Way back in 2004 when I was new in Korea, my Korean friend Seungpa used to always tease me about my name. According to many Korean people back then, “John” was an extremely common name for pets, as was “Mary.”
Shortly after that I had my opportunity for revenge, when a close friend’s cat had kittens, and I was able to name one of them “Seungpa.”
Years later I got my own two cats — from the same mother as Seungpa, just later litters. Their names are Millie and Buster, after Jamaican ska musicians, and I didn’t quite think they counted for this article, even if Millie usually goes by 아기 (Eggy) which means baby, a nickname that gets odder the older she gets (she’s seven now).
Pet ownership is undeniably on the rise in Korea. And it’s probably just me, but especially a lot more people are owning cats now than back then. Or that could just be the people I know.
I solicited my friends on Facebook in order to get an idea of what Koreans were naming their animals. This is not at all a definitive list; my Korean friends typically don’t fit the standard mold, and many of the respondents are in punk, hardcore, or skinhead bands.
This was an attempt to find out what Koreans were naming their pets, regardless of whether the names were in English or Korean. However, I also allowed a few answers from foreign friends, especially in the cases where their animals had Korean names.
Let’s start with cats:
옥분 (Ogboon/”Jade Powder”): “Her eye color is jade.”
꿀빵이 (Kkulbbangi/”Honey Bread”): “It seems delicious.” (Apparently Korean cat lovers think that one position that cats frequently rest in resembles the shape of a loaf of bread.)
Coheed and Cambria: “I dont think my cat names are related to this topic. I named them after one of my favorite bands Coheed and Cambria.” (As I said above, I’m interested in English names Koreans give animals too.)
성게 (Seonggye/”Sea Urchin”): “Because the cat is black.” (Are sea urchins usually black?)
하양이 (Hayangi/I’ll translate this to “Whitey” but don’t go looking for racial meanings): “Because the cat is white.” (This cat lives with Seonggye.)
하루 (Haru/”One Day”): “Bcuz he was the first one.”
마끼 (Makki/slang for “Youngest One”): “She was the youngest one and in Korean 막내 is youngest one. 막이 > 마끼.” (This cat lives with Haru.)
Buckley: Named after a foreign friend, and not the musician Jeff Buckley as we’d all expected.
해골 (Skull): “[My husband] asked his students what’s the best name for his cat. The kids said ‘해골, because you have skull patches all over your bag. You must like it so much.’” (Her husband is an Australian who worked as an English teacher in Korea and also performed in two hardcore bands, which explains why he has skull patches on his bag.)
백두 (Baekdu): “I had a cat named Baekdu (백두) after the highest mountain in Korea.” (This name comes from an Australian friend who lived in Korea several years ago.)
태백 (Taebaek): “I then became the owner of Baekdu’s son, so I named this cat Taebaek (태백) after a smaller Korean mountain.”
The following cat names all come from Korea.net photographer extraordinare Jeon Han, whose family looks after a great deal of cats out in the countryside.
모카 (Mocha): “hair color”
원숭이 (Wonsoongi/”Monkey”) – Looks like monkey
쫍 쫍이(Jjopjjopi): “When she kisses us, it sounds like 쫍쫍 (Jjop Jjop).” (I have no clue what this would sound like. What noise do cats make when they kiss?)
귀떼기 (Kwittegi/”Ear taken off”) – “One of her ears is half missing. We’re assuming it’s because of a fight between cats when she was young.”
쌍둥이 (Ssangdungi/”Twin”): “Looks just like Jjopjjopi.” (It also turns out there are two cats who look alike, so they are Ssangdungi 1 and Ssangdungi 2.)
흰둥이 (Hwindungi/”White”): “Hair Color.”
And now for dogs:
두만 (Dooman): “Actually 만두 in Korean means dumpling. If I use 만두, it sounds very funny. My surname is 손, Sohn. 손만두 means “hand-made dumpling.” So I just changed the order of the letters, from 만두 to “두만.” Many people around me burst into laughter when they hear the name, but I LOVE the name!”
포도 (Podo/”Grape”): “My dog’s name is Podo, because his eyes are completely ’round’ like grapes.” (Podo is a mixed Maltese/Pekingese).
순 자 (Sunja): “Sun in Sunja is 順, which means “meek and mild.” She is very docile and mild.” (Sunja is an eight-year-old chihuahua.)
땡칠이 (Thangchiri): named after the dog of movie character Young Gu played by the comedian Shim Hyung-rae.
모카 (Mocha): “Because its colour is mocha.” (Interesting to note that this is the only name that appears twice on the list.)
몽실 (Mongshil/”Fluffy”): “I just named my dog “Mongshil” because its fur is fluffy. When it was young, it rolled around like a fluffy ball.”
두부 (Dubu/tofu): My naming was pretty basic. He was big and white and fluffy and I thought
he looked like a dubu, tofu as you know.”
미소 (Miso): “Not after the Japanese soup but after the Korean word for smile.”
대구 (Daegu): “My hometown is Daegu.” (Daegu is a bull terrier.)
And one snake:
청담 (Cheongdam): “The reason why it is named ‘Cheongdam’ is because I bought it with money issued by a Woori Bank branch located in Cheongdam-dong.” (This ball python lives with Daegu.)
So, that’s what I got from the people I know.
It’s interesting to see that physical attributes especially colour dominate the list, and there seems to be relatively little reliance on traditional or popular names, like Fido or Max in English. I would guess this is due to a lack of familiarity with pet naming conventions and traditional names, or in the case of Mr Jeon the need to name a bunch of animals at once and be able to recall the names instantly.
Food names also seemed popular, and fortunately not as some sort of reference to you know what. Place names got a bit of a boost due to two people naming four animals, and there were fewer references to people (or bands) than I was expecting.
Also interestingly, for every name that ends on a consonant sound, three end on a vowel sound, which follows closely with English pet naming trends (Millie vs Buster, for instance).
Speaking of English, there were only four English names, and two of them were a reference to one band while two of them were a food name that’s the same in both Korean and English (mocha). So, no more John and Mary.
So if you’re looking to name a pet, you can’t easily go wrong with a Korean name, but there are no real conventions on naming pets in Korean. So, you’re probably best off whipping out a dictionary and finding a good-sounding word that describes your pet.