[Ask Hyojin] How do Korean parents pick names for their children?

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Have you ever wondered how Korean parents pick names for their children? It’s probably mostly similar to how it’s done in other countries, but there are some specific practices that some people still follow. Find out what they are in this lesson!

Do you have any other questions that you’d like to ask Hyojin? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Sarah Cuthbert

    I am from South Africa, and each culture chooses names differently (there are more than 12 in SA). In my family (white, English, British background) they choose a name that has been in the family in previous generations. My name is Sarah Amelia Cuthbert (Cuthbert is our family name, Sarah and Amelia are 2 female names that have been in our family) Some people also pick it because of what it means … Sarah means princess and Amelia means hardworking….so I am a hardworking princess?? In other cultures they pick a name that shows something about the family or how they felt at the time…so some common names are Joy, Happy, Grace… Generally the Father or the Father’s family will pick the name.

    • James Chong

      Hi Sarah,

      I wonder how they chose Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger and Bryan Habana…lol..sorry ..rugby fan here:)

  • Amariah

    My mother actually chose my middle name from a tv show character she liked. Ajee’ *ah-shay (but the shay has like a jshay sound to it…it’ s complicated since I have an accent at the end of my name ㅋㅋㅋ, i never let people try to read my middle name. Haha). It’s rather funny but my first name is from the bible. Amariah, is pronounced *ah-mah-ree-ah* I really love my name because it isn’t common. I would hate to have a common name… I wouldn’t feel unique having the same name as like 10 other people in my grade(emily, sarah, etc). Also, I get the liberty of having to correct people on pronouncing my name correctly.. it’ s a new name everytime I get a new teacher. Over all I love my name my mother gave me
    Amariah Ajee’ :))

  • Zach

    Just so you know, most English teachers don’t try to give students English names. The kids or their parents usually want them to get an English name. Either that or it’s a school rule. I don’t know of any English teachers that have actively tried to give their students English names. I think the whole idea is kind of stupid, but if a kid wants to be called by their English name, I just do it.

  • Oniesy

    there r many different ways parents gives their child a name in America. however in rare cases like mine, sadly its a complete mystery to how i was given my first name. i hav only 3 names which is Oniesy Rosa Ramos..Ramos is my fathers last name Rosa is my grandma’s 1st name and Oniesy (the ie sounds like the letter A as in weigh and sy pronounced as see) well no1 really knows how or where my mom got the name Oniesy from. i never get a straight answer from her & when people ask me what it means im stuck because i hav no idea myself. i hav never heard of anyone with the same name and would never know what it means and most likely never know how i got the name oniesy, but in the bright side i guess you can say its very unique…lol….if anyone has an idea to what it could possibly be, feel free to let me know or i can just irritate my mom into telling me ….lol

  • 디터

    How do Koreans decide if a name is male of female? Is it just based on how it’s been used throughout history, or is there a specific rule behind it?

  • lina

    In Syria , the eldest man in the family gives his first boy the name of his father; I mean my father is the eldest man in his family so my brother has my grandfather’s name , ( my brother and my grandfather have the same name)…

  • lina

    In Syria , the eldest man in the family gives his first boy the name of his father; I mean my father is the eldest man in his family so my brother has my grandfather’s name , ( my brother and my grand father have the same name)…

  • Stefania Alexandra

    안녕하세요 ^^ ! In my country (Romania), parents usually give the baby’s name. In my case.. I have 3 names. My family name, which is an omnipresent name in our family… is like a legacy :)) (my cousin has it, my parents have it, my grandparents from my dad have it etc) and this name is a legacy from my father’s family. The man usually brings the house name. But nowadays, you can negotiate the family name. The man can take the last name of the girl who’s marring with, if he wants…or in some cases she can keep her family name and also has to take on his husband name. This happens only when the girl doesn’t want to change/loose her family name and the man also doesn’t want to up his last name. So the man keeps his family name (Ex: Aldea X) and the girl have 2 family names (ex: Aldea Dobrica Y) and their children can have both family names (ex: Aldea Dobrica Z) or only dad’s family name (ex: Aldea Z). It’s gettin’ a lil’ bit complicated huh ??? :))) ^ ^

