当前位置: Language Tips> 双语新闻


Why so many Koreans are called Kim

中国日报网 2014-09-15 11:46





A SOUTH KOREAN saying claims that a stone thrown from the top of Mount Namsan, in the centre of the capital Seoul, is bound to hit a person with the surname Kim or Lee. One in every five South Koreans is a Kim—in a population of just over 50m. And from the current president, Park Geun-hye, to rapper PSY (born Park Jae-sang), almost one in ten is a Park. Taken together, these three surnames account for almost half of those in use in South Korea today. Neighbouring China has around 100 surnames in common usage; Japan may have as many as 280,000 distinct family names. Why is there so little diversity in Korean surnames?

Korea’s long feudal tradition offers part of the answer. As in many other parts of the world, surnames were a rarity until the late Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). They remained the privilege of royals and a few aristocrats (yangban) only. Slaves and outcasts such as butchers, shamans and prostitutes, but also artisans, traders and monks, did not have the luxury of a family name. As the local gentry grew in importance, however, Wang Geon, the founding king of the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392), tried to mollify it by granting surnames as a way to distinguish faithful subjects and government officials. The gwageo, a civil-service examination that became an avenue for social advancement and royal preferment, required all those who sat it to register a surname. Thus elite households adopted one. It became increasingly common for successful merchants too to take on a last name. They could purchase an elite genealogy by physically buying a genealogical book (jokbo)—perhaps that of a bankrupt yangban—and using his surname. By the late 18th century, forgery of such records was rampant. Many families fiddled with theirs: when, for example, a bloodline came to an end, a non-relative could be written into a genealogical book in return for payment. The stranger, in turn, acquired a noble surname.

As family names such as Lee and Kim were among those used by royalty in ancient Korea, they were preferred by provincial elites and, later, commoners when plumping for a last name. This small pool of names originated from China, adopted by the Korean court and its nobility in the 7th century in emulation of noble-sounding Chinese surnames. (Many Korean surnames are formed from a single Chinese character.) So, to distinguish one’s lineage from those of others with the same surname, the place of origin of a given clan (bongwan) was often tagged onto the name. Kims have around 300 distinct regional origins, such as the Gyeongju Kim and Gimhae Kim clans (though the origin often goes unidentified except on official documents). The limited pot of names meant that no one was quite sure who was a blood relation; so, in the late Joseon period, the king enforced a ban on marriages between people with identical bongwan (a restriction that was only lifted in 1997). In 1894 the abolition of Korea’s class-based system allowed commoners to adopt a surname too: those on lower social rungs often adopted the name of their master or landlord, or simply took one in common usage. In 1909 a new census-registration law was passed, requiring all Koreans to register a surname.

Today clan origins, once deemed an important marker of a person’s heritage and status, no longer bear the same relevance to Koreans. Yet the number of new Park, Kim and Lee clans is in fact growing: more foreign nationals, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipinos, are becoming naturalised Korean citizens, and their most popular picks for a local surname are Kim, Lee, Park and Choi, according to government figures; registering, for example, the Mongol Kim clan, or the Taeguk (of Thailand) Park clan. The popularity of these three names looks set to continue.


在韩国有一种说法,从首都首尔中心的南山顶扔下一块石头肯定会砸到一个姓金或姓李的人。每五个韩国人中就有一个姓金的人——而他们的总人口也不过五千万多一点。而且从现任总统朴槿惠到说唱歌手鸟叔(本名朴载相Park Jae-sang),几乎每十个人中就有一个姓朴。这三个姓氏加起来就几乎占了韩国如今姓氏的二分之一。而相邻的中国有常用姓氏近100个,日本不同的姓氏则多达28万个。为什么韩国姓氏如此之少呢?

韩国长期的封建传统是其部分原因。就像世界许多其他地方一样,在朝鲜王朝(1392-1910)末年之前,姓氏是稀有的。它们是皇族和一些贵族(两班)所独有的特权。奴隶和被逐之人,如屠夫、巫师和妓女,以及工匠、商人、和尚都不能冠以姓氏。然而,随着地方士绅重要性的增加,高丽王朝(918-1392)的开国皇帝王建(Wang Geon)试图通过授予姓氏以突显忠诚之士和朝廷官员来缓和事态。使人能够平步青云、受朝廷录用的公务员科举考试要求所有报考的人登记姓氏。因此达官显贵们有了姓氏。越来越多的成功商人也有了姓氏。他们可以用金钱换取贵族(或许是一个落魄的两班)的族谱,然后使用他的姓氏。18世纪末,这种宗谱伪造十分猖獗。许多家族都篡改他们的族谱:例如当某个血统后继无人时,就把没有血缘关系的人写进族谱,而作为回报,这个陌生人就能获得一个高贵的姓氏。



(译者 黄海艳 编辑 丹妮)


【每日一答】为什么韩国姓金的人这么多 【每日一答】为什么韩国姓金的人这么多



















关于我们 | 联系方式 | 招聘信息

Copyright by chinadaily.com.cn. All rights reserved. None of this material may be used for any commercial or public use. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. 版权声明:本网站所刊登的中国日报网英语点津内容,版权属中国日报网所有,未经协议授权,禁止下载使用。 欢迎愿意与本网站合作的单位或个人与我们联系。



Email: languagetips@chinadaily.com.cn