A guide to making your own Korean name.

By Korean Papa

How to create a Korean name - Learn Korean with my kids
Photo by Davi Moreira on Unsplash

Korean names are beautiful. In this article, we will help you to choose or create a Korean name using the unique art of naming.

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

Romeo and Juliet

I name apps and websites for living as a digital product designer. I'm also an aspiring amatuer screenwriter in Korean. I name my Korean characters. I also successfully named two of my daughters with Korean first names and English middle names.

Naming is an art. I love that famous line from Romeo and Juliet. It tells us what a name essentially is. It cannot replace you nor become your identity. And yet it should fully represent you and, better if it can also carry your fragrance ๐Ÿ˜‰

In this article, I will show you how to choose/create a right Korean name for yourself or for your future baby or for your significant others or whatever the case. I also tried to add the cultural backgrounds of Korean names in both modern and traditional Korea.

If you are in hurry (as we all are,) use this table of contents to navigate to the part you want.

Don't trust the Internet. So much misinformations out there.

My non-Korean wife googled Korean name on the Internet when we were working on our daughter's name. What she got were names that would be used back in 40s. Some of them are not Korean names at all.

We appreicate their efforts to even create these matierials on the Internet. But these names are straight out of 1940s and no one would use it these days.

She also tried to use so-called "name generators" that ask you for a bunch of questions and randomly put syllables together. The results were horrendous. Some of them were swear words and if you were not a Korean speaker, that'd be big trouble.

Korean naming is niche content and there are only a few reliable materials out there. That's why I decided to write this article.

1. You need to know why you need a Korean name

When I create a Korean name for friends, my kids and clients, I always ask myself these two questions.

  1. Why do I want/need a Korean name?
  2. What would my Korean name mean to me? Both long-term and short-term

Horace Grant Underwood was a Presbyterian missionary to Korea back in the late 1800s. His Korean name was Won Du-u (์›๋‘์šฐ) which sounds like his last name Underwood. It is witty and funny and yet it is also a real Korean name.

I bet his name could have served as a great icebreaker back in the 1800s. The name he chose was clearly planned. I have created a list of brilliant Korean names of some native nonnative Korean celebrities.

I would like to encourage you to write briefly down the answers to the two questions above:

[textareas]

Here are a few really good reasons I think you might want a Korean name.

A. For fun

I meant why not? This is a totally valid reason.

In this case, I'd like to encourage you to think 5 more minutes to read through the rest of the scenarios that you might want a Korean name below. Just pretend one of the scenarios below, for fun.

B. For Work

A name in the local language sometimes helps professionals working in that country. For eg. teachers, sales person and sport players.

"Teachers"

If you are a teacher working in Korea, having a witty and funny name like Mr. Underwood I mentioned above, can give a great impression on the first day of school. Even better, you can even ask your student to create your Korean name.

"Employees"

This sometimes works in a company setting as well. Although Koreans love to use English names even among themselves, a friendly name won't hurt in a casual social setting. If you are a salesperson, a great Korean name might land you the next big sales.

"Public figures"

One of my favourite soccer players back in the dayw was Shin Eui-Son who played in the Korean soccer league. Shin Eui-Son was from Russia and later became a Korean citizen. He documented his Korean name ์‹ ์˜์†, literally meaning "the hands of God," and guess which position he played. You might have guessed: Goalkeeper.

The name was a hit and there are more people who knew and heard about his name than the player himself. There are many neutralized Korean public figures who created their Korean names loved and remembered by many South Koreans. I will create another blog post just to list them later.

"Korean perfers to use titles + last name at work places"

When I worked with a Korean company in a formal setting, I rarely used the full name of colleagues. I almost never used the first names of my superiors.

Also there is also an idea of Ja(ๅญ—.) It is perhaps the most unique feature in the East Asian naming culture. (I will cover it in more detailed article later.) Basically in Korea, people called another adult with their formal name (not their real name.)

In modern days, English names are becoming popular for these formal names, especially in Korea and China. So instead of calling colleagues by their "personal" real name, people prefer to call each other by their English names at workplaces.

C. For online nickname or username

For all those K-Pop fans out there, you have come to a right place. The demands for a Korean nickname or username on the Internet are ever increasing. I have personally helped many friends from all over the world, to come up with a memorable and lovely Korean nicknames.

Although this article is all about creating or choosing "real" Korean names. All the naming techniques and systems are all the same.

