With the rising global popularity of Korean movies and K-pop boy bands like BTS, you might have encountered Korean boy names like Jimin, Yunki, and Seojun.
As discussed in the previous article on Korean girl names, the naming convention for boys also involves placing the last name before the given name, which typically consists of one or two syllables.
Some Korean letters are preferred for boy names, while others are favored for girl names. In this article, we will discuss the frequently used letters for boy names in Korea and highlight some characteristics of naming boys.
In Korean naming culture, it is extremely rare to name children after famous historical figures or religious saints— in contrast to Western naming practices. As a result, determining the origin or historical significance of a Korean name is nearly impossible.
Rather, the emphasis is often placed on the sound and meaning of the Chinese characters used in names. Therefore, when asked about the origins of their names, Korean are more likely to explain the meaning of their name rather than its origin.
Naming a boy after an ancestor is generally avoided in Korea, in contrast to the West where it is a common practice. In Korea, it is considered unacceptable for a son to share the same name as his father, and the birth registration would be rejected in such a situation.
In Korea, naming a son after an ancestor is avoided due to the culture of ancestor worship. For example, if a man gives his father’s name to his son, he has to call his son by his father’s name, which is considered disrespectful.
In addition, naming a son after an ancestor can also disrupt the Hangnyeol naming tradition, which orders names within each generation of a family. Due to this tradition and the previously mentioned reasons, it is very rare in Korea to find someone with the same name as their father or grandfather.
In Korea, there has been a long-standing tradition for families to name their children according to a custom known as Hangnyeol. Even today, this practice continues to be followed by many families across the country.
Hangnyeol is a custom where individuals within the same generation of a family share a common syllable (a common Chinese character, to be more exact) in their names.
This was more strictly applied to naming boys than girls due to the influence of Confucianism during the Joseon Dynasty.
In those ancient times, the family lineage was considered to be transmitted through sons rather than daughters. Therefore, women’s names were not registered in the genealogical record, and it was not allowed to include the Hangnyeol letters in their names.
In contrast, men’s names were officially written in the genealogical record, and they were allowed to include the common syllable of the generation (called Hangnyeolja) in their names. Thus, people can know what generation of the family a man is from only from his name.
Some of the most commonly used Hangnyeol are as below:
As you can see above, Hangnyeol is followed with Chinese characters, not just with Korean Hangul. Following a certain order as shown above, people in the same generation share a common syllable that includes the same Chinese character for their names. Thus, Hangnyeol could contribute to the recognition of the person’s generation in their family.
Let’s say, for example, there is a family that follows the order of the Chinese Zodiac for their names. Then, people can realize a man named 병철(丙哲) is one generation prior to a man named 정식(丁識), and two generations prior to a man named 현무(賢戊). Therefore, it would be understood that 병철(丙哲) and 병윤(丙潤) are from the same generation in their family.
When choosing names for boys in Korea, factors like how the name sounds, its meaning in Chinese characters, and the traditional practice of Hangnyeol come into play.
There is also a trend for boy names in each period, so we can guess someone’s age range just by their names. Recently, many parents prefer letters like ‘준(Jun)’ or ‘서(Seo)’ that can give a softer impression to their boys.
Here are some of the preferred letters for Korean boy names by decade:
For instance, it would be assumed that a man named ‘영식(Yeong Shik)’ is not a teenager since it is not a popular boy name for those who were born in the 2010s. Likewise, a man named ‘예준(Ye Jun)’ in his 50s would be easily mistaken as a teenage boy or a guy in his twenties.
A significant trend in Korean boy names is the declining popularity of letters with a strong masculine vibe like ‘철(Cheol)’ or ‘혁(Hyuk)’. Instead, letters without final consonants or just the consonant ‘ㄴ’ are frequently used since these letters are easy to pronounce and their sound gives a softer impression to others.
In addition, there is a recent tendency of parents wanting to include a variety of letters that were not commonly used in the past. They often avoid common letters, opting for rarer ones to give their boys more unique names.
