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How are Korean last names passed down?


Korean last names have a rich history dating back to ancient times. The culture and traditions of Korea have played a pivotal role in shaping the way these names are passed down. In this article, we will explore the various ways Korean last names are passed down.

Patrilineal System

The patrilineal system is the most common way Korean last names are passed down. This system means that the last name is passed down from the father to his children. For example, if the father’s last name is Kim, then all of his children will have the last name Kim.

Matrilineal System

The matrilineal system is not as common as the patrilineal system. In this system, the mother’s last name is passed down to her children. However, this system is not recognized by the South Korean government for official documents.


In some cases, a person may choose to adopt a child and pass down their last name to them. This is more common in cases where a family member is unable to have children of their own.

Name Change

It is possible for a person to legally change their last name in Korea. This can be done through a court process and requires a valid reason for the change.


In Korea, it is common for women to take their husband’s last name after marriage. However, it is not mandatory and some women may choose to keep their maiden name.

Korean Surname History

Korean surnames have a long history dating back to the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC – 668 AD). There are approximately 286 surnames in Korea, with the most common being Kim, Lee, Park, Choi, and Jung.

Clan System

Korean last names are often associated with a particular clan or family. This system is known as bon-gwan, and it is based on the ancestral hometown of the family.

Family Registers

In Korea, each family has a family register that contains information about the family members. This register includes their full name, date of birth, and other important information.

Korean Naming Conventions

Korean naming conventions follow a specific pattern. The first syllable of a person’s name is usually their last name, followed by two syllables for their given name.

Gender and Last Names

In Korea, there are some last names that are gender-specific. For example, the last name Kim is used for both men and women, while the last name Park is only used for men.


In conclusion, Korean last names have a rich history and are passed down through various systems such as the patrilineal system, adoption, and marriage. Understanding Korean naming conventions and the clan system can help provide insight into the culture and traditions of Korea.

How do Korean generational names work?

In North Korea, siblings share a syllable in their generational name, while in South Korea, all members of a generation in an extended family share the same syllable. Married men and women retain their full personal names, and children typically take their father’s family name, unless otherwise decided during the marriage registration process.

Do Korean family names come first or second?

In Korean culture, the surname is listed before the given name.

Why is Kim such a common Korean last name?

The reason for Kim’s lasting popularity as a family name can be linked to its royal heritage. Kim originates from two different royal families- the Silla dynasty and the Gaya confederacy. With the merging of these kingdoms, Kim became one of the most widely used and favored family names.

Why do Korean siblings have different last names?

The surname is passed down from the father and is common among siblings. This is a customary inheritance practice.

Do Korean children take their father’s last name?

In Korea, names are composed of a family name and a given name. Typically, children take their father’s surname, as is common in many cultures. However, unlike in some other cultures, Korean women do not assume their husband’s surname upon marriage.

Why is Kim so common in Korea?

In ancient Korea, family names like Lee and Kim were favored by provincial elites and commoners because they were also used by the country’s royalty. This preference for regal names persisted over time.

It is worth noting that surnames and given names in Korea often have significant meanings. For instance, many Korean last names are derived from Chinese characters and have meanings related to nature, animals, or important historical figures. Given names may also be inspired by nature or have meanings related to positive traits or aspirations.

In addition to the bon-gwan clan system, there are also regional variations in Korean last names. For example, the surname Jeon is more common in the Jeolla Province, while the surname Han is more common in the Gyeongsang Province.

Korean last names have also evolved over time due to various factors such as social status, intermarriage with other cultures, and government policies. For example, during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, Koreans were forced to take Japanese-style names. After liberation, many Koreans changed their names back to their original Korean surnames.

Today, Korean last names continue to play an important role in society and identity. In fact, many Koreans take pride in their family history and clan affiliation. Some even participate in genealogy research to trace their family roots and learn more about their ancestors.

Overall, Korean last names are a fascinating aspect of Korean culture and history. Understanding how they are passed down and their significance can provide a glimpse into the rich traditions and values of Korea.

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