from the city of Gimhae. Clans are further subdivided into various pa, or branches stemming from a more recent common ancestor, so that a full identification of a persons family name would be clan-surname-branch.
Korean women traditionally keep their family name after marriage, but their children take the father's name. According to tradition, each clan publishes a comprehensive genealogy (jokbo) every 30 years.
There are around a dozen two-syllable surnames, all of which rank after the 100 most common surnames. The five most common family names, which together make up over half of the Korean population, are used by over 20 million people in South Korea.
 Given names
Traditionally, given names for males are partly determined by generation names, a custom originating in China. One of the two characters in a given name is unique to the individual, while the other is shared by all people in a family generation. Therefore, it is common for cousins to have the same character (dollimja) in their given names in the same fixed position. In North Korea, generational names are no longer shared across families, but are still commonly shared by brothers and sisters.
Given names are typically composed of hanja, or Chinese characters. In North Korea, the hanja are no longer used to write the names, but the meanings are still understood; thus, for example, the syllable cheol (철, 鐵) is used in boy's names with the meaning of "iron". In South Korea, section 37 of the Family Registry Law requires that the hanja in personal names be taken from a restricted list. Unapproved hanja must be represented by hangul, or Korean characters, in the family registry. In March 1991, the Supreme Court of South Korea published the Table of Hanja for Personal Name Use which allowed a total of 2,854 hanja in new South Korean given names (as well as 61 alternate forms). The list was expanded in 1994, 1997, 2001, and 2005. Thus there are now 5,038 hanja permitted in South Korean names, in addition to a small number of alternate forms.
While the traditional practice is still largely followed, since the late 1970s, some parents have given their children names that are native Korean words, usually of two syllables. This has been largely restricted to girl's names. Popular native Korean given names of this sort include Haneul (하늘; "Heaven" or "Sky"), Areum (아름; "Beauty"), Gippeum (기쁨; "Joy") and Iseul (이슬; "Dew"). Despite this trend away from traditional practice, people's names are still recorded in both hangul and hanja (if available) on official documents, in family genealogies, and so on.
 Forms of address
The usage of names is governed by strict norms in traditional Korean society. It is generally considered rude to address anyone by their given name in Korean culture. This is particularly the case when dealing with adults or one's elders. This is often a source of pragmatic difficulty for learners of Korean as a foreign language, and for Korean learners of Western languages.
A variety of replacements are used for the actual name of the person. It is acceptable among adults of similar status to address the other by their full name, with the suffix ssi (氏, 씨) added. However, it is inappropriate to address someone by their surname alone, even with such a suffix. Whenever the person has an official rank, it is typical to address him or her by the name of that rank (such as "Manager"), often with the honorific nim (님) added. In such cases, the full name of the person may be appended, although this can also imply that the speaker is of higher status.
Among children and close friends, it is common to use a person's birth name.
 Traditional nicknames
Among the common people, who and have suffered from high child mortality, children were often given amyeong (childhood name), to wish them long lives by avoiding notice from the messenger of death. These sometimes-insulting nicknames, are used sparingly for children today.
Upon marriage, women usually lost their amyeong, and were called by a taekho, referring to their town of origin.
In addition, teknonymy, or referring to parents by their children's names, is a common practice. It is most commonly used in referring to a mother by the name of her eldest son, as in "Cheolsu's mom" (철수 엄마). However, it can be extended to either parent and any child, depending upon the context.
The use of names has evolved over time, from the first recording of Korean names in the early Three Kingdoms period through the gradual adoption of Chinese forms of naming as centralized kingdoms came to dominate Korean life. A complex system, including courtesy names and pen names as well as posthumous names and childhood names, arose out of Confucian tradition. The courtesy name system in particular arose from the Classic of Rites, a core text of the Confucian canon.
 Native names
During the Three Kingdoms period, native given names were sometimes composed of three syllables like Misaheun (미사흔) and Sadaham (사다함), which were later transcribed into hanja (未斯欣, 斯多含). The use of family names was limited to kings in the beginning, but gradually spread to aristocrats and eventually to most of the population.
Some recorded family names are apparently native Korean words, such as toponyms. At that time, some characters of Korean names might have been read not by their Sino-Korean pronunciation but by their native reading (see hanja). For example, the native Korean name of Yeon Gaesomun (연개소문; 淵蓋蘇文), the first Grand Prime Minister of Goguryeo, can linguistically be reconstructed as "Eol Kasum" (/*älkasum/). Early Silla names are also believed to represent Old Korean vocabulary; for example, Bak Hyeokgeose, the name of the founder of Silla, was pronounced something like "Bulgeonuri" (弗矩內), which can be translated as "bright world".
