How do I write my name in Korean?
Need a good conversation starter for your Korean
Write your name in Korean and show it to
them. They will be impressed!
In a Korean dictionary, what would
be the order of words? Believe it or not, you already know
the answer -- the alphabetical order!
Unlike in English dictionaries,
however, words in Korean dictionaries are sorted based on their
first consonant. What do they do with words starting with a vowel?
Here is the trick: there is a special symbol for a "zero sound
"consonant. So, even when a word is pronounced
starting with a vowel, in the written form, it starts with a consonant, the
"zero sound" consonant, followed by the sounded vowel. The
"zero sound " consonant looks like the figure zero ("0"). (The
similarity is merely an interesting coincidence. The
was invented in the 16th century, hundreds of years before
the Arabic numerals were introduced into Korea.) One has to be careful,
however, as the same Korean letter "0" signifies the /ng/ sound
when it comes at the end of a syllable (a syllable is each of the tiny square units you see in Korean texts).
A friend of mine once said she figured out how to tell Korean
texts from Chinese or Japanese – only Korean has the
character O. And she is right.
Here is an example. It's a
Korean phrase meaning "How are you?"
If this looks hopelessly complicated -
it's not! Let me walk you through step by step.
First of all, what did you notice graphically? Yes! You
are a keen observer – there are five aggregates or clusters of
letters. Korean is written in "clusters" of letters rather
than "strings" of letters as in English. Each cluster
corresponds to one syllable.
Now, let's go one step further. Can you count how many
parts (component letters) each cluster has? Do they all
have two? Three? As you can see (or will see), the
first two clusters in the example above have 3 parts each, and
the 3rd, 4th and 5th clusters consist of only two parts each.
A Korean syllabic cluster has either 2 or 3 letters in it.
The basic structure of a cluster looks like this:
The first part of a cluster is
always a constant (real or null) ("C" in the figure). Then
comes the vowel (V). Some vowels are written vertically as
in the left example of the figure; some are written
horizontally as shown on the right. The third part, if there is
one, is always a constant (C) and is written at the bottom of a
cluster - its called a "pedestal".
Some syllables don't have the last consonant and simply
end with a vowel without a pedestal. Such a cluster looks like this:
If you scroll up and revisit the Korean equivalent of
"How are you?", you may recognize that the first two are C-V-C
clusters and the rest are C-V clusters. If you can't
see it right away, that's because you haven't seen the individual
letters of the Korean alphabet yet. It's time to
learn Korean consonants and vowels.
The Korean alphabet has 14 basic
consonants and 10 basic vowels. So, there are only 24
letters to learn. Yes, that's two less than the English
alphabet. (In addition to these, there are some intuitively-obvious
mixed compounds – these will be dealt with shortly.)
Take a look at the Korean alphabet by
clicking the links in the table below.
The Consonants link will show the 14 basic Korean
The Vowels link will show the 10 basic Korean vowels.
- Compound consonants and
compound vowels are shown separately.
- For all consonants and vowels,
pronunciation keys are given in English.
Your Name in Korean Alphabet
Some of you may be thinking, "Well,
then I think I can write my name in Korean." But, wait,
there is another step that I want to take you through.
After this short step, you can really write your name in Korean!
Look at the 14 basic Korean consonants. They are easy to
learn, as each has a distinct shape and there is a fairly good
one-to-one correlation between the Korean and the English consonants in terms of the sound.
There are exceptions, of course, as you would expect in any
What about the
vowels? At first glance, some Korean vowels may look very
similar. But, if you invest a few minutes of your time, you
can easily tell them apart. If you need help in training
your eye for Korean vowels, click
We saw that some Korean
vowels are written on the right side of a consonant, whereas
some are written underneath a consonant. Is there a rule
about this? The key is the shape of
- If the overall shape of the vowel is vertical,
it is placed on the right
side of the preceding consonant.
- If the overall shape
of the vowel is horizontal,
it is is placed
When you write a Korean
cluster, you always write the first consonant first, then the
vowel, and finally, the "pedestal" (final consonant), if there
Let's revisit the phrase we saw earlier.
In this example, you are looking at five syllabic clusters
arranged from left to right and a question mark. The first
cluster has three elements: a null (no-sound) consonant, then /ah/ sound
followed by /n/ sound. The second syllable has 3
elements: /n/ followed by /yu/ followed by /ng/.
The third has only two: /h/ sound followed by /ah/.
The fourth is a soft /s/ followed by /eh/. The fifth is a null
consonant followed by a /yo/ sound.
Now you can pronounce the whole phrase:
This is the most general greeting that you can use in any
occasion, at any time of the day.
At this point you may be wondering: "Where should I put the accent?"
Well, here is the thing. Korean words and sentences
generally have no stress points. You can simply pronounce
these five syllables more or less monotonously. Some Korean dialects
spoken in rural provinces have strong ups and downs and strict rules
for applying these stress points. But the language spoken in the region of
Seoul (the "standard" Korean language) is almost
free of stress points.
In fact, the more monotonously you utter a Korean sentence, the
more sophisticated it would sound to Korean ears. So,
stress is one thing you don't need to worry about. Don't
you think this makes Korean easy to learn? After all,
you've just mastered one Korean phrase -- that's wonderful.
If you review what has
been explained so far, you should be able to write your name in Korean.
Do you need some more examples? O.K., here are some
common English first names written in the Korean alphabet.
Please remember that the phonetic correlation between English
and Korean is pretty good but not perfect. As such, there can be several different ways to
write English names in Korean alphabet; and the Korean
rendition that you will see here is by no means the only version.
By clicking the following links, you agree that you won't use these spellings for any official or legal purposes.
Hope this article was helpful.
Enjoy writing names in Korean!
By the way, if you want to test how
well you can read Korean, click here.
A Brief History of the Korean
The Korean alphabet system was invented in the early part of
the Yi Dynasty by a group of scholars, who carried out the
research at the Palace Library of Classics ("Jip Hyun Jun"),
which was an institution organized within the royal palace in Seoul (the palace is preserved and open to tourists).
When the result of their research was
published in 1446, it marked a dramatic departure from the practice of relying on the
Chinese characters, which the Koreans had been using for
more than a thousand years. Chinese characters are stylized symbols of things and ideas, whereas the
Korean alphabet represents consonants and
Because the Korean
alphabet was invented "overnight" rather than having evolved
over centuries, the inventors wanted
to have a test-run to see if the new system could really capture all aspects of the linguistic reality that existed in
Korean at the time. For this
purpose, they authored a series of epic poems with such titles
as Moonlight Shining on One Thousand Rivers (1447)
and Six Flying Dragons (1447). The latter
glorifies, understandably, the King who commissioned the project
(King Se-Jong: 1397-1450). He was an unusually
scholarly monarch, who not only sponsored the work but was also
deeply involved in it personally. It was rumored that at
least one of the letters was his own
invention. He wrote the preface to the 1446
publication that first explained the Korean alphabet.
This preface represents the first sentences written in Korean.