Lee (Korean surname)

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For the Chinese surname from which this name is derived, see Li (surname 李). For the English surname, see Lee (English surname). For the list of people with this surname, see List of people with the Korean family name Lee.
Li (李).svg
The hanja for Lee
Pronunciation [iː] or [riː]
Language(s) Korean
Language(s) Chinese
Word/Name Korean peninsula
Meaning plum
Other names
Variant(s) I, Yi, Ri, Rhee, Rhie
See also Li,
Deoksu clan, Jinseong clan, Yong-in clan, Gyeongju clan, Yeoju clan, Jeonju clan, Danyang clan, Yangsan clan, Suan clan, Seongjoo clan, Hongju clan, Yeonan clan
Hangul 이 (리)
Revised Romanization I (Ri)
McCune–Reischauer Yi (Ri)
Note: North Korean usage is in parentheses
percentage of family names in Korea
  Kim, Gim
  Lee, Yi, Rhee
  Park, Pak
  Jung, Jeong, Chung, Cheong

Lee is the typical romanization of the common South Korean surname I (Hangul ) and North Korean surname Ri (). The name is written identically to the Chinese name Li 李 in Hanja characters. It is the second-most-common surname in Korea, behind only Kim.

In South Korea, the modern pronunciation of is like the English letter "E" (IPA: [iː]) and is therefore sometimes romanized as Yi,[1] particularly when it is used as a family name. Due to North–South differences in the Korean language, the traditional pronunciation of is still employed in South Korea and is similar to the English surname "Lee" (as Lee Myung-bak). Furthermore, because Korean tends to shift the phoneme l to r at the beginning of words, leading to the pronunciation /riː/, which produces the occasional romanizations Rhee (as Syngman Rhee) and Rhie (as Rhie Won-bok).


Monument for the founder of Gyeongju Yi clan

As with all Korean family names, the holders of the Lee surname are divided into different patrilineal clans, or lineages, known in Korean as bon-gwan, based on their ancestral seat. Most such clans trace their lineage back to a specific founder. This system was at its height under the yangban aristocracy of the Joseon Dynasty, but it remains in use today. There are approximately 241 such clans claimed by South Koreans. Most people with surname Lee in Korea belong to either the Jeonju or Gyeongju clans.

The Imperial Household of the Jeonju Family (House of Yi)[edit]

See also: House of Yi
Descendents of the Jeonju Lee family perform rites called Jongmyo jerye to honor their ancestors in an annual ceremony the Korean government has declared an Important Intangible Cultural Asset.

This is the least populous, and rarest of the Lee clans, with direct imperial roots to the founding of the Joseon Dynasty. The founder of this clan was Yi Han, a native of Baekje who later married a Silla princess and became a high official of Silla. His 22nd-generation descendant, Taejo of Joseon, went on to found the Joseon Dynasty. The House of Yi ruled Joseon for 518 years between 1392 and 1910, and established many of the cultural, artistic and linguistic foundations for modern-day Korea.

During its reign, the House of Yi consolidated its effective rule over the territory of current Korea, encouraged the entrenchment of Korean Confucian ideals and doctrines in Korean society, imported and adapted Chinese culture, and saw the height of classical Korean culture, trade, science, literature, and technology. The House of Yi has left a substantial legacy to modern Korea; much of modern Korean etiquette, cultural norms, societal attitudes towards current issues, and the modern Korean language and its dialects derive from the culture and traditions of their ruling period.[citation needed][tone]

As of 2014, the pretender to the Korean throne was Haewon, Princess of Korea. Members of the different branches of Jeonju Yi family dominated Korean history until the formation of the current Republic of Korea. Many families claim membership in the House of Yi, but few actually descend from the royal lineage. The House of Yi, in conjunction to its royal status, has produced innumerable figures of extraordinary influences in politics, the sciences, the arts, finance and academia. Many of these descendants play key roles in world politics, the sciences, the arts, finances, and academia today. Notable descendants include South Korea's first president and noted genius Syngman Rhee;[tone] the inventor of the modern Korean alphabet, hangul, and renowned polymath King Sejong the Great; the founder of the Joseon dynasty, as well as modern Korea, King Taejo; among many others.[tone]

Gyeongju clan[edit]

The founder of this clan was Alpyeong, one of the original village headmen of Silla, who chose Bak Hyeokgeose as the first king. According to the Samguk Sagi, the Yi name was officially bestowed on the family by King Yuri around 9 CE.

