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Korean Names and Titles

Korean Names and Titles

Most Koreans have three names.  
The family or surname comes first so Roh Ji-hoon (노지훈) is Mr. Roh (pronounced/written as Noh). Ji-hoon is the name his parents gave him. In English, this name can be written Roh Ji-hoon, Noh Ji-hoon, Roh Jihoon, Noh Jeehoon, etc.. There are about 200 Koran surnames, but of these - KIM, LEE, PARK - are the names of more than half the population. Lee, Yi, Rhe and Ee are the English translations of the same name (Lee). Choi (pronounced ‘cheh’), Chung, Yoo, Yoon, Shin, Han, Oh, Min and Chang are some of the other common family names. The name ‘Noh” has been spelled ‘Rho’ in English for generations, to avoid calling someone by a negative when speaking English.

The second name is usually a generational name. Siblings and cousins can share the same second name. Chosen by parents or relatives and sometimes with the aid of onomancer or name-chooser, the second name often has a lucky or prosperous connotation and is a Chinese character, like the other names. The given or personal name is placed third. Christian names are not legal Koran names though they may be given at baptism or later if the family is Christian. Korean women do not change their surnames when they marry.

Names are very personal possessions for the Korean people and are not used with frequency as proof of friendship as they are in the West. Happily for foreigners who may know a number of Mister Kim’s, they can say Director Kim, Professor Kim, Deputy Manager Kim, etc. as these convenient titles show an appropriate measure of respect. Older Koreans you become acquainted with may call you by your first (given) name because you insist (or because other expats do) but they may feel very uncomfortable if you call them by their given names. The younger generation is somewhat more comfortable using given names. Koreans usually address each other as Mr. Kim, Miss Yang, or by their title – Manager Koo, Chairman Kim, or by their occupation - Driver Yoo or Electrician Shin, so it is advisable not to stress familiarity until the appropriate time. Mothers are still often referred to as their oldest male child’s mother (i.e. Jeon-bin’s Mother).  

Titles* serve an important function because Koreans want to situate the people they meet, not only to establish a relationship but because one cannot speak correctly without knowing to whom one is speaking. Some Koreans who interact frequently with foreigners choose English names to avoid confusion. However, if a client or business contact has introduced herself/himself using an English name, you will also want to know her/his Korean given name since others in his/her company won’t necessary know the ‘nickname’. You may therefore find it difficult to find Ms. Kim or to find Sunny Kim or James Lee.
(*See below for a link to information on titles in Korean as well as more information on Korean business culture.)

 When Koreans meet, they greet each other with a slight bow. The junior bows lower than the senior or superior. The bow is usually followed by the right hand going to the pocket containing a business card.  

The exchange of business cards, with the name often printed in both Korean and Chinese characters, also tells succinctly what position each person holds. Most Koreans have one side of the card printed in English and the other in Korean and Chinese (their name). When presenting or receiving a card, use both hands or if that’s not possible, use your right hand with your left hand holding your right elbow – as a sign of respect. Business cards are treated as an extension of the person and must also be treated with respect. Place the card on the table in front of you after you have spent a little time studying it. Avoid writing on it or putting in your pocket.  

K4E Editor: tries to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and complete, so should you notice any errors or omissions in the content above please contact us at


Last Updated on 2021-11-11

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