A Team of Kims

While watching women's curling in this year's Olympics, I noticed that all five of the South Korean curlers have the surname Kim.  Their coach's surname is also Kim.  And the assistant coach?  Yes, another Kim.  Two of the curlers are sisters, but the others are unrelated.

This article talks about that phenomenon as related to the broader South Korean surname landscape:


Some highlights:

  • The team members refer to one another as E. Kim, Y. Kim and so forth.
  • 1/5 of South Koreans have the surname Kim.
  • 64% of South Koreans have one of the 10 most common surnames.
  • To avoid confusion, a speaker might use a person's profession along with his surname (i.e. "Reporter Kim") and might also include his given name.

The article also gives some interesting historical background on how this came to be.

It's surprising to me (knowing little about South Korean culture) that the team members don't address one another by their given names!


February 21, 2018 1:38 AM

Since surnames come first in Korean, I've changed all occurrences of "last name" to "surname" and "first name" to "given name" in your post. It's a whole lot less confusing that way. :-)

By EVie
February 21, 2018 2:10 PM

I was fascinated to learn that Korean mailing addresses are also listed "backwards" (from our point of view), and the explanation that it's because in a collectivist culture the larger groupings are privileged over the smaller. Cool!

I'd be interested to know how the diversity in given names compares to the diversity in Western names. English may not be a fair comparision, as we've had an explosion in name diversity in the last century, including a lot of international imports, but what about, say, Italian, or Spanish from Spain? I know very little about Korean naming beyond what an old regular poster here shared with us many years ago when naming her kids (hi hyz, if you ever come back this way). Are Korean names like Chinese names, in that they are taken from vocubulary and so there are a pretty wide variety of options?