This shift is evident when comparing names of men born in the 1950s, which often followed a similar pattern like ‘영호’, ‘영철’, ‘영수’, etc., resulting in a concentration of similar names. In contrast, in recent times, you can find a range of unique names like ‘동휘’, ‘지훤’, or ‘서후’, and each name is shared by fewer boys nationwide than before.
We have learned about a traditional Korean naming custom called Hangnyeol. While fewer families strictly follow the custom nowadays, quite a lot of families are still following it in any way they can.
There are also young couples who opt not to follow this tradition when naming their sons. They pay more attention to the name's sound and the impression it could create. After selecting letters with their desired sound, they then pick Chinese characters that match the chosen sounds.
|Yi Jun (이준)
|Yi An (이안)
|Seo Jun (서준)
|Ji Ho (지호)
|Ha Jun (하준)
|Do Yun (도윤)
|Shi Wu (시우)
|Eun Wu (은우)
|Tae O (태오)
|Seon Wu (선우)
|Su Ho (수호)
|Ju Won (주원)
|Yu Jun (유준)
|Ye Jun (예준)
|Jun Wu (준우)
|Wu Jin (우진)
|Wu Ju (우주)
|Yun Wu (윤우)
|Ro Wun (로운)
The table above shows the percentage of the top 20 popular boy names for those who were born in Seoul in recent years according to the official website of the Supreme Court of Korea. After looking at the table, we can identify five trends in modern Korean boy names
To begin with, we can notice that people prefer names with easy pronunciation. Vowels such as ‘ㅏ’, ‘ㅜ’, ‘ㅗ’, ‘ㅣ’, and ‘ㅠ’ are included so that even foreigners can pronounce the names the right way.
Also, parents favor letters without final consonants, or they opt for letters ending in the consonant 'ㄴ'. This tendency is also driven by a desire to make the names easy to pronounce.
Furthermore, it's noticeable that each name has a relatively small number of individuals with that particular name. This implies that parents aim to provide their boys with distinctive names that are not commonly encountered.
The table shows that only 8 percent of boys have the most popular name, and other names that are not included in the top 20 list account for over 80 percent of the name holders. The recent trend that people do not follow Hangnyeol as strictly as they did in the past might have also contributed to this trend.
Another aspect to observe is the prevalence of Korean boy names that can be easily converted into English counterparts.
In the table above, we can find ‘Eden (이든)’ is ranked as the 15th most popular boy name. As Christianity has become one of the main religions in Korea, an increasing number of parents are inclined to name their children after characters from the Bible.
Furthermore, some parents choose English names for their children, whether or not they have a biblical connection. This choice is made to ensure that their children can introduce themselves without difficulty to people from different cultural backgrounds. So, you can also find 다니엘(Daniel), 필립(Philip), and 재익(Jake) as Korean boy names.
The 20th ranking name in the provided table, 로운, highlights a tendency for names that harmonize well with their surnames. For instance, when 로운 is paired with the surname 이, it forms the word 이로운, meaning ‘being beneficial’.
With the combination of surnames, people can make a more creative and meaningful name such as ‘이루마 (to accomplish whatever you want)’, ‘정다운 (to be affectionate and warm)’, ‘우렁찬 (to be brave and sonorous)’, and so on.
Last but not least, there are more unisex names for boys than before. In the table above, 선우 or 우주 can also be used for girls, so some people might mistake them for girls’ names. Apart from these two names, there are many other names that boys and girls can share such as ‘연우’, ‘지우’, ‘이안’, ‘윤서’, and so on.
This tendency was commonly found for girls in the past since there was a kind of superstitious belief that girls with boys’ names would be better off in their lives. However, it was, in fact, an excuse for preparing boys’ names in the hope of having sons, only to use those names for their newborn daughters out of disappointment, without putting in further effort to come up with a distinct girl’s name.
The recent trend is not relevant to this practice in the past. Rather, parents just want to make a softer impression with their boys’ names.Conclusion
In this article, we explored Korean naming practices for boys, including popular names and recent trends. We also discovered the intriguing Hangnyeol naming tradition and how it is followed in Korea. We hope this article provided you with insights into the naming customs of your male Korean friends!