South Korea: First Name or Title?


Addressing others with respect

If you know someone’s title, you can address him/her by both the title and his/her family name, i.e. Mr. Kim or Director Park. Don’t call older/senior people and customers by their first name unless you are asked to do so. In Korean corporations doing business internationally, it’s been very popular to use the two initials of one’s first name, such as C. H. Kim for Chan-Ho Kim. Some people have also adopted Western names.

Korean names are different from Western names. A person has, in the following order, a family name and a given name. Sometimes, a given name may include a part with a family/generation heritage.

Korean family names tend to be one-syllable, while given names are more likely to be two-syllables.

The most common family names are Kim, Park, and Lee. These names are written in English in various ways: Lee might be spelled as Rhee or Yee.
You may meet several people at once with the last name of ‘Kim’: nearly a quarter of the population has this last name.

Married women will retain their maiden names.

When writing formal letters or e-mails, address the recipient as ‘Dear’, with the title and last name.