 Confucian naming system
According to the chronicle Samguk Sagi, family names were bestowed by kings upon their supporters. For example, in 33 CE, King Yuri gave the six headmen of Saro (later Silla) the names Lee (이), Bae (배), Choe (최), Jeong (정), Son (손) and Seol (설). However, this account is not generally credited by modern historians, who hold that Confucian-style surnames as above were more likely to have come into general use in the 5th and subsequent centuries, as the Three Kingdoms increasingly adopted the Chinese model.
Only a handful of figures from the Three Kingdoms period are recorded as having borne a courtesy name, such as Seol Chong. The custom only became widespread in the Goryeo period, as Confucianism took hold among the literati. In 1055, Goryeo established a new law limiting access to the civil service exam to those with family names.
For men of yangban rank, a complex system of alternate names had developed by the Joseon Dynasty. Peasants sometimes had only amyong throughout their lives. According to a census taken in 1910, at the end of the Joseon Dynasty and the beginning of Japanese rule, a little more than half of the population did not have family names.
 Mongolian names
For a brief period after the Mongol invasion of Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty, Korean kings and aristocrats had both Mongolian and Sino-Korean names. The scions of the ruling class were sent to the Yuan court for schooling. For example, King Gongmin had both the Mongolian name Bayan Temür (伯顏帖木兒) and the Sino-Korean name Wang Gi (王祺) (later renamed Wang Jeon (王顓)).
 Japanese names
In 1939, as part of Governor-General Jiro Minami's policy of cultural assimilation (同化政策; dōka seisaku), Ordinance No. 20 (commonly called the "Name Order", or Sōshi-kaimei (創氏改名) in Japanese) was issued, and became law in April 1940. Although the Japanese Governor-General officially prohibited compulsion, low-level officials effectively forced Koreans to adopt Japanese-style family and given names. By 1944, approximately 84 percent of the population had registered Japanese family names.
Sōshi (Japanese) means the creation of a Japanese family name (shi, Korean ssi), distinct from a Korean family name or seong (Japanese sei). Japanese family names represent the families they belong to and can be changed by marriage and other procedures, while Korean family names represent paternal linkages and are unchangeable. Japanese policy dictated that Koreans either could register a completely new Japanese family name unrelated to their Korean surname, or have their Korean family name, in Japanese form, automatically become their Japanese name if no surname was submitted before the deadline.
After the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule, the Name Restoration Order (조선 성명 복구령; 朝鮮姓名復舊令) was issued on October 23, 1946 by the United States military administration south of the 38th parallel north, enabling Koreans to restore their Korean names if they wished to.
Japanese conventions of creating given names, such as using "子" (Japanese ko and Korean ja) in feminine names, is seldom seen in present-day Korea, either North or South. In the North, a campaign to eradicate such Japanese-based names was launched in the 1970s.
 Romanization and pronunciation
In English speaking nations, the three most common family names are often written and pronounced as "Kim" (김), "Lee" or "Rhee" (이, 리), and "Park" (박). Despite official Korean romanization systems used for geographic and other names in North and South Korea, personal names are generally romanized according to personal preference. Thus a family name such as "Lee" may also be found spelled "I", "Yi", "Rhee", and "Rhie".
The initial sound in "Kim" shares features with both the English 'k' (in initial position, an aspirated voiceless velar stop) and "hard g" (an unaspirated voiced velar stop). When pronounced initially, Kim starts with an unaspirated voiceless velar stop sound; it is voiceless like /k/, but also unaspirated like /ɡ/. As aspiration is a distinctive feature in Korean but voicing is not, "Gim" is more likely to be understood correctly. "Kim" is used nearly universally in both North and South Korea.
The family name "Lee" is pronounced as 리 (ri) in North Korea and as 이 (i) in South Korea. In the former case, the initial sound is an alveolar liquid. There is no distinction between the alveolar liquids /l/ and /r/, which is why "Lee" and "Rhee" are both common spellings. In South Korea, the pronunciation of the name is simply the English vowel sound for a "long e", as in see. This pronunciation is also often spelled as "Yi"; the Northern pronunciation is commonly romanized "Ri".
In Korean pronunciation, the name usually romanized as "Park" actually has no 'r' sound at all. Its initial sound is an unaspirated voiceless bilabial stop, like a cross between English 'p' and 'b'. The vowel is the IPA sound [a], similar to the 'a' in father. For this reason, the name is also often represented as "Pak" or "Bak".