Korean Boy Names: a comprehensive guide

Jimin, Yunki, Seojun… As Korean movies and K-pop boy bands like BTS are gaining popularity across the globe, many of you might have already heard some Korean boy names.

Also, some of you may already be familiar enough with Korean names that you could tell the difference between boy names and girl names when you hear them. As discussed in the previous article about Korean girl names, the last name comes before the given name for boys as well, and the given name usually consists of one or two syllables.

Some Korean letters are preferred for boy names, while others are favored for girl names. We are going to talk about what letters are commonly used for boy names in Korea and some characteristics in naming boys.

After reading this article, you will be able to tell what boy names are popular these days and some fun information that you can learn from their names.

The traditions for naming boys in Korea

Compared to western cultures, one of the biggest differences is that people rarely name their children after famous people from the past or saints in the holy scriptures. Therefore, it is almost impossible to figure out the origin or the historical meaning of a certain name.

Rather, it is more common to consider the feeling of the sound value and the meaning of the Chinese characters. Thus, if you ask your Korean friends what the origins of their names are, they might give you an answer about the meaning of their names instead of the origin.

Another difference from western cultures is that people avoid using the same name as their ancestors. It is legally impossible for a son to have the same name as his father since the birth registration for such a case is not processed and accepted.

It is also avoided on account of the culture of ancestor worship in Korea. 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 regarded as disrespectful.

Apart from that, naming a child after ancestors can disrupt the traditional culture called Hangnyeol, which is ordering names for each generation in a family. For those three reasons mentioned above, it is very hard to find someone who has the same name as his father or grandfather in Korea.

Hangnyeol, a traditional naming custom in Korea

Korean people have named their children according to a custom called Hangnyeol, and this tradition is still followed by many families in Korea. Hangnyeol refers to the custom that people of the same generation in a family share a common syllable (a common Chinese character, to be more exact) in their names.

This was more strictly applied for naming boys than girls due to the influence of Confucianism during the Joseon Dynasty. In those ancient times, women were considered inferior to men as they were not believed to inherit the family blood. Therefore, women’s names were not registered into the genealogical record, and it was not allowed to include of 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 (also 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.

diagram showing an example of the Hangnyeol tradition for Korean male names

Chronological tendencies for boy names

When naming boys, it is common to consider how it may sound to others, its meaning when using Chinese characters, and also the custom Hangnyeol mentioned above. 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 boys per decade:

For instance, it would be assumed that a man named ‘영식(Yeong Shik)’ is not 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.

Another conspicuous change in naming boys is that letters with a masculine impression like ‘철(Cheol)’ or ‘혁(Hyuk)’ are no longer popular now as they were in the past. Rather, letters with no 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 that parents want to include a variety of letters that were not commonly used in the past. They do not want to include some popular letters for their boy names. Instead, they search for some letters that were rarely used in order to give their boy uniqueness in his name.

Hence, men who were born in the 1950s have a similar pattern in their names like ‘영호’, ‘영철’, ‘영수’, etc., and quite a lot of boy names were concentrated to a few similar names. However, 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.

Popular Korean boy names in recent times

We have learned about a traditional Korean naming custom which is called Hangnyeol. Although there are fewer families that 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 do not want to name their boys according to the custom. They put more emphasis on the sound value of the name and the impression it may give, so after choosing letters with preferred sound value, they choose Chinese characters that have an equivalent sound to what they have already chosen.

Table: Most popular Korean boy names in recent years
Rank Name Percentage
1 Yi Jun (이준) 8.22
2 Yi An (이안) 7.43
3 Seo Jun (서준) 6.54
4 Ji Ho (지호) 6.01
5 Ha Jun (하준) 5.96
6 Do Yun (도윤) 5.94
7 Shi Wu (시우) 5.75
8 Eun Wu (은우) 5.13
9 Tae O (태오) 4.83
10 Seon Wu (선우) 4.82
11 Su Ho (수호) 4.58
12 Ju Won (주원) 4.35
13 Yu Jun (유준) 4.27
14 Ye Jun (예준) 4.09
15 Eden (이든) 3.98
16 Jun Wu (준우) 3.84
17 Wu Jin (우진) 3.71
18 Wu Ju (우주) 3.56
19 Yun Wu (윤우) 3.56
20 Ro Wun (로운) 3.42
Others Others 80.45

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, it is recognized that recent boy names follow these five trends:

Trends for Korean boy names

Names with easy pronunciation

Firstly, we can see 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, it exhibits that parents prefer letters with no final consonants, or they only include letters with the final consonant ‘ㄴ’. It is also because parents want to promote the ease of pronouncing the name.

Unique names

In addition, each name has very few people with its name holders. In other words, parents want to give their boys unique names that cannot be easily found anywhere. 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 have more than 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.

Korean names that can be converted into English names

We can also take notice of names that can be converted into English names. 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, more and more people want to name their children after Bible characters. Also, without any consideration for the Bible, people just want to give their children English names so that their children will not have any trouble introducing their names to foreigners. So, you can also find 다니엘(Daniel), 필립(Philip), 재익(Jake) as Korean boy names.

Names that match their surnames well

Moreover, 로운 ranked 20 in the table above shows there is a tendency for names that match their surnames well. For example, when 로운 is together with the surname 이, it can make 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 forth.

Unisex names

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 giving birth to boys only to give them to their newly born girls with disappointment and without any more effort to come up with a 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.


In this article, we have learned how Korean people name their boys, what some popular boy names are in recent years, and what the recent tendency is for boy names. We have also learned an interesting naming custom in Korea, Hangnyeol, and how Koreans follow it. We hope this article will give you some interesting insights about your male Korean friends!