Why Are So Many Koreans Named Kim?

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© mtsaride/Fotolia

Why Are So Many Koreans Named Kim?

About 20 percent ofِ South Korea’s population ofِ 49.3 million (2015 est.) hasِ the family nameِ Kim.
That’s aboutِ 10 million people.
Lee isِ the secondِ mostِ common name, andِ Park (or Pak) isِ the third.
All told, aboutِ 45 percent ofِ Koreans haveِ one ofِ these threeِ names! But whyِ areِ Kims soِ particularlyِ plentiful? And areِ they allِ related toِ eachِ other?

In theِ Silla kingdom (57 BCE–935 CE)—which variously battled andِ allied withِ otherِ states onِ the Korean peninsula andِ ultimately unified mostِ of Korea inِ 668—Kim (which means “gold”) wasِ theِ nameِ of a family thatِ rose toِ prominence andِ became theِ rulers ofِ Silla forِ 700 years.
For manyِ centuries inِ Korea, surnames wereِ rare among anyoneِ but royalty andِ the aristocracy.
This circumstance held untilِ theِ granting ofِ surnames becameِ a mark ofِ favor byِ the king duringِ the Goryeo dynasty (935–1392).

But notِ evenِ allِ those whoِ areِ Kims byِ inheritance areِ the same.
A basic unit ofِ the Korean traditional kinship system isِ the clan, orِ bongwan, a group whoseِ surname signifies a common geographical origin.
Thus, differentِ Kims canِ trace theirِ lineage toِ differentِ places, mostِ notably Gimhae.

Are allِ Koreans whoِ share a surname considered toِ beِ related toِ oneِ another.
Nowadays, theِ origins ofِ Korea’s clans areِ remote enoughِ that people whoseِ ancestral roots areِ in differentِ villages areِ considered eligible toِ marry oneِ another.
Nevertheless, thereِ was long a law inِ place toِ forbid marriage betweenِ people withِ theِ sameِ surname andِ ancestral paternal origin.