D. For my kids

I named my two daughters with a Korean first name and English needle names. My wife and I spent months coming up with a Korean name that works in both English and Korean.

In Korea, very often, it is the grandparents who make names for their grandchildren. And there's also a booming a naming industry. People would pay hundreds or 1000s of dollars to create a name for their babies because, in traditional Korean society, people believe that your name not only represents you, but it also brings you different fortunes.

Even if you don't believe in this kind of thing, and might think it is a superstition. But it's deeply rooted in the Korean culture. Naming is a serious business in Korea.

Now, I'm a native Korean speaker and it yet took me months or almost half a year to name my kids. If you don't speak the language, or if you don't understand the Korean culture, it could be very difficult for you to do the same.

Of course, you can rely on your Korean friends or Korean family members. But if you don't have those luxuries, this article will provide you with the introduction of Korean naming, so that you can create a great name for your little one.

E. For my significant other

Do you want to create your do want to create a Korean name for your significant others, such as a boyfriend and girlfriend or wife or husband?

Most of the time, these names can be used as intimate names, and are often used only between you and your SO.

Creating a Korean name can sometimes be a very romantic activity as well. And you can help your relationship.

I've never created a Korean name for my wife because I love her name as it is, but I think it could be fun to create a Korean name for my wife one day.

F. For social life, moving to Korea etc

You might want to have a Korean name for other reasons that are not listed above.

For example, if you want to move to Korea, for studying or any other reasons, you might want a Korean name to improve your social life there.

I think respecting local language and culture can give a really good impression to the people there. If you can introduce yourself with your Korean name along with your preferred original name, they will appreciate your efforts and even feel respected, even if we don't actively use that Korean name.

So at the end of the day, it doesn't matter why you needed one, there are only pros to have a Korean name.

2. You need to make sure it doesn't sound too old or too young

Perhaps the biggest task of all.

Just like the English names, some Korean names are more prevalent in certain generations. Most Koreans can estimate a person's age just by listening to their names.

It could be a very difficult task if you are not a Korean native Korean speaker who are constanly exposed to 1000s of Korean names. A mere list of examples, won't help you learn the complex patterns of these names.

This is where you have to make a decision whether you wanted to ask for help.

3. Create or Choose

In other parts of the world, especially the Western world, first names are often chosen from a list of already existing names such as Ryan, Eden, or Jerome. In the modern day, we are constantly getting some new batch of "newage names."

But this is not by far comparable to versaltility, flexbility and diversity of Korean first names that allows nearly every Koreans to have their own unique first names.

"Pure Korean name and Hanja names"

There are, in general, two types of Korean names. One is sino-Korean or Hanja names.

Often Koreans have the first name with two syllables. And in Hanja names each syllable has its own meaning. So two characters are usually enough to create an original first name with rich meanings.

For example, in a Korean name "Ji Wu (์ง€์šฐ)," the syllable "Ji(์ง€)" can mean intelligence or wisdom. Wu(์šฐ) can mean house a universe for excellence. Together, it can mean "wisdom house" or "excellent wisdom," just by combining two Hanja Characters.

This subject can be a whole separate article. Still, we'll take a look at the introductory knowledge in the next section.

Another type of name is called a pure Korean name, which has been used alongside Sino-Korean names for 1000s of years. Pure Korean names have become increasingly popular in recent years. It was a part of the Korean cultural revival movement since the 80s and 90s, especially among the intellectuals, in the hope of reviving and restoring the Korean cultural identity after centuries of oppression.

These names often stem from existing Korean words. For example, one of my favourite Korean names, "Nuri," means the world in Korean. Another prevalent example is "Boram." It means fulfilling or achieving.

Sometimes these names can be very long. When I was a kid, I remember this kid with this lengthy, pure Korean first name. His name was "Hae-Ddeu-nen-nara (ํ•ด๋œจ๋Š”๋‚˜๋ผ)" which means a nation where sunrises or the country where the morning begins.

Regardless, whether you're going to choose or create a Korean name, there's a rule of thumb, as long as you can keep it sound like a first name, I should work. And as long as you avoid the names that have negative meanings, you should be okay. We will cover all of them in the sections below.

4. How to โ€œcreateโ€ a Korean name

Before the invention of the Korean alphabet, Hangul, thanks to King Sejong., the great. Koreans used Chinese characters to write down their languages. It also includes names, but don't get me wrong, they are still Korean names but written in Chinese characters' sound. The modern Chinese still uses a similar system to write foreign names. For example, Washington in Chinese is "hua sheng dun (ๅŽ็››้กฟ)."

