Study: Why Does Everyone In Korea Have The Surname Kim?

The most common surname in Korea – Kim – has been traced back 1,500 years using a statistical model, providing evidence of a strong, stable culture that has remained intact to this day.

AsianScientist (Jul. 29, 2011) – The most common family name in Korea – Kim (김) – has been traced back 1,500 years using a statistical model, providing evidence of a strong, stable culture that has remained intact to this day.

In a study published yesterday in the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society’s New Journal of Physics, researchers estimate that in the year 500 AD, 50,000 people carried a Korean family name, of which there were 150 variations and 10,000 people carrying the name Kim.

When used as a family name, Kim is pronounced as gim. The surname is also used in China, Cambodia, and Vietnam as Jin (金), or “gold”, although it is less common than in Korea.

The family name you are born with is very important in the Korean culture, which is reflected in the tradition that women keep their family names when married. Confucian tradition also encourages a family to record their family tree in special books.

Using a set of ten historical Korean books, each documenting the history of a Korean family tree over the past 500 years, it was shown that the trend in Korean family names could be accurately described by a statistical model called random group formation (RGF).

The RGF model is a predictive tool that has previously been used to give accurate descriptions of the frequency of words in novels and the trend in the populations of cities throughout a country. It works by taking objects, such as the population of Korea, and dividing them into groups, in this case based on their family names.

The researchers found that the family name Kim was always proportional to the whole data set. This meant that the number of people with the family name Kim increased or decreased at exactly the same rate as the population grew and shrunk due to wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and fertility variations.

Such findings imply that the core of the Korean population remained stable and strong over time. As the population and occupied area expanded over the past 1,500 years, it basically swallowed other cultural influences without compromising a core of the Korean culture that remained intact.

One of the study’s authors, Professor Petter Minnhagen, said that the work may be expanded to studies of species distribution in biology which also seem to follow the RGF.

“Take the mammals, suppose there are at present X amount of families and Y amount of species distributed according to the RGF. If we follow the record backwards and the number of families decreases, the RGF will then give a prediction of the number of species existing at the earlier times and the size distribution of the families. At least that is the idea,” Minnhagen said.

The article can be found at: Baek SK et al. (2011) The ten thousand Kims.


Source: Institute of Physics.
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