What’s in a name? Well, in Korea — quite a bit actually!
Many Korean parents will spend a lot of time and money to come up with the perfect name for their child. They believe that a person’s name can determine their destiny. With a child’s future on the line, it’s important to come up with a good name.
Here at 90 Day Korean, we want you to have a Korean name as well. While it can be tough to come up with the perfect name, we’re going to help point you in the right direction so that it becomes much more likely.
As an expat living or traveling in Korea (or even living in your home country and interacting with Koreans), it’s easy to notice a barrier at times due to cultural differences.
Having a Korean name is a great way to break the ice with Koreans and get started on the right foot. It adds just a little extra layer of comfort and Koreans will have fun calling you by your Korean name. It sounds familiar to them!
You may have seen Korean names before. Maybe you have a favorite KPOP star, Korean drama character or athlete. Any of these names ring a bell?
Kim Yuna (김연아)
Lee Min-ho (이민호)
Bae Yong-joon (배용준)
As you can see, most Korean names have three syllables. There are some names with more and some with less, but the huge majority of names have three syllables.
You should probably stick with three as well when coming up with a Korean name for yourself!
In Korean, the surname is written first. So the first syllable you see is the family name. By far the most common Korean surnames are 김 (Kim), 이 (Lee) and 박 (Park).
The second two syllables you see are the given name.
We’ve come up with a list of five methods you can use to make your very own Korean name.
Take a look through, try out the different methods, and hopefully come out with a Korean name you can start introducing yourself with starting tomorrow!
It’s going to be lots of fun. Let’s get started!
Method 1: Write Your Given Name in Korean Characters
The first method you can use to make a Korean name is not to make one at all! You can simply take your name and write it in Korean based on the way it sounds.
While this isn’t a Korean name per se, it is a first step you can take to make it easier for Koreans to pronounce and read your name. It makes things comfortable!
No matter which method you choose to go with for making your Korean name, you should probably go through this step first anyway. There are many situations when knowing your name’s spelling in Korean will come in handy! If you can’t yet read Korean or don’t know the Korean characters, you can learn them in about an hour by taking our 90 Minute Challenge.
When writing your name in Korean, it all comes down to vowel sounds. It’s important to sound it out just right!
When you do this, sometimes an English name with only a few letters can have many syllables in Korean.
Let’s take the English name Michael for example. To write it in Korean, we need to sound it out.
The first thing we could do is break it into two syllables.
For the first syllable, we need to think which Korean characters could make that ‘long i’ sound. No single Korean character has that sound on its own.
How about 아 + 이? That sounds right. Let’s add in the “m” sound in front of the ㅏand we’ll be good to go!
First part: 마이
Now let’s focus on the second syllable. If you sound it out, it sounds more like “keul.” As you remember from the 90 Minute Challenge, the character that makes the “k” sound is ㅋ. It looks like a key! Let’s use that one.
The final step is to add in the “eul” sound. That should be easy! The Korean character that makes the “eu” sound is ㅡ and the “l” ending we can make with ㄹ. Shall we stack them together?
Second part: 클
There we have it, we’re all finished! We ended up with three syllables:
Let’s take a look at some more common names in English as examples:
There is a smartphone app called “Write Your Name In…” and it has a Korean function. The main problem we have found with it is that it doesn’t have that many names in its database. However, if you have a common Korean name, this is one way you can check your work once you’re done.
You can find it here:
Definitely try writing it yourself first though. Not only is it great practice, but it’s a lot of fun!
Method 2: Use a Korean Name Application
There are some applications and websites out there that can help you come up with a Korean name of your own.
Some of them use your real name to help generate a similar-sounding Korean name, while some use your birthday. Others seem to come up with a Korean name at random — when you refresh the page, you’ve got a completely different name!
Those are the main reasons we recommend against using this method. However, you never know — you might just get a great-sounding Korean name that suits you or at the very least, it could be the starting point for improvement.
For example, maybe you get a first name you like but the surname sounds strange to you. You could simply customize it yourself by swapping out the surname and putting in one of your choice.
In any case, these apps can be fun to play around with. Here are four of the Korean name applications floating around the internet that you may wish to try out:
Method 3: Choose Your Korean Name From a List
Choosing a name from the click of a button not for you?
When Koreans choose English names, they often choose the names of English-speaking stars that they admire. Maybe you have a favorite KPOP star or actor. You can start to get name ideas from them!
Of course, you probably don’t want to take their entire name including family name (imagine meeting a Korean who introduced himself as “Tom Cruise!”), but you could easily switch out the surname to one of your choosing.
Here are links to lists of Korean names. The first is just a list of baby names like you often see on the internet for English names. They are romanized, however, so if you see one you like, you will have to change it into 한글. That’s the fun part!
The second is a list of popular Korean names. You can see which names parents choose most often. Maybe you’ll find one that suits you!
Finally, here is a list of Korean family names. Take a browse through and give some thought to which matches you best.
Method 4: Choose a Korean Name That Sounds Like Your English Name
Another method for choosing a Korean name is finding a Korean name that sounds like your name in English.
This may require some help from a Korean, however, but you can make use of the name lists and other resources to try for yourself.
For example, maybe your name is Kimberly Johnson. Through the name lists or from the help of a Korean friend, you come up with the following name:
Some expats may wish to choose a last name that sounds similar to their given name in English! One student named Joe chose the surname 조 when making his Korean name. He then just chose a modern and cool-sounding given name in Korean.
Method 5: Choose a Korean Name With a Special Meaning
This method may also require some assistance from a Korean friend but it’s a great way to come up with a Korean name that has a story or meaning behind it versus an arbitrarily chosen name!
Some names in Korean have special meanings. For example, these common names in Korean have the following meanings:
Many Koreans are also concerned with a name’s meaning in Chinese characters. This requires added research, but can help you come up with a Korean name that has meaning behind it.
Remember how we said Korean names usually have three syllables? You could look up the meaning of each in Chinese characters or have someone assist you. This would help you have a cool backstory for the meaning of your name and what it represents!
Korean Name Fun Facts
Here are a few bonus fun facts about Korean names. You can use them to help you choose your Korean name, or to impress your friends with your knowledge of Korea!
- Korean family names are usually one syllable. However, sometimes there two syllable family names, but they are rare. Some examples are 사공 and 남궁
- There are about 250 family names in Korea. The most common family name (김, 최, 이, 박) make up over half of all of the family names
- The same name is usually not passed down from generation to generation (i.e. from father to son, mother to daughter)
- Parents will sometimes name their kids with the same first syllable if the genders are the same (i.e. 지우 and 지훈, 유진 and 유림)
- Although the first names (given names) of Koreans are typically two syllables, it is possible to have one syllable (i.e. 삭) and three syllable (빛나리) names
Regardless of which method you choose for coming up with your Korean name, it’s important to get feedback from a Korean. Having a trusted ally on your side can make all the difference in the world to choosing the right-sounding name.
This guide will help set you off on the right track. Get started by writing your first name in Korean characters. Then try your last name. This will be a fantastic starting point and you may wish to stop there! For those of you that want an authentic-sounding Korean name, however, you can continue on and try the other methods.
In either case, we wish you the best in the quest for your new Korean name! Let us know which name you came up with for yourself below in the comments!
Photo Credit: Robert McLane
Find this helpful? Share with your friends. They'll thank you for it!