    In my case, my mom adopted dad’s last name and I got off easy :)) My first name is Stefania and was chosen by my parents… and my middle name was chosen by my godparents. But in my country, there are people with only last and first name. It’s not required to have 2 names…and usually first name and/or middle name is chosen by parents.
    Also… depends on what religion you are. I have a Catholic friend who, unlike Orthodox people, at 14 years old, she could choose her own name (Her name gave by parents is Alexandra… and she chose the name of Diana at age 14) … but that chosen name it does not appear in the ID, I don’t know why and I also do not now more about this to share it with you. So… This is it !! ^^

    PS: I have a question !! When I first started to study Korean… I found out something interesting on web about Korean names. There it was written that the last name is represented by the last digit of your birth year ( for 0 = Park, for 1= Kim, for 2= Shin etc), the first name is represented by your birthday month ( for January=Yong, February=Ji, March=Je, April= Hye etc) and the middle name is represented by your birthday (For 1=Hwa, 17= Ah, 22=Mi, 31 Sub etc) IS IT TRUE??? THIS CAN BE ANOTHER WAY TO CHOSE KOREAN NAMES????

    감사합니다 ^^

  • Maria Dobreva

    Hi, in my country our parents pick the baby’s name. Nowadays they just pick same beautiful international name or some traditional bulgarian name ( male names are old bulgarian king’s name – Krum, Asparuh, Kaloian, Aleksander…, females name are usually from the bible or flowers). But most parent named their children to their parent. My mother named me as her mother Maria (in her honor, to show respect …). But this is for our first name, our family name transmitted from parents (father last name) to children. And our middle is our father first name. But we have family suffix – for man is “ov/ev” for woman is “eva/ava/ova”. So my full mane is Maria /Мария/ (on my grandma) Nikovaeva /Николаева/ (my father first name Nikovai / Николай/ ) and my last name is Dobreva /Добвера/ (my father’s family name). Of course, this is most common rule 🙂

  • H2O- Arab

    Hello,
    In my country, Sudan, and basically in the Arab world, parents choose their kids’ names themselves. In many cases, though, they end up naming their kids as their own parents. like:
    Fadi(first name) Amjad(father’s name) would call his kid: Amjad (first name)Fadi (father’s name) Amjad(grand father’s name)
    Thank you.

  • H2O- Arab

    Hello,
    In my country, Sudan, and basically in the Arab world, parents choose their kids’ names themselves. In many cases, though, they end up naming their kids as their own parents. like:
    Fadi(first name) Amjad(father’s name) would call his kid: Amjad (first name)Fadi (father’s name) Amjad(grand father’s name)
    By the way, we name adjective names. like beautiful, generous, nice. it is normal.
    Thank you.

  • Sarolta

    Hi,
    In Hungary most of the people think that common people have common name and great people have special name, so parents are crazy to find a special first name. All the rare names are considered to be special, so in my country the choice of a suitable first name is based on statistics (in most of the cases). In the book of the first names every name has a mark whether it is rare or frequent, and people debate in the internet whether a first name is rare enough or not.

    It is in the law, what kind of first name can be given to a child, i.e. there is a list of suitable names for girls and boys. If the list doesn’t contain the name, that the parents want to give, they often apply for adding it to the list. The Hungarian Academy of Siences will accept or refuse the application. This list is getting longer every year. There are also parents they prefer English names, and a lot of English names are already accepted, but they should be written in Hungarian (in a very rare case the name can be written in original form). So Jessica is a legal name for Hungarian girls, but it should be written: Dzsesszika.

    If your colleague/friend/acquaintance tells you the very special name of his/her newly born child, you have to praise the choice loudly, otherwise you will hurt his/her feelings.

    Since people prefer rare names, after a while rare names must become popular names, and so it happens. Nowadays rare names are those that were popular 30-40 years ago.

