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Korean surnames

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Korean surnames, evidence of stable history

By Mark Peterson

Korean family names are unlike those of any other country. First, there are so few. Roughly 250, traditionally. In recent years there is a scattering of new names, mainly of immigrants, some from China and some from other countries. But traditionally, there were only around 250; compare this with Japan ― over 10,000 surnames.

Germany, the United States, and many other countries have thousands of surnames. But Korea has only 250. Why? That is the question. What is the reason there are so few surnames in Korea?

A related question is why are so many people named Kim? The answer, 21 percent, becomes a new question ― why such a high percentage? And the same question for Lee (Yi, Rhee) at 15 percent and Pak (Park, Bak) at 9 percent.

The problem in Korea is that no one sees this as a question! It's just assumed that three surnames take in 45 percent of the population and that is normal. Well, it's normal for Korea, but it is absolutely odd for every other country on the planet. The only cultural saying about these three surnames is the "sokdam"........

© The Korea Times