In the last few centuries, the names using Chinese characters' sound and their meanings became very popular. Because the Chinese character is a single syllable, it is straightforward and fun to combine them to create a name with rich meanings.

"Not every Hanja character is used in names."

There are hundreds and 1000s of Chinese characters out there. But it doesn't mean that you can use all of them in the person's names. Certain types of Hanja characters, often less than 2000 of them, can be used to create Korean names. Given that you have to make the name sounds proper or acceptable, there are even fewer choices.

Here's a list of Hanja characters that you can use in names. I've listed each Hanja with its pronunciation and meaning.

Now you know what kind of characters out there to use. Now let's look at how we can combine them.

"One-syllable or two-syllable first names."

The Korean first name can also be one syllable, and it was more common back in the days. Some families, such as the former Korean royal family, strictly named their princes with one-syllable names. The King Sejong, who invented Hangul, also had a one-syllable name: "Do(๋„/็ฅน)" (it's pronounced Doh.)

"Do(๋„/็ฅน)" was the first name of Sejong the Great (์„ธ์ข…๋Œ€์™• se-jong-dae-wang)

One syllable name can be something you might want to consider. They sometimes make you sound more Korean, and the more authentic and classy.

But two-syllable first names are always the safest choice. Because it can have two Hanja, you can add more meanings to it.

"It is a last syllable that sets the mood."

In English, Gabriel is often used for boys and Gabriella for girls.

Korean names work in similar fashion. We also have a male sound ending and the female sound ending. Now referring back to the list of naming Hanja. I've also marked whether you can use them as either feminine, or masculine or neutral ending.

"Get inspired by existing names."

Imitation as the mother of creativity.

If you know some Korean names, from celebrities or singers, that's awesome. But if you don't and are not too familiar with the Korean names, you can read this article. We put up some famous and great Korean names so that you can get familiarized with them first.

"Be creative."

I named my daughters with Korean first names that work both in English and Korean speaking world. Although I won't mention their names in this article for their own privacy.

There are some native Korean names that sound very much like English names. For example, a Korean name Jun sounds like June. Another brilliant name I came across was the single letter name, Dan. In Korean, it is a legit name.

If you're not a native Korean speaker, it can be difficult to do that. But it won't hurt to be a little creative. You can always ask your Korean friends if the name is okay to use.

"In Korea, people believe your name dictates your fortune."

Koreans believe that names can decide your fortune. So we have a booming naming industry. Grandparents would spend 1000s of dollars to name their grandchildren.

In East Asia, we have a complex system to choose the correct Chinese Hanja characters for a name. You have to make sure the characters sound right. Which Five Elements (wood, fire, water, earth, metal) they belong to are big deals.

Diagram of the interactions between the Five Elements also known as the wuxing(ไบ”่กŒ).

For example, some characters belong to the Earth Element(้‡‘.) They work well with characters from the Water Element(ๆฐด,) but not with characters from the Wood Element(ๆœจ.)

I'll be covering this in another article in the future.

Sometimes, your name also has to work well with your birthdate. That's why many newborn babies in Korea don't have a name after months of their birth, waiting for the right name.

The pure Korean names are relatively free from this system because they are often not written in Chinese characters. Nowadays, many Koreans are beginning not to follow this tradition anymore. But the majority of people will still follow the system.

"Generation Name (๋Œ๋ฆผ์ž dolimaja)"

Now, here's another unique feature of the Eastern Asian namesโ€”Koreans name siblings or cousins in the same generation with at least one same character. We call it a generation name (character) or Dolimja in Korean.

Dol-lim means 'rotating.' Ja means 'character.'

For example:
Jun-wu ์ค€์šฐ (brother)
Jun-hyuk ์ค€ํ˜ (brother)
Jun-ho ์ค€ํ˜ธ (cousin)
Jun-seo ์ค€์„œ (cousin)

Here the Dol-lim-ja is "Jun."

I also share one character with all my cousins from my father's side. These Dol-lim-jas represent a particular generation. They are often predefined, within the family.

In my family, my Dol-lim-ja is only used by my generation, including my siblings and cousins. My father's generation, including his cousins and brothers, have their own Dol-lim-ja. The same does my grandparent's generations and so on.

