Names of Korea
There are various names of Korea in use today, derived from ancient kingdoms and dynasties. The modern English name Korea is an exonym derived from the Goryeo period and is used by both North Korea and South Korea in international contexts. In the Korean language, the two Koreas use different terms to refer to the nominally unified nation: Chosŏn (조선) in North Korea, and Hanguk (한국) in South Korea.
The earliest records of Korean history are written in Chinese characters called hanja. Even after the invention of hangul, Koreans generally recorded native Korean names with hanja, by translation of meaning, transliteration of sound, or even combinations of the two. Furthermore, the pronunciations of the same character are somewhat different in Korean and the various Korean dialects, and have changed over time.
For all these reasons, in addition to the sparse and sometimes contradictory written records, it is often difficult to determine the original meanings or pronunciations of ancient names.
Until 108 BC, northern Korea and Manchuria were controlled by Gojoseon. In contemporaneous Chinese records, it was written as 朝鮮, which is pronounced in modern Korean as Joseon (조선). The prefixing of Go- (古), meaning "ancient," is a historiographical convention that distinguishes it from the later Joseon Dynasty. The name Joseon is also now still used by North Koreans and Koreans living in China to refer to the peninsula, and as the official Korean form of the name of Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The word is also used in many Eurasian languages to refer to Korea, such as Japanese, Vietnamese, and Chinese.
Possibly the Chinese characters phonetically transcribed a native Korean name, perhaps pronounced something like "Jyusin". Some speculate that it also corresponds to Chinese references to 肅愼 (숙신, suksin), 稷愼 (직신, jiksin) and 息愼 (식신, siksin), although these latter names probably describe the ancestors of the Jurchen.
Other scholars believe 朝鮮 was a translation of the native Korean Asadal (아사달), the capital of Gojoseon: asa being a hypothetical Altaic root word for "morning", and dal meaning "mountain", a common ending for Goguryeo place names.
An early attempt to translate these characters into English gave rise to the expression "The Land of the Morning Calm" for Korea, which parallels the expression "The Land of the Rising Sun" for Japan. While the wording is fanciful, the essence of the translation is valid.
Around the time of Gojoseon's fall, various chiefdoms in southern Korea grouped into confederacies, collectively called the Samhan (삼한, "Three Han"). Han is a native Korean root for "leader" or "great", as in maripgan ("king", archaic), hanabi ("grandfather", archaic), and Hanbat ("Great Field", archaic name for Daejeon). It may be related to the Mongol/Turkic title Khan.
Han was transliterated in Chinese records as 韓 (한, han), 幹 (간, gan), 刊 (간, gan), 干 (간, gan), or 漢 (한, han), but is unrelated to the Chinese people and states also called Han, which is a different character pronounced with a different tone. (See: Transliteration into Chinese characters). The Han dynasty did have an influence on the three Han as Chinese characters were eventually used called Han-ja.
Around the beginning of the Common Era, remnants of the fallen Gojoseon were re-united and expanded by the kingdom of Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. It, too, was a native Korean word, probably pronounced something like "Guri", transcribed with various hanja characters: 高句麗, 高勾麗, or 高駒麗 (고구려, Goguryeo), 高麗 (고려, Goryeo), 高離 (고리, Gori), or 句麗 (구려, Guryeo). The source native name is thought to be either *Guru ("walled city, castle, fortress"; attested in Chinese historical documents, but not in native Korean sources) or Gauri (가우리, "center"; cf. Middle Korean *gaβɔndɔy and Standard Modern Korean gaunde 가운데).
The theory that Goguryeo referenced the founder's surname has been largely discredited (the royal surname changed from Hae to Go long after the state's founding).
Revival of the names
In the south, the Samhan resolved into the kingdoms of Baekje and Silla, constituting, with Goguryeo, the Three Kingdoms of Korea. In 668, Silla unified the three kingdoms, and reigned as Later Silla until 935.
The succeeding dynasty called itself Goryeo (고려, 高麗), and regarded itself as the successor of Goguryeo. The name Goryeo (also spelled as Koryŏ) was the shortened form of Goguryeo (also spelled as Koguryŏ) and was first used during the reign of Jangsu in the 5th century. Through the Silk Road trade routes, Muslim merchants brought knowledge about Silla and Goryeo to India and the Middle East. Goryeo was transliterated into Italian as "Cauli", the name Marco Polo used when mentioning the country in his Travels, derived from the Chinese form Gāolí. From "Cauli" eventually came the English names "Corea" and the now standard "Korea" (see English usage below).
In 1392, a new dynasty established by a military coup revived the name Joseon (조선, 朝鮮). The hanja were often translated into English as "morning calm/sun", and Korea's English nickname became "The Land of the Morning Calm"; however, this interpretation is not often used in the Korean language, and is more familiar to Koreans as a back-translation from English. This nickname was coined by Percival Lowell in his book, "Choson, the Land of the Morning Calm," published in 1885.
In 1897, the nation was renamed Daehan Jeguk (대한제국, 大韓帝國, literally, "Great Han Empire", known in English as Korean Empire). Han had been selected in reference to Samhan (Mahan, Jinhan, Byeonhan), which was synonymous with Samkuk, Three Kingdoms of Korea (Goguryeo, Silla, Baekje), at that time. So, Daehan Jeguk (대한제국, 大韓帝國) means it is an empire that rules the area of Three Kingdoms of Korea. This name was used to emphasize independence of Korea, because an empire can't be a subordinate country.
When the Korean Empire came under Japanese rule in 1910, the name reverted to Joseon (officially, the Japanese pronunciation Chōsen). During this period, many different groups outside of Korea fought for independence, the most notable being the Daehan Minguk Imsi Jeongbu (대한민국 임시정부, 大韓民國臨時政府), literally the "Provisional Government of the Great Han People's Nation", known in English as the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (民國 = 民 ‘people’ + 國 country/nation’ = ‘republic’ in East Asian capitalist societies).
In 1948, the South adopted the provisional government's name of Daehan Minguk (대한민국, 大韓民國; see above), known in English as the Republic of Korea. Meanwhile, the North became the Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk (조선민주주의인민공화국, 朝鮮民主主義人民共和國) literally the "Chosŏn Democratic People Republic", known in English as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The name itself was adopted from the short-lived People's Republic of Korea (PRK) formed in Seoul after liberation and later added the word "democratic" to its title.
Today, South Koreans use Hanguk (한국, 韓fgÀÀğČŴʊ#) to refer to just South Korea or Korea as a whole, Namhan (남한, 南韓; "South Han") for South Korea, and Bukhan (북한, 北韓; "North Han") for North Korea. South Korea less formally refers to North Korea as Ibuk (이북, 以北; "The North"). In addition the official name for the Republic of Korea in the Korean language is "Daehan Minguk" (대한민국; "The Republic of Korea").
North Koreans use Chosŏn, Namjosŏn (남조선, 南朝鮮; "South Chosŏn"), and Bukchosŏn (북조선, 北朝鮮; "North Chosŏn") when referring to Korea, South Korea, and North Korea, respectively. The term Bukchosŏn, however, is rarely used in the north, although it may be found in pre-war sources, such as the Song of General Kim Il-sung.
In the tourist regions in North Korea and the official meetings between South Korea and North Korea, Namcheuk (남측, 南側) and Bukcheuk (북측, 北側), or "Southern Side" and "Northern Side", are used instead of Namhan and Bukhan. ≈ The Korean language is called Hangukeo (한국어, 韓國語) or Hangungmal (한국말,韩國말) in the South and Chosŏnmal (조선말, 朝鮮말) or Chosŏnŏ (조선어, 朝鮮語) in the North. The Korean script is called hangeul (한글) in South Korea and Chosŏn'gŭl (조선글) in North Korea. The Korean Peninsula is called Hanbando (한반도, 韓半島) in the South and Chosŏn Pando (조선반도, 朝鮮半島) in the North.
In Chinese-speaking areas such as mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, different naming conventions on several terms have been practiced according to their political proximity to whichever Korean government although there is a growing trend for convergence.
In the Chinese language, the Korean Peninsula is usually called Cháoxiǎn Bàndǎo (simplified Chinese: 朝鲜半岛; traditional Chinese: 朝鮮半島) and in rare cases called Hán Bàndǎo (simplified Chinese: 韩半岛; traditional Chinese: 韓半島). Ethnic Koreans are also called Cháoxiǎnzú (朝鲜族), instead of Dàhán mínzú (大韓民族). However, the term Hánguó ren (韩国人) may be used to specifically refer to South Koreans.
Before establishing diplomatic relations with South Korea, the People's Republic of China tended to use the historic Korean name Cháoxiǎn (朝鲜 "Joseon"), by referring to South Korea as Nán Cháoxiǎn (南朝鲜 ("South Joseon"). Since diplomatic ties were restored, China has used the names that each of the two sides prefer, by referring to North Korea as Cháoxiǎn and to South Korea as Hánguó (韩国 "Hanguo"). The Korean language can be referred to as either Cháoxiǎnyǔ (朝鲜语) or Hányǔ (韩语). The Korean War is also referred as Cháoxiǎn Zhànzhēng (朝鲜战争) in official documents but it is also popular to use hánzhàn (韓战) colloquially.
Taiwan, on the other hand, uses the South Korean names, referring to North Korean as Běihán (北韓 "North Han") and South Korean as Nánhán (南韓 "South Han"). The Republic of China previously maintained diplomatic relations with South Korea, but has never had relations with North Korea. As a result, in the past, Hánguó (韓國) had been used to refer to the whole Korea, and Taiwanese textbooks treated Korea as a unified nation (like mainland China). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China under the Democratic Progressive Party Government considered North and South Koreas two separate countries. However, general usage in Taiwan is still to refer to North Korea as Běihán (北韓 "North Han[guk]") and South Korea as Nánhán (南韓 "South Han[guk]") while use of Cháoxiǎn (朝鮮) is generally limited to ancient Korea. The Korean language is usually referred to as Hányǔ (韓語).
Similarly, general usage in Hong Kong and Macau has traditionally referred to North Korea as Bak Hon (北韓 "North Han") and South Korea as Nam Hon (南韓 "South Han"). Under the influence of official usage, which is itself influenced by the official usage of the People's Republic of China government, the mainland practice of naming the two Koreas differently has become more common.
In the Chinese language used in Singapore and Malaysia, North Korea is usually called Cháoxiǎn (朝鲜 "Chosŏn") with Běi Cháoxiǎn (北朝鲜 "North Chosŏn") and Běihán (北韩 "North Han") less often used, while South Korea is usually called Hánguó (韩国 "Hanguk") with Nánhán (南韩 "South Han[guk]") and Nán Cháoxiǎn (南朝鲜 "South Chosŏn") less often used.
The above usage pattern does not apply for Korea-derived words. For example, Korean ginseng is commonly called Gāolì shēn (高麗參).
In Japan, the name preferred by each of the two sides for itself is used, so that North Korea is called Kita-Chōsen (北朝鮮; "North Chosŏn") and South Korea Kankoku (韓国 "Hanguk").
However, Japan-based North Koreans claim the name Kita-Chōsen is derogatory, as it only refers to the northern part of Korean Peninsula, whereas the government claims the sovereignty over its whole territory. Pro-North people such as Chongryon use the name Kyōwakoku (共和国; "the Republic") instead, but the ambiguous name is not popular among others. In 1972 Chongryon campaigned to get the Japanese media to stop referring to North Korea as Kita-Chōsen. This effort was not successful, but as a compromise most media companies agreed to refer to the nation with its full official title at least once in every article, thus they used the lengthy Kita-Chōsen (Chōsen Minshu-shugi Jinmin Kyōwakoku) (北朝鮮(朝鮮民主主義人民共和国) "North Chosŏn (The People's Democratic Republic of Chosŏn)"). By January 2003, this policy started to be abandoned by most newspapers, starting with Tokyo Shimbun, which announced that it would no longer write out the full name, followed by Asahi, Mainichi, and Nikkei
For Korea as a whole, Chōsen (朝鮮; "Joseon") is commonly used. The term Chōsen, which has a longer usage history, continues to be used to refer to the Korean peninsula, the Korean ethnic group, and the Korean language, which are use cases that won't cause confusion between Korea and North Korea. When referring to both North Korean and South Korean nationals, the transcription of phonetic English Korean (コリアン, Korian) may be used because a reference to a Chōsen national may be interpreted as a North Korean national instead.
The Korean language is most frequently referred to in Japan as Kankokugo (韓国語) or Chōsengo (朝鮮語). While academia mostly prefers Chōsengo, Kankokugo became more and more common in non-academic fields, thanks to the economic and cultural presence of South Korea. The language is also referred to as various terms, such as "Kankokuchōsengo" (韓国朝鮮語), "Chōsen-Kankokugo" (朝鮮・韓国語), "Kankokugo (Chōsengo)" (韓国語(朝鮮語)), etc. Some people refer to the language as Koriago (コリア語; "Korean Language"). This term is not used in ordinary Japanese, but was selected as a compromise to placate both nations in a euphemistic process called kotobagari. Likewise, when NHK broadcasts a language instruction program for Korean, the language is referred to as hangurugo (ハングル語; "hangul language"); although it's technically incorrect since hangul itself is a writing system, not a language. Some argue that even Hangurugo is not completely neutral, since North Korea calls the letter Chosŏn'gŭl, not hangul. Urimaru (ウリマル), a direct transcription of uri mal (우리 말, "our language") is sometimes used by Korean residents in Japan, as well as by KBS World Radio. This term, however, may not be suitable to ethnic Japanese whose "our language" is not necessarily Korean.
Uri (우리 "we/us/our") is the first-person plural pronoun and it is commonly used as a prefix in Korean terms to describe things that are Korean, such as uri nara (우리 나라, "our country") which is yet another name Koreans give their country, uri yeoksa (우리 역사, "our history") which means Korean history, and uri shikdang (우리 식당, "our restaurant") which means Korean restaurant.
In Japan, those who moved to Japan usually maintain their distinctive cultural heritages (such as the Baekje-towns or Goguryeo-villages). Ethnic Korean residents of Japan have been collectively called Zainichi Chōsenjin (在日朝鮮人 "Joseon People in Japan"), regardless of nationality. However, for the same reason as above, the euphemism Zainichi Korian (在日コリアン; "Koreans in Japan") is increasingly used today. Zainichi (在日; "In Japan") itself is also often used colloquially. People with North Korean nationality are called Zainichi Chōsenjin, while those with South Korean nationality, sometimes including recent newcomers, are called Zainichi Kankokujin (在日韓国人 "Hanguk People in Japan").
Mongols have their own word for Korea: Солонгос (Solongos). In Mongolian, solongo means "rainbow." And another theory is probably means derived from Solon tribe living in Manchuria, a tribe culturally and ethnically related to the Korean people. North and South Korea are, accordingly, Хойд Солонгос (Hoid Solongos) and Өмнөд Солонгос (Ömnöd Solongos).
The name of either Silla or its capital Seora-beol was also widely used throughout Northeast Asia as the ethnonym for the people of Silla, appearing [...] as Solgo or Solho in the language of the medieval Jurchens and their later descendants, the Manchus respectively.
In Vietnam, people call North Korea Triều Tiên (朝鮮; "Chosŏn") and South Korea Hàn Quốc (韓國; "Hanguk"). Prior to unification, North Vietnam used Bắc Triều Tiên (北朝鮮; Bukchosŏn) and Nam Triều Tiên (南朝鮮; Namjoseon) while South Vietnam used Bắc Hàn (北韓; Bukhan) and Nam Hàn (南韓; Namhan) for North and South Korea, respectively. After unification, the northern Vietnamese terminology persisted until the 1990s. When South Korea reestablished diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1993, it requested that Vietnam use the name that it uses for itself, and Hàn Quốc gradually replaced Nam Triều Tiên in usage.
In the Vietnamese language used in the United States, Bắc Hàn and Nam Hàn are most common used.
Outside East Asia
Both South and North Korea use the name "Korea" when referring to their countries in English. North Korea is sometimes referred to as "Korea DPR" (PRK) and South Korea is sometimes referred to as the "Korea Republic" (KOR), especially in international sporting competitions, such as FIFA football.
As with other European languages, English historically had a variety of names for Korea derived from Marco Polo's rendering of Goryeo, "Cauli" (see Revival of the names above). These included Caule, Core, Cory, Caoli, and Corai as well as two spellings that survived into the 19th century, Corea and Korea. (The modern spelling, "Korea", first appeared in late 17th century in the travel writings of the Dutch East India Company's Hendrick Hamel.) The term Chosunese or Chosonese was first used to refer to the people of Joseon dynasty in late 19th century but was eventually phrased out.
Despite the coexistence of the spellings "Corea" and "Korea" in 19th-century English publications, some Koreans believe that Japan, around the time of the Japanese occupation, intentionally standardised the spelling on "Korea", so that "Japan" would appear first alphabetically. Both major English-speaking governments of the time (i.e. the United States and the United Kingdom and its Empire) used both "Korea" and "Corea" until the early part of the colonial period. English-language publications in the 19th century generally used the spelling Corea, which was also used at the founding of the British embassy in Seoul in 1890. However, the U.S. minister and consul general to Korea, Horace Newton Allen, used "Korea" in his works published on the country. At the official Korean exhibit at the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 a sign was posted by the Korean Commissioner saying of his country's name that "'Korea' and 'Corea' are both correct, but the former is preferred." This may have had something to do with Allen's influence, as he was heavily involved in the planning and participation of the Korean exhibit at Chicago.
- 1884 stamp reading "Corean Post"
- 1885 stamp reading "Korea"
- 1900 stamp reading "Imperial Korean Post"
By the first two decades of the 20th century, "Korea" began to be seen more frequently than "Corea" - a change that coincided with Japan's consolidation of its grip over the peninsula. Most evidence of a deliberate name change orchestrated by Japanese authorities is circumstantial, including a 1912 memoir by a Japanese colonial official that complained of the Koreans' tendency "to maintain they are an independent country by insisting on using a C to write their country's name." However, the spelling "Corea" was occasionally used even under full colonial rule and both it and "Korea" were largely eschewed in favor of the Japanese-derived "Chosen", which itself was derived from "Joseon".
European languages use variations of the name "Korea" for both North and South Korea. In general, Celtic and Romance languages spell it "Corea" (or variations) since "c" represents the /k/ sound in most Romance and Celtic orthographies. However, Germanic and Slavic languages largely use variants of "Korea" since, in many of these languages, "c" represents other sounds such as /ts/. In languages using other alphabets such as Russian (Cyrillic), variations phonetically similar to "Korea" are also used for example the Russian name for Korea is Корея, romanization Koreya. Outside of Europe, most languages also use variants of "Korea", often adopted to local orthographies. "Korea" in the Jurchen Jin's national language (Jurchen) is "Sogo". "Korea" in the conlang Esperanto is "Koreio". "Korea" in Hmong is "Kauslim". Within Spain, the Basque Country and Navarre regions use the spelling "Korea" in their Basque language, while the rest of the country uses "Corea", but this usage is related to national language politics rather than international usage.
