[THE ECONOMIST] Why so many Koreans are called Kim

September 8, 2014
kim, last name

Somewhere along the line, the Korean National football team decided to print full name on the back of the jerseys. (Newsis)

[THE ECONOMIST] 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 more than 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. [READ MORE]