One of the little joys of beginning to learn a new language or live in a foreign country is the chance to (slightly) reinvent yourself. What better way to embark on a new journey than giving yourself a new name to signify your commitment to the culture and language. Obviously, for most of us, this will not be permanent or legal, so we can have some fun with it.
In this article, I’ll show you some simple tips to choose a Korean name for yourself! Hope it can add color to your Korean learning journey! Let’s begin!
The Basics of Korean Names
Most Koreans have 3 syllable names that start with their surname (i.e. Kim, Park, Lee, etc) and end with two given names, typically. Although some only have 1 given name and others have longer names with 4 syllables total. Overall, Koreans have pretty short names compared to people in most other countries. So, they can seem a little overwhelmed or confused when a foreigner gives a first, middle, and last name each with multiple syllables. Even if you just use your first and last name, this can be kind of difficult to say for most Koreans. Plus, the way Hangul is organized phonetically may require the name to be pronounced with more syllables that are required in the native language.
English to Korean
Take a look at the name, Robert Downey Junior. For native English speakers, this is only 6 syllables and relatively easy to pronounce. The Korean equivalent, by directly translating the name and its phonetics, is a mouthful of a name for Koreans.
Compare: Robert Downey Junior with the Korean equivalent – 로버트 다우니 주니어. There are 9 total syllables and more vowels in the Korean version. So, you can see how Koreans may find this difficult. On top of that, many Koreans are not familiar with the family name being presented last in the order of names. In Korea, given names are placed after the family name.
So, keeping those things in mind, it is best to try to create a name that is consistent in length and order compared to Korean names. Try to make it 2 or three syllables at most. By keeping within those guidelines, you can start to explore what kind of Korean name you want to adopt.
What consists of a Korean name
Korean Name Structure
As mentioned before, Korean names are structured in a common and simple pattern, starting with the family name and typically 2 given names.
|Given name 1||
Given name 2
Contrary to Western style naming, the two given names are almost always used together to form 1 name. From the example above, 민경 (Min Kyoung) is actually just one name comprised of two character blocks. So, this person would just introduce themself as 민경. In a more formal situation Koreans will introduce themselves using all 3 name blocks, i.e. 이민경.
(Tip: When using your actual name (the one in your native language) while in Korea for official situations like immigration, legal documents, etc. Be sure to write your name with your family name first. For example, if in America your name is Michael Ben Jordan. In Korea, your name is Jordan Michael Ben. This is how it will be listed on your ID card, and it will save you a lot of trouble if you just use it that way on official documents.)
Use of Hanja
Hanja is a form of Chinese writing that was implemented during the Chinese occupation of Korea and has been passed down over time. It’s a traditional writing system that has been incorporated into Korean language and pronunciation. Although it is not used commonly in daily life, it is still used in certain situations, such as official documents. Some Koreans have their names officially recorded in Hanja and Hangul. They provide both versions of their name (Hangul and Hanja) on official records to verify identity.
The character of Hanja contains meaning that has been incorporated or translated into Hangul, which Koreans will reference when making or changing a name. For your purposes, it is not necessary to incorporate Hanja into the making of your Korean name, but it could help provide some meaning.
How to choose a Korean name
Should you pick up a Korean name when living in South Korea?
Having a Korean name is a great way to break the ice and show your interest in Korean culture. Introducing yourself with a Korean name will certainly intrigue and delight any Korean you meet. So, it’s a great conversation starter and a good way to make new friends. However, you can also get by using your English name in South Korea. So there is no pressure giving yourself a Korean name if you don’t want to.
As most Koreans are familiar with Western movie stars, artists, and entertainers, they are used to English names written and pronounced in Korean. So, if your name is quite simple, you may just want to keep it but pronounce it in Korean. For example, the name John is quite easy for Koreans to understand and pronounce.
John → 존
Both are one syllable and both are phonetically similar in English and Korean.
However, if your name is long, complex, or tough to pronounce, you may want to make a Korean name. From personal experience, it is just easier. Koreans can’t pronounce my name (Keith) because there is no “-th” pronunciation in Hangul. So, it usually ends up sounding like “Kiss” when Koreans say my name, which, although very amusing at first, gets old very fast when you have to explain the pronunciation to each person you meet.
Ask a Korean
In my opinion, the best way to do that is to ask Korean people for help. There are other ways to create a Korean name, which we’ll talk about later, but if you have the luxury of having Korean friends or coworkers in your life, you should definitely incorporate their help. You could create a name on your own, or use a Korean name generator, but the experience of creating a name with Koreans is very fun and engaging. It shows your interest in the culture, and most importantly, Koreans love to help foreigners interested in their culture.
Names in Korea still have meaning behind them. It’s not uncommon for Koreans to change their name at some point in their life simply because they wanted to do so. Therefore, they are familiar with the process and can add some value. Plus, compared to Western culture, Korean culture places more importance on things like reading faces, birth year, blood type, etc. They strongly believe that these are indicators of your personality, and that names should match your personality. So the whole process is a fun learning experience.
