Popular Names in Korea

K-pop: Odebak and fatdoo

All of us at one point or another would have experienced this in school – people in the same class who have the same name.

In elementary school, there were three girls in my class that had the same name, and two of them even had the same surname! As a result, my teacher and our class had to come up with nicknames in order to differentiate between them.

Recently, Hyojin stumbled upon this news article on the Internet (http://smarturl.it/rrpqip) that analysed the most popular baby names in Korea in the past few decades. As we found the article to be an interesting read, we wanted to share it with all of you!

According to the article, the names that are most popular in a particular period of time reflect what is preferred and valued in that time.

In 1948, the boy name that was the most registered was영수 (Young-soo), followed by 영호 (Young-ho) and 영식(Young-shik).

Out of the top 5 most registered boy names, 4 had the character ‘영’ (永, in Hanja). This preference for this character was probably because during that period of time, many children died at a young age.

As ‘영’ means ‘to be long’, parents could have preferred to name their children with this character in order to protect them from any possible ill health hoping their children lead a long healthy life. A decade later in 1958, 4 out of the top 5 most registered boy names also had the character ‘영’.

As for the girls, in 1948, many girl names ended with the character‘자’ (子 in Hanja) which is derived from the Japanese word ~코, which means ‘child’. The top 3 most registered girl names in 1948 were 순자 (Sun-ja), 영자 (Young-ja), and 정순 (Jeong-sun). At that time, people used to prefer translated Japanese names. One of the most common names for girls was 미옥 (Mi-ok), which was the translation of the Japanese name 미야꼬 (Mi-ya-kko).

The characters ‘정’ (貞/晶 in Hanja) and ‘숙’ (淑 in Hanja) were also popular in girls’ names at that time, as both characters have the meaning of being virtuous. In 1958, 영숙 (Young-suk) was the most preferred name, followed by정숙 (Jeong-suk) and 영희 (Young-hee).

Back then, ‘현모양처– to be a good wife and wise mother ‘ was one of the most important values for a woman to follow and/or achieve, and this preference was reflected in the popular girl names. Furthermore, the character ‘순’ (順 in Hanja), with the meaning of being gentle and mild, was popular as it reflected the wish of people back then to live without any hardship.

With the Korean economy developing fast from the late 1960s, the names that were most preferred also changed. In 1968, the most common boy name was 성호 (Seong-ho), replacing 영수. The characters ‘성(成/晟, meaning ‘success/brightness’ in hanja)’ and ‘훈(勳, meaning ‘success, contribution’ in hanja)’ were popular in boy names in 1978, as they reflected the wish of parents for their children to be successful.

As for the girls, the characters ‘미’ (美, meaning ‘beauty’ in Hanja) and ‘은’ (銀, meaning ‘silver’ in Hanja) were popular in 1968 and 1978, as for girls, beauty was prized and thus, parents wanted to give their daughters pretty names.

In the late 1980s, the 학원 (private institutions) industry in Korea was growing. Parents wanted to give their children a head start by enrolling them in these academies to learn what they will study in school before it is covered. Thus, the characters ‘지’ (知/智, meaning ‘knowledge/wisdom’ in Hanja), and ‘혜’ (慧, meaning ‘to be wise’ in Hanja) were popular in the names given to both boys and girls at that time.

The change in the popularity of the characters used in girl names reflected the change in the perception ofthe role girls and daughters held in society. In the 50s and 60s, they were expected to be a good wife and a wise mother, but from the 80s, they were expected to become successful academically, just like boys.

The trend changed again at the turn of the Millennium. The most preferred boy name was 민준 (Min-jun), and this name is still popular as of April this year. The popularity of this name reflects the value of wealth in society.

Furthermore, due to globalization, boy names like민준 and 지훈that can be pronounced easily by foreigners, are preferred.

Girl names that are easy for foreigners to pronounce are also preferred.
Also, neutral names that can be used for both girls and boys have been popular in recent years. As of April this year, 서윤 (Seo-yoon), 서연 (Seo-yeon), 민서 (Min-seo) have been the most popular.
The characters ‘서’ (瑞 in Hanja), ‘민’ (珉 in Hanja) and ‘윤’ (潤 in Hanja) have a meaning of being successful, and reflects the wish of parents for their children to be successful in life.20140518_150511_mr1400988713088

It is interesting to see how the popularity of certain names change along with societal phenomena as time goes by.