Emigrants who moved to Russia and Central Asia call themselves Goryeoin or Koryo-saram (고려인; 高麗人; literally "person or people of Goryeo"), or корейцы in Russian. Many Goryeoin are living in the CIS, including an estimated 106,852 in Russia, 22,000 in Uzbekistan, 20,000 in Kyrgyzstan, 17,460 in Kazakhstan, 8,669 in Ukraine, 2,000 in Belarus, 350 in Moldova, 250 in Georgia, 100 in Azerbaijan, and 30 in Armenia. As of 2005, there are also 1.9 million ethnic Koreans living in China who hold Chinese citizenship and a further 560,000 Korean expatriates from both North and South living in China.
South Korean expatriates living in the United States, around 1.7 million, will refer to themselves as Jaemi(-)gyopo (재미교포; 在美僑胞, or "temporary residents in America"), or sometimes simply "gyopo" for short.
Sobriquets for Korea
In traditional Korean culture, as well as in the cultural tradition of East Asia, the land of Korea has assumed a number of sobriquets over the centuries, including:
- 계림 (鷄林) Gyerim, "Rooster Forest", in reference to an early name for Silla.
- 군자지국 (君子之國) Gunjaji-guk, or "Land of Scholarly Gentlemen".
- 금수강산 (錦繡江山) Geumsu gangsan, "Land of Embroidered (or Splendid) Rivers and Mountains".
- 단국 (檀國) Danguk, "Country of Dangun".
- 대동 (大東) Daedong, "Great East".
- 동국 (東國) Dongguk, "Eastern Country".
- 동방 (東邦) Dongbang, literally "an Eastern Country" referring to Korea.
- 동방예의지국 (東方禮義之國, 東方禮儀之國) Dongbang yeuiji-guk, "Eastern Country of Courtesy".
- 동야 (東野) Dongya, "Eastern Plains".
- 동이 (東夷) Dong-yi, or "Eastern Foreigners".
- 구이 (九夷) Gu-yi, "Nine-yi", refers to ancient tribes in the Korean peninsula.
- 동토 (東土) Dongto, "Eastern Land".
- 배달 (倍達) Baedal, an ancient reference to Korea.
- 백의민족 (白衣民族) Baeguiminjok, "The white-clad people".
- 삼천리 (三千里) Three-thousand Ri, a reference to the length traditionally attributed to the country from its northern to southern tips plus eastern to western tips.
- 소중화 (小中華) Sojunghwa, "Small China" or "Little Sinocentrism" was used by the Joseon Court. It is nowadays considered degrading and is not used.
- 아사달 (阿斯達) Asadal, apparently an Old Korean term for Joseon.
- 청구 (靑丘) Cheonggu, or "Azure Hills". The color Azure is associated with the East.
- 팔도강산 (八道江山) Paldo gangsan, "Rivers and Mountains of the Eight Provinces", referring to the traditional eight provinces of Korea.
- 근화향 (槿花鄕) Geunhwahyang, "Country of Mugunghwa" refer to Silla Kingdom.
- 근역 (槿域) Geunyeok, "Hibiscus Territory", or Land of Hibiscus
- 삼한 (三韓) Samhan, or "Three Hans", refers to Samhan confederacy that ruled Southern Korea.
- 해동 (海東) Haedong, "East of the Sea" (here being the West Sea separating from Korea).
- 해동삼국 (海東三國) Haedong samguk, "Three Kingdoms East of the Sea" refers to Three Kingdoms of Korea
- 해동성국 (海東盛國) Haedong seongguk, literally "Flourishing Eastern Sea Country", historically refers to Balhae Kingdom of North-South period.
- 진국 (震國,振國) Jinguk, "Shock Country", old name of Balhae Kingdom.
- 진역 (震域) Jinyeok, "Eastern Domain".
- 진단 (震檀,震壇) Jindan, "Eastern Country of Dangun".
- 진국 (辰國) Jinguk, "Country of Early Morning", refer to the Jin state of Gojoseon period.
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