Just ask a Korean to help you make a Korean name. They’ll ask about your sign, your blood type, and things about your personality before offering some options. They can explain the meaning of certain names and the combination of those names. It’s always fun. Sometimes I ask Koreans to give me a new name, just to see if I like it more than my current one. It really opens up dialogue and makes for good connections.
How do Korean natives pick names
You may wonder, what about Korean natives? How do they pick up names? In fact, Korean parents give their children names much in the same way that Westerners give names to children. The family name (surname) of the father carries over to the baby, and the two given name character blocks make the given name.
There are various ways and reasons for parents to pick given names; ancestor’s name, the name of great leader or famous person, or a name with some meaning. Because there is a lot of meaning in Hanja and Hangul characters, it is becoming common to incorporate those into given names.
For example, in Korean “Haneul” – means “sky”. So a Korean name may be 이한을 (Lee Haneul).
So, if there is some meaning in your original name, maybe you can try to incorporate that into your Korean name as well.
These days, some Koreans are opting for names that are more phonetically understood cross-culturally. For example, the name 재인, sound much like Jane in English. These types of names are more versatile and useful for families of mixed nationalities.
How to pick Korean name for yourself
We’ve discussed various ways to make your own Korean name, so let’s review and look at a few more.
- Ask Koreans to help you make a name (My top choice!)
- Write your name, or part of your name in Korean and pronounce it accordingly
- Find a Korean name or word that has a similar meaning to your original name.
- Use a name that is easier to understand across cultures
- Use some variation or abbreviation of your name in Hangul
- Use a Korean name generator
- Choose from the popular names chart below
Whatever way you choose, I’m sure you’ll know the best name when you hear it. It will feel right, Koreans will agree, and everyone will be happy. Don’t take this too seriously. As I said before, it is not uncommon for Koreans to change their name, so feel free to change yours whenever you like. Have fun with it!
Lists of Popular Korean Names
Now, it’s always ok to just get one of the most popular names. So here we present to you some most popular Korean names for you to choose from.
Popular male Korean names
- 이준 Yi-joon
- 서준 Seo-joon
- 도윤 Do-yoon
- 하준 Ha-joon
- 은우 Eun-woo
- 시우 Shi-woo
- 지호 Ji-ho
- 유준 Yoo-joon
- 수호 Soo-ho
Popular female Korean names
- 서아 Seo-ah
- 하윤 Ha-yoon
- 이서 Yi-seo
- 지아 i-ah
- 소윤 Seo-yoon
- 지안 Ji-an
- 인윤 Ah-yoon
- 아린 Ah-rin
- 하은 Ha-eun
Gender neutral names
- 민서 Min-seo
- 세현 Se-hyeon
- 수민 Su-min
- 수현 Su-Hyeon
- 정현 Jeong-Hyeon
- 주영 Ju-young
- 준희 Jun-hee
- 지민 Ji-min
- 지수 Ji-soo
- 지우 Ji-woo
- 지원 Ji-won
- 지현 Ji-hyeon
- 지후 Ji-hoo
- 진영 JinYoung
- 찬희 Chan-Hee
Exotic Korean names
Modern Korean names are becoming more playful, light, and international. In the past, Korean names often sounded powerful, harsh, and short with strong accents and difficult pronunciations. This was especially true for men, as strong and striking names were considered more manly. But these days, Korean names are becoming more creative and soft while breaking away from traditional norms. Popular names are often easier to pronounce for non-Korean speakers and therefore more transferable to other cultures.
For example, Hana (하나), which means “one”, is simple and easily understood by non-native speakers. So, if you want a unique or exotic name, consider incorporating some of these into your name..
- Dal (달), which means “moon”
- Duri (두리), which is simple and fun, meaning “two” in some dialects.
- Ha-da (하다), which is the same as the verb “to do”
- Haneul (하늘), which means “sky”
- Hye (혜), which is easy and fun, sounding like “Hey” in English
- Hyun (현), which is simple and strong
- Jae (제이), which is phonetically similar to “Jay”, and means talent or skill.
- Jeong (정), which is kind often used to mean gentle or high-character
- Ji (지), which is very simple and a good options for a name that starts with “G”
- Ji-Min (지민), which is popular and easy, plus it means “ambition”
- Nabi (나비), which means “butterfly”
- Na-Ra (나라), which means kingdom or country.
These kinds of names are unique and would be well-suited for someone who wants to stand out, while also making their names memorable and fun.
Final words on choosing a Korean name
Whatever you choose, have fun with it. And if you don’t like it, change it. Ask Koreans to give you advice. Check out the names of actors and musicians: you will find a variety of traditional names and more modern, international Korean names. As you learn more about Korean, you will find what you think suits you. And remember, if you just want to use your name pronounced and written in Korean, that’s fine too. The majority of foreigners don’t have Korean names. In fact, most Koreans adopt a secondary English name at some point, which they use abroad and in situations with foreigners. So, don’t feel pressure. Have some fun with the process, and GOOD LUCK!