Understanding Korean Naming Conventions to Enhance Investigations


Korean names are composed of two parts: 

  • Surname 
  • Given name


Korean surnames always come before the given name when written in Korean. Some individuals may write their given name first when written in Latin characters (for example, Moon Jae-in would become Jae-in Moon).

Surnames are nearly always only one syllable long. There are a few two syllable surnames, such as Namgung (남궁) or Hwangbo (황보), but these are extremely rare.

The most common surnames according to the South Korean census are Kim (김), Lee (이), and Park (박). In 2015, approximately 45% of South Koreans had one of these three surnames.

Given Name

Given names always come after surnames when written in Korean. Most given names are two syllables long, though single syllable given names are possible.

Some romanization systems will place hyphens or spaces between the first and second syllable of Korean given names. Even if a hyphen or space exists in a name’s romanization, the given name itself is made of both syllables in that exact order.

Familial Connections

The majority of Koreans adopt the surname of their father. Married couples traditionally do not adopt the surname of their spouse.  


Chang Je-won

장         제원 

The family name is Chang (장), the given name is Je-won (제원). 

Hwang Kyo-ahn 

황          교안

The family name is Hwang (황), the given name is Kyo-ahn (교안). 

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