Do you have a common name? What are the popular baby names in your country? Do let us know by leaving a comment below!

 This blog post is written by our new intern, Clarisse.
If you liked the post, let her know by leaving a comment!  

Survival Korean (book)Make your stay in Korea much easier and enjoy it to the fullest with Survival Korean! Whether you are just traveling or living in Korea, this book, the perfect size that can fit right in your purse, will come in handy whenever you want something. We picked most essential Korean phrases you need to know while traveling or living in Korea, and divided them into 20 different situations, which comes with detailed explanations about the phrase itself AND fun and useful information about the situation where the phrases are used in.

[Ask Hyojin] How do Korean parents pick names for their children? Now that you know what kind names have been popular over the course of time, learn how Korean parents pick their baby’s name 🙂 In this episode of Ask Hyojin, Hyojin is joined by Keith from Seoulistic.com and talk about how parents pick names for their babies in Korea! [Ask Hyojin] How do Korean parents pick names for their children?



Popular Names in Korea
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  • Chris Curry

    Very interesting post! Its cool that Korean names have such interesting origins and meaning to them. I am sure my name (Christopher) means something but I haven clue haha. My friend says his Korean name 광희 is not very common. Do you guys know any 광희’s? and Good job Clarisse!
    감사합니다 ^_^

    • Raymond Yang

      Haha, isn’t 광희 the member of the ZE:A? 光熙 in Chinese..

    • Chris Curry

      You are right, however I think he mean’t among the general public, not just out of idols.

  • grace

    Interesting post…It takes almost 9 months for me and my hubby to get our baby’s name …here in korea you really have to get a unique and meaningfull names for your kids…we decided to have 이지 as her name…means knowledge and wisdom…but in my country…i think grace and jhon are the most popular names…way back in my high school we are 5 in the class who have the same name…GRACE…fighting…Clarisse!!!

  • Taleen Brady

    This was so interesting! I always wanted to know this type of information about Korean names. Thanks for writing it! Great article!

  • Bre

    Learned something new today (^-^)

  • peony

    sweet!thanks for the post and thank you clarisse! i liked this name 현모양처– to be a good wife and wise mother- it’s kinda nice and sweet=)
    and i was wondering to know ,do Korean people use flower names as their children name?

  • EnzoAbbacchio

    Nice post, Clarisse. I think that in Italy people don’t pay much attention to the meaning of names, they just go with the flow. We lost the use of some names during the years and we saw some temporary trends, but the names statistic is unlikely to be a surprise.
    Italian names rankings 2012 (last official data)
    Females: Sofia, Giulia, Giorgia, Martina, Emma.
    Males: Francesco, Alessandro, Andrea, Lorenzo, Matteo.

    • Seokjin Jin

      Thanks for your comment. It is interesting to see the trandy names in Italy.

  • Eva Šatavová

    Very interesting and educational article! Thank you for that.

    • Seokjin Jin

      Yes, it is! Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  • Raymond Yang

    Interesting! I think it is also reflected in Korean dramas over years this trends of names, isn’t it?

  • Steven Cao

    Very informative article! I especially liked the Hanja origin of some of the names as when you have the chance to learn Vietnamese, you will realise that the names are based on Hanja. E.g: My Vietnamese name is: Cao Hoàng Tuấn and in Hanja, it’s: 高,고 ( meaning tall), 皇,황, ( meaning royal), 俊,준, ( meaning handsome).

  • Sher Bernad

    Informative article. Keep up the good work, Clarisse.

  • BethWQ

    In England in the late 90’s and early 00’s, the name Bethany (sometimes Bethan) was popular. Most people shorten names here, so we all end up being called Beth. I know at least 7 people called Beth (not including myself) ㅋㅋㅋ

    • Seokjin Jin

      We don’t shorten names here in Korea. The names are already short. Maybe that’s why.

  • Atuyo

    Just curious… where are you guys based in? Singapore or Korea?