In present days, Lee Byung-chull, the founder of Samsung Group; Lee Kun-hee, the former Samsung CEO; and Lee Myung-bak, former president of South Korea are notable figures from the Gyeongju Lee clan.[2] It is the most populous of the Lee clan.

Pyeong-chang clan[edit]

The founder of this clan was Yi Gwang, an official of the Goryeo period. Yi Seung-Hoon, who was the first person that brought Catholicism to Korea, was in Pyeong-chang clan.

Deoksu clan[edit]

The founder of this clan was Yi Dongsu, an official of the Goryeo period. This was a prominent yangban clan during the Joseon Dynasty, producing figures including the admiral Yi Sun-sin and the philosopher Yi I. The clan seat, Deoksu, corresponds to Deoksu-hyeon, an old division of what is now Kaep'ung-gun in Kaesong city, North Korea.

Jinseong clan[edit]

Jinseong Yi clan (Hangul: 진성이씨, Hanja: 眞城李氏) was known for the famous Joseon scholar Yi Hwang (이황, 李滉) who founded the Yeongnam school and started a private Confucian academy. He also became one of the 18 Sages of Korea (동방 18현) and was honored as a Munmyo Bae-hyang (문묘배향).[3] The progenitor of this clan was Yi Seok (이석, 李碩) from the Goryeo Dynasty.

Yong-in clan[edit]

The founder of Yongin clan was Kil-kwon who helped to found Goryeo.

Yeoju clan[edit]

Prominent members of this clan include the Joseon Dynasty philosopher Yi Ik.

Danyang clan[edit]

The founder of this clan was Jeong Dojeon, who was the first Prime Minister of Joseon and had close relations to King Yi Seonggye. He bestowed upon him the right to start his clan, a right only a yangban could ask, thus Jeong Dojeon created a new yangban clan. The clan's ancestral seat is Danyang.

Yangsan clan[edit]

The founder of this clan was Yi Man-young, an internal minister in Korea following the fall of the Goryeo Dynasty. He died of strangulation near an isolated mountain.

Suan clan[edit]

The founder of this clan was Yi Gyunwoong (Korean: 이견웅), who helped found the Goryeo Dynasty.

Seongjoo clan[edit]

The founder of this clan was Sun Yu (Korean: 순유, Hanja: 純由), a prominent official of late Silla. His 12th-generation descendant Jang Gyeong (Korean: 장경, Hanja: 長庚) was also a prominent official of the Goryeo Dynasty. Eight generations of Jang Kyung's descendants yielded 75 civil examination qualifiers. As of a 2000 census conducted by the ROK, 186,188 Koreans of the Seongjoo Yi clan live in South Korea.

Hongju clan[edit]

The founder of the Hongju Lee clan was Yi Yu-seong, a member of the King's inner circle during the late Goryeo Dynasty. The clan's ancestral seat was bestowed when his 9th generation descendant, Yi Gi-jong, was titled. Hongyang/Hongju is located in present day Hongseong, South Chungcheong Province. Especially during the late Goryeo and early Joseon Dynasties, the Hongju Lee clan produced many outstanding and influential people, including Yi Yeon-su, Yi Seong, Yi Seo, and Yi Jong-jang.

Yeonan clan[edit]

Yeonan Yi clan (Hangul: 연안이씨, Hanja: 延安李氏)[4] was an aristocratic family clan during the Joseon Dynasty. They had several members become prime ministers and were known to have one of the highest numbers of Chief Scholars during that period. The progenitor was Yi Mu (이무, 李茂) who was from Tang China.

People with the surname[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kim, Yun-gu (2009-06-25). "성씨 로마자 표기 朴 'Bak' 李 'Yi' 제시" [The rule of romanization for surname, it is proposes to change the 朴 to bak and 李 to Yi]. Yonhap News. Retrieved 2015-03-07. 
  2. ^ Han Jeong-gon (한정곤) (2004-07-29) <재벌가 얽히고 설킨 혼맥 24탄> 삼성그룹 Ilyo Siisa, Vol. 445
  3. ^ Joseon Annals, September 15, 1604. No. 4
  4. ^ Joseon Annals, March 21, 1790. No. 3