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What does a Korean name stand for? How can I decode it?

CONTINUED FROM Why do all Korean names have three syllables?

WHAT DOES A KOREAN NAME STAND FOR? HOW CAN I DECODE IT?

What does a Korean name stand for? How can I decode it?

Now that we’ve successfully learned the structure of a Korean name, let’s continue the winning streak and jump to another popular topic – what does a Korean name stand for and how can I decode it? To understand this concept, you need to know that more than 70% of the Korean vocabulary is based on hanja 漢字 한자 (the Korean term for Chinese characters borrowed from the Traditional Chinese that are incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation), and Korean names are not an exception – a typical Korean name has an underlying hanja character which represents a meaning (ideogram), while hangul 한글, the Korean alphabet, represents the speech sound (phonogram).

RELATED : Do Koreans speak Chinese or Japanese? Why Chinese characters are seen everywhere in Korea? Who invented hangul 한글 the Korean alphabet?

For someone named Lee Mi Hwa, it looks like this:

이 Lee 李 (“Jeonju” (place)) + 미 Mi 美 (“beautiful”) + 화 Hwa 花 (“flower”)

So knowing just the hangul sound of a name is looking only at half of the picture because there are a myriad of hanja characters with the same pronunciation that have various meanings.

A: Hi! My name is Lee Mi Hwa. Nice to meet you.

B: Are you serious? So is mine! What hanja characters do you use for your name?

A: Mi, meaning “enchanting” and Hwa, meaning “harmony.” And yours is?

B: Wow, that’s a really beautiful name! Mine is Mi, meaning “beautiful” and Hwa, meaning “a painting.” You might have guessed from my name, my Dad was an artist, but not a good one!

The example above isn’t to show that you’re expected to share with someone you met for the first time what hanja characters your name is based on (rather, just exchanging the hangul sound name is sufficient), but to illustrate the importance of knowing precisely what the underlying hanja character is and its meaning is necessary to fully understand one’s name. Case in point – on some Korean business cards, especially those from an older generation, you can find a name written both in hangul and hanja. This bilingual name writing practice is also found on official documents such as the identification card.

AND THE LONGEST KOREAN NAME AWARD GOES TO…

The longest Korean name is also made purely with a combination of Korean words – Park Ha Neul Byeol Nim Gu Reum Haet Nim Bo Da Sa Rang Seu Reo U Ri 박하늘별님구름햇님보다사랑스러우리, a tongue-twisting 17-syllable long name meaning “more beautiful than the star, the sun, the moon, and the cloud in the sky.”And you think your baby has a shot at setting a new record too? Sorry to burst your bubble but it’s not going to be possible because the current law limits the number of syllables of a first name to five max. Lastly, we have to talk about the power of habit – in real-life conversations, Korean people will still fit a lengthy name into the more familiar three-syllable format (for the sake of convenience, but after only getting well acquainted and becoming close) – so the above mentioned Park Ha Neul Byeol Nim Gu Reum Haet Nim Bo Da Sa Rang Seu Reo U Ri will be shortened to Park Ha Neul.

All right! I hope I’ve covered and answered all the questions you had about a Korean name, and explained that a Korean name can be as simple as a pair of syllables, but it contains a huge amount of family history and tradition. Now that you know how to unlock and decode a Korean name, try to find out what your favorite Korean stars’ names stand for!

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