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Say you are watching a K-Drama and you hear someone referred to at 형, (hyung).  Then you watch another drama and here someone else referred to as 형.  Still in another drama, someone one completely different is referred to as 형.  You may feel that 형 is one of the most common names in Korea.  Then you see someone who was called 형 earlier, calling someone else 형.  What’s going on?  Why does someone who has a name keep getting called 형?  Why isn’t he called by his actually name?

When You’re Korean, Your Family

The reason for this is that in Korean culture, everyone is one big family.  To show respect for someone, or to show how close the two of you are to each other, you will use a title instead of referring to them by their name.  Here are a few examples of titles that you will hear or say a lot when talking to your Korean friends.

형(Hyung): Older brother. What a male will call his biological older brother, a male who is like is older brother or is old enough to be his brother.

누나(Nuna): Older sister. What a male will call his biological older sister, a female who is like his older sister or a female who is old enough to be his sister.

오빠(Oppa): Older brother.  Female equivalent of 형.  This gets confusing since some women are shown in Korean dramas calling their boyfriends 오빠.  You will also find some women calling their husbands that as a way to show respect.  But both of those are wrong according to the dictionary of what 오빠 really means.  Some women in Korean companies will refer to their boss as 오빠, but that is usually a sign that the two are having an affair if they are not related.  To make sure that no one gets confused as to what you mean if you are a woman calling a man 오빠, make sure you use your normal voice and not a flirty voice when saying 오빠.

언니(Eunni): Older sister. Female equivalent of 누나.

동생 (Dongsang): One’s younger sibling, someone who is like your younger sibling or someone young enough to be your younger sibling.  You will use 남(Nam) before 동생 for a for a male, and 여(Yo) before 동생 for a female.

엄마(Omma): What you would call your mom.  Sometimes you can call your friend’s mom this as well.

아빠(Abba): What you would call your dad.  Sometimes you can call your friend’s dad this as well.

아버지(Aboji): Father.  When you hear people praying, they will often use the word 아버지 since it is more formal and polite than 아빠.

할머니(Halmoni): Grandmother.  Older women are usually called this.  This is because in Korean culture, one person’s grandmother is everyone’s grandmother.  But since Korean culture is an age based system, an older woman will not call another older woman by this title.  A middle aged woman may refer to her as 언니 to try and make her feel younger.

할아버지(Halaboji): Grandfather.  The same rules for 할머니 apply for 할아버지.  An older or middle aged man may call him 형 if they are close enough in age.

아줌마(Ajumma): A middle aged woman.  These women tend to rule the subways of Korea.  They will tell younger people to talk softer, than talk louder than everyone else.  The only people who can correct an 아줌마 is typically another 아줌마 or a 할머니.  Life will be easier for you if you do your best to obey these women.  Also, if you see 2 or more 아줌마’s arguing, stay out of it as much as possible.

아저씨(Ajossi): A middle aged man.  Sometimes, it is used as a way to say sir, gentleman or pops.  While he doesn’t always tell people to be quiet on the subway, a man who is an 아저씨 by age should be shown the same level of respect as an 아줌마.

Just the Basics

These are just a few examples of titles you would call people in Korean culture.  There are more titles to show the difference between someone on your mother’s side and your father’s side of your family.  But the titles mentioned above are the ones you will hear and use the most.  Fell free to use this list, or to share it with others who are learning Korean.

I hope this list proved helpful.  And as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to #askthewaygookin.