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Do Koreans Have Middle Names? (Very Surprising)

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Last updated:

Every culture around the world has a different way of naming people. In North America, it’s common for people to have a first name, middle name, and a surname.  

If you’re starting to become more familiar with different Korean names, you may notice they have 3 parts. This could have you asking the question “do Koreans have middle names?”

If you’re planning to visit Korea, it’s important that you learn a bit more about the culture. On this page, we’re going to talk about Korean names and answer the question of whether or not they have middle names. 

Keep reading to learn more. 

Do Koreans Have Middle Names?

Koreans don’t have middle names. While it may appear so when their names are written in the Latin alphabet, this isn’t the case at all. 

Korean names consist of three syllables. They begin with the family name (surname) as the first syllable, followed by a given name (first name) which will consist of two syllables.  

If you’re from a western country and reading a Korean name written in the alphabet you use, it will appear as though the name has 3 parts, which could give you the impression that the middle syllable is a middle name. 

When the name is written in the Korean alphabet, there are no spaces.

However, when it comes to the given name there will always be two syllables, but the name may not always have a space. 

For example, Dahee is a common given name for females. While Hyori is the correct way to spell the name with the Latin alphabet, it can also be spelled as Da-hee or Da Hee.

How Are Korean Given Names Chosen?

A Korean given name will consist of two syllables and traditionally, each one has a component. The first syllable will be the identifier, while the second one is the generational name. 

A generational name is one that will apply to the other female sibling as well. For example, if Da Hee had 2 younger sisters, their names could be Ji Hee and Min Hee.

It’s common in traditional Korean culture for parents to choose a Chinese character from hanja as the identifier name. This is because each character has a unique meaning. It’s common for a parent to be more focused on the meaning of the name as opposed to what the name sounds like. 

When Korean parents choose a given name for their first born of each gender, they will be choosing both the identifier name and the generational name. 

If there are certain traits that they want the child to have, such as intelligence, kindness, brave, etc., they will pick names with these meanings. 

For example, Da means good and Hee means joy. If parents are hoping that their daughter will be a good girl who brings people around her joy, then they may like this name. 

On the same note, some Korean families will put the generational name first and the identifier second. In this case, Da Hee’s sisters could be named Da Ji and Da Eun.

Why Do People From Western Countries Have Middle Names?

Now that you’re aware of why people in Korea don’t require middle names, you may be wondering why people in North America and Europe use them. Middles names are traditional in western countries because it is a great way to keep a family name going. 

Each generation, different names are considered trendy or appropriate for the time. It’s common for families to have a certain name that they want to pass down through each generation. 

However, it’s not always one that parents would want to give as their child’s first name. It also allows parents to keep these names in the family while giving their child a first name of their very own.

For example, if Richard is a family name you would use it as a middle name so there aren’t a dozen Richards at your next family reunion. 

This isn’t a tradition that Koreans follow. The only family name in Korea that gets passed down to a child is the surname. It’s not traditional to name a Korean child after one of their older relatives. 

Each set of parents will choose a new generational name for their family based on the meaning and won’t choose them based on their family’s history. 

Why Do Some Koreans Have Two Family Names?

When a Korean person has two family names, it may appear as though they have a middle name. 

The reason there are 2 family names is to distinguish what clan the family is a part of. There aren’t very many Korean family names. In fact, there are less than 300. Over 50 % of them are Park, Lee, and Kim.  

Park Dahee and Park Minja may not be related, so by using the two-name system, there will be less confusion. 

Instead, the names may be more like Yeoman Park Dahee and Gimhae Park Minja. The clan name is the city that the family originated from. 

This way people with the family name Park don’t have to question whether or not they are long-lost family.

By incorporating the clan name along with the family name, it has boosted the number of Korean surnames greatly. As of now, there are currently over 5,500 different Korean surnames. 

Do Koreans Inherit Family Names From Both Parents?

Traditionally, the family name that a Korean is given is one they will keep for life. When females get married, they don’t take their husband’s family name. 

Once the time comes when the couple is ready to have a baby, the child will inherit the father’s family name.

Other Interesting Facts About Korean Names

Before we let you go, we want to provide you with a few more interesting facts about traditional Korean names. 

  • Western culture has a big influence on South Korea. It’s common for Koreans that travel internationally often to also have a western name. Traditionally, they will choose the English version of their name. Park Da Hee may simply go by Hope Park when she’s visiting the US.
  • In western cultures, it’s common for people to refer to each other by only their surnames. This is often done in groups where 2 or more people have the same first name. It’s also more common among males than females. Calling a person solely by their family name isn’t a thing in Korea.
  • Modern parents are stepping away from using generational names, giving each of their children individual names.
  • While it’s not common, there are some Koreans that only have a one syllable given name. 

Final Thoughts

Do Koreans have middle names? No, middle names are not used in Korea. While most Korean names have three parts, a middle name is not one of them. A Korean name is made up of three syllables, which include:

  • Family name (surname)
  • Identifier name
  • Generational name

The identifier name and the generational name are the given names. A generational name is one that will be used for siblings of the same gender. 

However, more modern Korean parents are stepping away from this practice. While it’s rare, there are some Koreans that only have a one syllable given name. 

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    About The Author

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    Jason Park

    Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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