    This is a big show, and for what? First names are hardly used in every day life. In a lot of cases people avoid to use the first name, and there are first names, that sounds really funny, if you use it in an everyday conversation. First names are used in official or formal cases. Every names have several nicknames, and if you introduce yourself, people often ask you, what they should call you. And it’s better to say a name or a nickname, otherwise people will choose for you one from the possible nicknames or in the worst case they will create you one.

    My mother chose my name: Sarolta, because it is very similar to the name of the mother of the first Hungarian king: Sarolt. And of course nobody call me Sarolta.

  • LEANDRO

    Very interesting. In Brazil we have some traditions too. My first name (Leandro) was choosen by my mother, but my second name (Oscar) is my mother’s family name (my grandfather has Oscar as his family name) and my last name (Conceição) is my father’ family name (my granfather has Conceição as his family name). This repeats for generations. As my first name is complicated to pronounce ( Lea + Andro = Leandro is a Latin name that means lion + man) and Japanese, Chinese and Korean people can not say DRO very well, I decided to use a common estructure: Lee An, which the sound is very similar to Portuguese, and I put my family name like Soo. So, my Korean name is Soo Lee An = 수이안. Easy,right?

  • My father’s wish was to have a baby girl so my mother gave me the name “Dilek” which means “wish” in Turkish. Otherwise, usually parents choose the name that sounds prettiest to them. 🙂

  • annyeong =]
    My Mother wanted to name me Natasha before she heard a song from a German singer. He sang something like: “I met this beautiful girl and her name was Karina” or something. >< /sigh/

  • Titi

    In my country, Iran, it’s somehow the same. Most of the parents choose names which begins with the same letter as theirs, or has same parts. or they just choose the names they like. For example, my name is Tayyebe and it begins with the same letters as my mom’s name and has the same rhythm as her name, too ( her name is Taahere ) and my brother’s name is Alireza which has the same part as my dad’s name, Gholamreza. But it’s not always like this, some parents decide to choose names which are beautiful or names they like. Not a regular algorithm 😕

  • هاجر

    My family named me after Prophet Ibrahim’s wife “Hagar” 🙂 ^___^

  • Vex

    안녕하세요!
    I have a question. I know that many koreans who live in my country took our traditional names because natives can’t pronounce korean name right. Is it ok for koreans when foreigner takes a korean name?

  • alina

    hei Hyojin, I’ve always wondered why do koreans do that sign with the fingers which looks like “v”. i saw that they do this sign when they take a picture.

  • chaw

    I am from Myanmar and we do have family names. Mostly Parents or Grandparents just choose a nice name for the kids. Some consult with fortune tellers or respective religious leaders.

  • Kim Hyun Na

    In My country Indonesia, we just pick a good name for our child. yeah sometimes their parents put they name to their children. I have one korean name.. Kim Hyun Na, thats name so pretty.. i had it from my sister in korean..

  • In Turkey , most of the names have meanings…. like my name is Alara and it means the fairy of the infinite ocean but in the other hand its reaaaaaally common to just get your grandma’s or grandpa’s name ~ just like my other name , sultan , which is my grandma’s name and means sultan , like a queen! so its normal to have two names and people don’t really care how long their children’s names are.. i had a friend that was called yigitcan bayraktarogullari and some people even give their children more than 2 – 3 names!! which is pretty … not cool hahah ;P

  • Germaine

    — Singapore —
    For Chinese names, where the list of generation names still exists, they are used. The generation names for male and female are different. Sometimes the list itself is a poem. If the list is lost then the parents or grandparents will create one when the first child or grandchild of that generation arrives.

    Now that there are fewer children per family the trend is towards a generation name that can be used for both boys and girls, so the word that is chosen to be the generation name must not be gender specific.

    Many will also visit a geomancer to “harmonise” the radicals (sub elements of each chinese character)and the number of brush strokes in the characters, together with the birthdate and time.

    Many Singaporean Chinese children also get an English name, like Nicole, Brandon, Charmaine, or whatever the parents fancy. Sometimes this is chosen to sound like the Chinese name. Christian parents might choose a biblical or religious saints name.