There are over 270 surnames in Korea. This is surprising for a country that has over 51 million people. The top 5 names on this list make up more than 50% of all Koreans. Kim alone makes up close to 21%. This means that in a population of over 50 million people, for every 5 Koreans you meet, you will likely meet one Kim. Therefore, having the same Korean last name does not always mean they are related.
Why are there so many Kims in Korea?
Throughout Korean history, the last name was determined by the clan or region they were born in. Many of these surnames stem from Chinese characters converted into a different script. In the case of Kim, the two major past Kingdoms of Korea were Gaya and Shilla, and the royal family for both Kingdoms had the last name, Kim. In the past, Kings would grant commoners surnames as a mark of favor.
When writing Korean names, the surname is always written and said first. This shows the importance of family and how a family should come before the individual. Below is a list of the top surnames in South Korea, as well as the meaning behind those names.
Kim is by far the most common Korean name. During the Joseon Dynasty, many commoners adopted family names for social and economic advantages. Therefore, many chose the name of the biggest clan at the time, the Kims. The meaning of Kim is gold or some kind of metal. It symbolizes power and wealth as throughout history, the Kim family has risen to power, and many became rulers. As many might already know, Kim is also the ruling family of North Korea.
Famous Kpop Stars with the Last Name Kim
Korean Character: 김
Chinese Character: 金
# of Koreans named Kim: 10.7 million
Lee is the second most common surname in Korea. While few spell their Lee as Yi, a vast majority of Koreans spell it as Lee (98%). The name comes from famous folklore about a famous minister named Li Zheng, who an evil King executed. His son Li Lizhen had to run away with his mother into the ruins of Yihou and survive by eating plums. This is why Lee has the “plum” meaning. In addition, Lee can also mean judge.
Famous Kpop Stars with the Last Name Lee
- ChaeRin Lee (CL), 2NE1
- ChangMin Lee, 2AM
- SoonKyu Lee, SNSD
- Areum Lee, T-ara
- HyukJae Lee (EunHyuk), Super Junior
Korean Character: 이
Chinese Character: 李
# of Koreans named Kim: 7.4 million
Park comes in 3rd on the list of the most common Korean surnames. Its meaning comes from “gourd” shaped like a chubby water bottle. Folklore has it that the very first Park was born out of an egg in the shape of a gourd. He became the first king of Silla, Hyeokgeose. These gourds can be found in traditional Korean stores in Korea. Most Park families have a gourd somewhere in their house.
Famous Kpop Stars with the Last Name Park
- ChanYeol Park, EXO
- Bom Park, 2NE1
- JiMin Park, BTS
- JungSoo Park(LeeTeuk), Super Junior
- ChoA Park, AOA
Korean Character: 박
Chinese Character: 朴
# of Koreans named Kim: 4.2 million
Jung is spelled in many different ways. This surname is sometimes spelled Jeong or even Chung. However, almost half spell it Jung. The name comes from the first Jung, who was the chief of one chiefdom among six chiefdoms. His name was given to him by King Yuri in the early Silla era.
Famous Kpop Stars with the Last Name Jung
- Ho-seok Jung (J-Hope), BTS
- Yun-ho Jung, TVXQ
- Byung-hee Jung, MBLAQ
- Jessica Jung, SNSD
- Krystal Jung, f(x)
Korean Character: 정
Chinese Character: 鄭
# of Koreans named Kim: 2.5 million
Choi comes in at #5 on this list. Its meaning is that of a governor who oversees the land and the mountain. Choi also means pinnacle or mountain. It is pronounced very differently in Korean. It sounds more like Chey; however, most westerners pronounce it Choy.
Famous Kpop Stars with the Last Name Choi
- Soo-young Choi, SNSD
- Min-ho Choi, Shinee
- Siwon Choi, Super Junior
- Gina Choi (G.NA)
- Seunghyun Choi, Big Bang
Korean Character: 최
Chinese Character: 崔
# of Koreans named Kim: 2.4 million
Cho accounts for 2% of the Korean population. It can also be written as Jo. The name Cho comes from a famous city in the province of Shanxi. There is a folklore about a scholar named Yi Kwang-ok who had a daughter that wanted to marry. A monk visited her and told her to go to a mountain to pray. After she did what the monk told her to do, she was pregnant. She gave birth to the first Cho of Korea.
Famous Kpop Stars with the Last Name Cho
- GaEun Cho, Dal Shabet
- JaYoung Cho, Dal Shabet
- HyunYoung, Rainbow
- KyuHyun Cho, Super Junior
- MiHye Cho, Brown Eyed Girls
Korean Character: 조
Chinese Character: 曺
# of Koreans named Kim: 1.5 million
The Chinese character for Kang means Strong. Kang in Korean has two meanings such as strong and river. Kang is also a popular name in China, and many feel that the name comes from a tribe that moved to Korea from China.
Famous Kpop Stars with the Last Name Kang
- DaeSung Kang, Big Bang
- MinKyung Kang, Davichi
- MinHyuk Kang, C.N. Blue
- JiYoung Kang, Kara
- JiHyun Kang, Sistar
Korean Character: 강
Chinese Character: 姜
# of Koreans named Kim: 1.3 million
Chang is a popular Chinese origin word that means “Prosperous” or “flourishing.” Chang is the third-most-common surname in China. Therefore all of the Korean Chang clans had their origins in China. However, most Koreans spell it, Jang.
Famous Kpop Stars with the Last Name Jang
- WooYoung Jang, 2PM
- Dongwoo Jang, Infinite
- WooHyuk Jang, H.O.T.
- Jang JinYoung (Xia), RaNia
- HyukJin Jang, 100%
Korean Character: 장
Chinese Character: 常
# of Koreans named Kim: 1.1 million
Surnames in Korea are often spelled differently abroad. Yun is sometimes written as Yoon and means “governor.” Paju City is the most well-known and largest Yun clan. The founding ancestor is General Yun Sin-dal.
Korean Kpop Stars with the Last Name Yoon
- BoMi Yoon, A Pink
- BoRa Yoon, Sistar
- DooJoon Yoon, B2ST
- Kristine Yoon (Hayana), Evol
- SooJin Yoon (Trinity), GLAM
Korean Character: 윤
Chinese Character: 尹
# of Koreans named Kim: 1.02 million
Finishing off our list of the top 10 surnames in Korea is Im. Im comes from two clan branches. The first clan branch is the Supul Rim. Members of this branch often write their names as Im (more common) and Lim. The Chinese character means “forest.” The second clan branch consists of one large clan house. Members of this clan branch both write and pronounce their names as Im. The Chinese character means “trusted/to bear duty.”
Famous Kpop Stars with the Last Name Im
- Yoona Im, SNSD
- SeulOng Im, 2AM
- JinAh Im (Nana), After School
- JaeBum Im, GOT7
- YooRi Im, EvoL
Korean Character: 임
Chinese Character: 任
# of Koreans named Kim: 1.01 million