    • Hyojin

      Korea 🙂

  • Trang Nguyen

    Keeping writing such informative and interesting articles, Clarisse!
    In Vietnam, the trend of names is quite similar to Korea. In the past, children didn’t receive good health care services, some got diseases and even died soon. But their parents blame for ghost and they thought ghost likes a child with a beautiful name, so they gave their children very awkward names and even difficult to pronounce 😀
    In the Vietnam war period, many names which have the meaning of “victory”, “fight”, “filial”, “peace”, “courageous”… are given to children.
    And now many parents hope their children to successful so they choose names related to that.

    Also interestingly, in the past u can tell the difference between male and female names since female names almost always have “Thị” and male ones have “văn” which made the names long from 3 to 4 words. But now, almost all parents drop those two words. The names are not shorter as they add other more “beautiful” words 🙂
    My name also has “Thị” and it’s also very popular. when I went to shool, I found friends even having the same family name, middle and the last name, so teacher call us “Trang A” and “Trang B”
    Popular Vietnamese names (ranking)
    Male: Hoang, Duc, Nam, Hieu, Duy
    Female: Linh, Trang, Phuong Anh Hien

  • Akit Dinea

    I am curious of the meaning of each of your names? for example, the 석 and 진 of 석진, ect. 🙂
    i’ve looked up names before but it always comes up with a dozen different meanings depending on the dictionary i use.

  • Emily Schelley

    Thank you for the post, Clarisse. In elementary school I was one of three Emily’s in my class, so we also got assigned nicknames to tell us apart. I like to go to http://www.behindthename.com/top/lists/us/2013/100 to track what the most popular names in the U.S. are. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people reviving names that were popular in my grandparents’ generation.

  • Lovely Lexy Rodgers

    My name is Alexis, I’m in the United States. I have two other cousins, on both sides, that are also named Alexis with the same spelling. Almost everywhere I go, I meet another “Alexis.”

  • EXOSuJuLover

    I want to choose a Korean name for myself 🙂 and I chose one which I heard somewhere but I don’t know its meaning so I want to know its meaning before I say my Korean name is…
    So may you please tell me the meaning of Sehee?? 🙂

  • Kai

    I really enjoyed this. I love etymology, and it was written very well. Sometimes articles can be tedious to read, but this one was great.

    • Seokjin Jin

      Thanks! Me, too. I really enjoyed this article, too.

  • Avira

    Wow your post was great! I’m from Indonesia and my name is Vira. Vira is one of the most common girl’s name here in Indonesia. Putri, Farah, Raissa,Aghnia are probably the common names for girls too besides Vira.
    The most common name for boys is probably Adit, Reza, Taufiq, Kevin ^_^

  • Julia

    Actually I have leave a similar comment at “Family Name” video, but maybe leaving here will be more appropriate. 🙂

    I am just curious to know that if most Korean know your names in 한자 (Chinese characters)? As a single 한글 character related to a lot of variation of 한자 which they have very different meanings. For example, 지 can be “志” ( strong desire) or “智” (wisdom). Therefore a different 한자 will affect the initial meaning of the name. Does Korean care about this fact? 🙂

    • KyungHwa Sun

      Hello Julia,

      People, of course, know the meaning of their own name if it is made with 한자. =) There are actually many official documents in Korea that require you to write your name in 한자 and in English as well as your Korean name.

    • Julia 벽산

      경화 씨, 감사합니다. 🙂
      As when I search Korea website of online newspaper or
      pop-stars news, I do not see any people’s name shown in 한자. So, I just
      thought if Korean don’t use 한자 at all. Now, I know. Thanks again.

  • Nikonova Daria

    Hello. My name is Daria (it mean “winner” – in hanja 贏家). What is my Korean name?

  • Guest

    I have a question, i’m really curious to know what is the meaning of the name Seulbi / 슬비 in Korean? I really like that name.

  • Kira Leighanne Morris

    Hi, I was just wondering about the meaning of the names,

    Jae Joong
    Jae Joon
    Jae Jun
    Jae Jung

    Than you.

  • eloisamaturen

    Hey !! your blog is very much interesting and funny as well. i just love after reading this because that same thing was happen to me when i was in school. so In higher standard , i told my mother to find some unique name for me and replace my name with my new name. so , she was found my name from one website that is babynology and took a unique name for me . so for that thing i really appreciate my mother. if you want , then you also go through it. popular korean names