Why Do So Many Koreans Have The Same Last Name?

This was one of the lineups of Korean football players in the Qatar World Cup. As you can see in the picture, those countries that mention players by last names must have had a difficult time calling their names. ????

The Most Common Last Names in Korea

There’s a Korean saying that 1 out of 5 people’s last name is Kim. Statistically, it can be correct! You probably have noticed that so many of the same last names, such as Lee, Park, and Choi, are widely used in Korea.

But, why are there so many same last names in Korea?

We have to understand a bit of Korean history.

The Period of the Three States (7th century)

Influenced by the culture of China, the royal family and noblemen started adapting last names.

Goryeo Dynasty (918 – 1392)

King Taejo Wang Geon, gave family clans and last names to the ruling classes. The last names were assigned by region.

Late Joseon Dynasty (1876 – 1909)

A lot of lower-class people bought last names and family clans with money from poor noblemen. They bought common last names to not get caught.

Modern Era (1909)

In 1909, the law that assigned last names to all citizens was implemented. Everyone had to choose their last name.

In short,

1. Having a last name was a privilege of the ruling classes until the Joseon Dynasty period.

2. Lower-class people really wanted to have a last name.

3. In 1909, a year before the Japanese colonial era began, every Korean picked their last name regardless of their status. 

4. It was because the Civil Registration Act was implemented and needed to check people’s identity and population.

5 Interesting Facts About Korean Names

김진수 / Kim Jin-soo

1. The last name comes before the first name.

2. Names usually consist of three letters. 
(But there are also names with two or four letters, or even longer.)

3. Children typically take their father’s last name. 
(Some choose to take their mother’s last name these days.)

4. There’s no middle name.

5. No one really calls you only by your last name.

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