Skip to content
July 5, 2009 / owbEe

Hello, may I speak with Jang?

I remember the time when I was first exposed to the Korean world. It was when I was still at elementary school at around 11 years old. My sister who was two years younger than me had a Korean classmate named Jang Yenju (장옌주). I’m not really sure how to spell her name, I’ll just guess it according to the hangeul I’ve learned.

Since I’m the friendly type of sister (let’s wait and see if my sister reacts to this) with an increased interest in other East-Asian cultures, I instantly became friends with her.

One day, I decided to call her. I can’t remember the exact reason why I did. Let’s just say, I called her to say thanks. So I dialed her number and waited for the phone to ring.

Me: Hello?
The person on the other line: Hello?
Me: May I speak with Jang?
The person on the other line: Who Jang?!
Me: Oh! Yenju.

What an embarrassment! I think my ears were all red when I heard that question. I forgot that my sister told me that Koreans have a different way of sequencing their names.

Korean name consists of a family name (성, seong) followed by a given name (명, myeong). Typically, a Korean family name is monosyllabic while their given name is disyllabic. However, there are times when this format is not used, much like in the cases of KoreanClass101 host Seol Yun (윤설) and Korean Celebrity Sandara Park (박산다라). Korean names also don’t have the so-called middle name which is prevalent in other cultures.

Did you know that married women retain their family names?

It’s a known culture in Korea that the children get their father’s family name while the mother keeps her full name without getting her husband’s family name. This is due to their cultural bond to their family. That’s why it won’t be uncommon to see Korean families with the wife having a different family name. But it also won’t be uncommon to see families with both the husband and wife having the same family name.

How is that possible? I thought you told me that the wife doesn’t get the husband’s family name?

Well, you’re right. But statistically there are only about 250* family names used in Korea. And having an estimated population of 48,379,392*, it won’t be impossible to have someone with the same family name and even given name.

Wait…so what if the love of my life has the same family name as mine, does this mean we’re relatives? Does this mean we can’t be together?

According to what I learned at KoreanClass101.Com, having similar family names doesn’t mean you are already relatives.

The most common family name in Korea, having 21.6% (9,925,949) of the population, is Kim (김), followed by Lee (이) and Park (박). The three family names sums up to about 45% of the whole Korean population.

Here’s a pie chart I got from Wikipedia showing the distribution of Korean family names:

Distribution of South Korean Family Names (KNSO, 2000)

Blue: 김 (Kim, Gim)
Green: 이 (Lee, Yi, Rhee)
Orange: 박 (Park, Pak)
Red: 최 (Choi)
Violet: 정 (Jung, Jeong, Chung, Cheong)

Let’s say you’re a Kim, that means you have around 9,925,948 having that same family name. If all of them are your blood relatives then that means you won’t be picking one from the 9,925,948 Kims?

Okay, let me clear that up. If you’re a guy Kim and you met a girl Kim, you can be said relatives only if you have the same 본관 (bon-gwan) or clans. Each bon-gwan (clan) is identified by a specific place which traces its origin to a common patrilineal ancestor. In other words, guy Kim would only be considered a relative of girl Kim if they both have the same place of origin identified by their bon-gwan.

So don’t worry you can still marry the love of your life…if you don’t have the same bon-gwan. LOL.

* according to Wikipedia.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: