All the way back in 2004, the legendary Korean singer and actor Lee Seung-Gi made everyone swoon when he debuted with the song “Because You’re My Woman” (내 여자라니까). The 17-year-old took on the role of a younger man in love with a noona who only sees him as a little brother.
In 2008, K-Pop icons SHINee sang their way into women’s hearts by singing “Noona, You’re So Pretty” (누난 너무 예뻐). They made everyone fall in love with their boyish charms and even became known as the “Nation’s Younger Guys.”
Just in 2018, Hallyu stars Jung Hae-In and Son Ye-Jin captured everyone’s attention with the K-Drama “Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food” (also known as “Something in the Rain”).
So much of Korean pop culture reference Noonas, but what does that word actually mean? We’ll tell you everything you need to know about this unique Korean concept!
What does Noona mean in Korean?
The literal English translation of “noona” (also spelled as “nuna”) is “older sister.” Only men can say the word “noona.” If you’re a girl who wants to call an older sister, you must use the word “unnie” instead.
But aside from older sisters, Korean men also say noona to call other women, even if they’re not related. From close friends, relatives, and girlfriends, noona is used in a variety of different situations!
When do Koreans use Noona?
The word noona can seem friendly, respectful, or even flirty–all depending on how you use it! Here we’ve compiled just a few of the situations when you can say noona.
Korean men call their older sisters as “noona.” But because the word can be used even with non-family members, sometimes men will use the term “chin noona” to emphasize that they’re talking about their older sisters.
Female Relatives and Cousins
“Noona” also extends to other family members, not just older sisters. Usually, older female cousins are also called “noona” by younger boys. To differentiate an older cousin from an older sister, you can also use the term “sa-chon noona.”
Older Female Acquaintances and Friends
Noonas are not just the women in your family. In fact, close older friends are also called “noona” by men. Do take note that this is only used between people who are only a couple years apart, ranging from about 1 to 10 years. If the woman you’re talking to is older than that, then it may be better to call her “noonim” or even “ajuhmma” instead.
Noona is also a very friendly and casual word, so make sure to use it only with people you’re close to! The rule of thumb is to ask them if they’d be comfortable with being called “noona” first.
Female Upper Classmates
Upperclassmen in Korean schools, universities, and even companies are often called “sunbaenim” which means “senior.” This is a respectful and gender-neutral way to call older colleagues or classmates.
But once you get closer to female colleagues or seniors, they may tell you to start calling them “noona” instead. Again, remember that this is usually initiated by the older person! Don’t call them “noona” without their permission, because you might come off as rude.
Does Noona mean girlfriend in Korea?
As relationships between younger men and older women become more common, some guys do call their girlfriends noonas! Usually, cute younger guys will also call women “noona” to ask for favors. However, noona doesn’t directly translate to “girlfriend” in Korean.
Before getting into a relationship though, some guys are wary of calling their crushes “noonas” because they don’t want to be seen as just younger brothers. They want to seem more manly to catch the attention of their crush.
What do Koreans call their girlfriend?
While “noona” is sometimes used even in romantic relationships, there are other Korean pet names that are much more common.
Between couples, the term “jagiya” (자기야) is very common. It’s a sweet word that can mean something similar to “baby” or “honey.” Aside from jagiya, men also call their girlfriends “gongjunim” (공주님) meaning “princess” or “nae sarang” (내 사랑) meaning “my love.”
Meanwhile, married couples will usually call each other “yeobo” (여보). It also roughly translates to something like “honey” or “darling.”
How to use Noona in Korea?
“Noona” is a friendly way to call older women, but you must also be wary that it can come off as disrespectful in certain situations.
For example, it can seem unprofessional to call someone “noona” in the workplace. In cases like this, the term “noonim” might be better. It’s a more respectful and honorific way to call an older woman.
“Ajuhmma” is also commonly used when referring to older women, especially if they’re married or over 40 years old. If “ajuhmma” makes them feel way too old, then they might appreciate being called “noonim” instead.
Figuring out whether to use “noona,” “noonim,” “ajuhmma,” or other terms can be tricky at first, especially for non-native Korean speakers. When in doubt, just ask the person you’re talking to what they want to be referred as.
I hope you enjoyed this article on what Noona means in Korean!
“Noona” is another one of those common Korean words that you’ll encounter everywhere. Now that you know all the different uses for the word “noona,” tell us which fact you found most interesting in the comment section!
If you liked this article, make sure to check out our other posts on What Oppa Means in Korean and All You Need To Know About Korean Etiquette.