5. How to โ€œchooseโ€ a Korean name

You might have come across lists of Korean names out there on the internet already. There are few lists on Pinterest. My wife, who's not a Korean speaker, also saw some of them. And she picked a few names for our daughters. 

Of course, none of them are usable. If you are a native Korean speaker, you can tell some of them are not even real Korean names.

"Get a good list of names."

If you want to choose a good name, of course, you'd have to have a good list of names. Here, at Korean Papa, we have compiled a list of names for boys and girls. We've also added their popularity, meaning and cultural context.

Go to our list of Korean names.

"Use celebrity names."

Using celebrity names is an excellent method. You can choose the name of celebrities such as a singer, actor, or writer. Of course, you have to make sure whether the star got into ugly scandals or not.

There are three usual drawbacks:

  1. You might not like to celebrity later on. 
  2. Singers and actors often use unusual nicknames rather than real names.
  3. The name might sound too old for your kid's generation.

"Choose a name in the family or around you."

In Korea, it's not common to name after your relatives because it might sound impolite or inappropriate. But cultures do change. And many Koreans are open to new ideas. It wouldn't hurt to name your son after his great-grandfather. 

You must always ask for permission first! It includes the relatives or grandparents who passed away earlier in which case, you need to ask other members of family if that is appropriate.

You can also choose the names of your best friends. Of course, you have to ask for their permission. In most cases, they might feel honoured. 

Keep in mind that this is a bit tricky because most Koreans don't want to share their first name. And I've never heard of this culture. So I did not want to include this in the list initially, but I will just lay it here. It's all up to you.

"Google the name you chose."

If you chose a celebrity's name, you might want to Google their name on the news to find out if it's still to use their name now. The name should not sound like a swear word too.

And most of all, google it to see if some bad people use the same name. 

For example, there are some infamous villains in Korean history that you might want to avoid. 

20 Korean names you might or want to avoid to use

"Other resources."

If you don't have Korean friends or Korean relatives who can pick a name for you, you can always use our services at KoreanPapa.

6. Korean Names for girls

Traditionally, there used to be less variations when it comes to names for women. Boy names focused more on their meanings than how good they sound, and girls' names often focus on how pretty they sounded. Now, this trend is slowly changing.

The parents would spend more time and effort to come up with a girl's name that has great meaning and sounds good. Here are some tips on feminine Korean names.

  • Tip 1. A syllable that ends with a with no ending consonant sounds more feminine, such as, Ah(์•„), Na(๋‚˜), and Da(๋‹ค.)
  • Tip 2. The syllables that end with ใ„ด(n) and, ใ…(m) and ใ…‡(ng) are often considered to be more feminine.
  • Tip 3. There are usually more feminine names in pure Korean, so it's easier to come up with a pure Korean feminine name.

7. Korean Names for boys

In Korea, there are names traditionally considered masculine and names that are considered feminine.

Here are some tips for picking a masculine Korean name for boys.

  • Tip 1: Choose a single letter name. With some exceptions, single-letter names are often considered to be more masculine.
  • Tip 2: The Hanja characters that end with consonant ใ„ฑ(g/k,) ใ…‚(b) and then ใ„น(R/L) are often considered to be masculine. For example, Hyok(ํ˜), Uk(์šฑ), Yeob(์—ฝ,) Seob(์„ญ), Yeol(์—ด)
  • Tip 3: Sino-Korean names with Hanja characters can sometimes be perceived as more masculine. Although this trend is changing, and some pure Korean names can sound more masculine these days. In 2021, the Sino-Korean Hanja names are still considered to be more masculine.
  • Tip 4: Some of the biblical names or the English names might still work. The popular examples are Isak(์ด์‚ญ) for Iaasac and Yoseb(์š”์…‰) for Joseph.

8. Gender-neutral Korean names

In early 2000, I was a big fan of actress ๊น€์ •์€(Kim Jung Eun or you can write it as Kim Jong Un.) Of course, I'm not talking about the dictator of North Korea here.

Kim Jong Un is a great example of a gender-neutral name, a very popular one for boys and girls.

"There are more gender-neutral pure Korean names."

It's trickier to create gender-neutral names with Sino-Korean Hanja characters. It's even hard for native Korean speakers. It all has to do with the combinations of sound. There are no definite choices of gender-neutral Hanja characters.

The good news is many pure Korean names are gender-neutral.

The most common ones are Boram (fulfillment) and Haneul (sky.)

9. Some other awesome materials

https://www.90daykorean.com/korean-name/

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