There are three names of Korea (referring to North Korea and South Korea together) in use today. In Korean, North Korea uses Chosŏn/Joseon (조선, 朝鮮) and South Korea uses Hanguk (한국, 韓國). The western name "Korea" is used by both countries in international contexts. This article explains the historical evolution and modern usage of these names.
See also: History of Korea
The earliest records of Korean history are written in Chinese characters, despite the languages being unrelated. 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 different in Chinese and Korean, 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 about 2000 years ago, northern Korea and Manchuria were controlled by Gojoseon. It was recorded as 朝鮮, which is pronounced in modern Korean as Joseon (조선). Go (古), meaning "ancient," distinguishes it from the later era described below.
The Chinese characters phonetically transcribed a native Korean name, thought to have been then pronounced something like "Jyusin". It may be the same indigenous name that has been transliterated in some Chinese records as 肅愼 (숙신, suksin), 稷愼 (직신, jiksin) or 息愼 (식신, siksin). Some believe the latter terms describe the ancestors of the Jurchen (여진, 女眞).
Other scholars believe 朝鮮, roughly meaning "morning calm", was a translation of the native Korean Asadal (아사달), the capital of Gojoseon: asa meaning morning, and tar meaning land or mountain.
Around the same time, various chiefdoms in southern Korea grouped into confederacies, collectively called the "Three Han" (Samhan; 삼한). Han is a native Korean root for "leader" or "great," as in maripgan ("king," archaic), halabeoji (originally hanabeoji, "grandfather"), and possibly hana ("one") and haneul ("sky").
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.
Around the beginning of the Common Era, remnants of the fallen Gojoseon were re-united and expanded by the kingdom of Goguryeo. It, too, was a native Korean word, probably pronounced something like "Guri", transcribed with various Chinese characters: 高駒麗 (고구려, goguryeo), 高麗 (고려, goryeo), 高離 (고리, gori), or 句麗 (구려, guryeo). In 高駒麗, the character 高, meaning "high," is an adjective , rather than a part of the transliteration. The character 麗 is sometimes pronounced ri.
The source native Korean name is thought to be either Guru (구루, walled city) or Gauri (가우리, center).
The theory that Goguryeo's founder's family name was Go has been largely discredited (the founder was renamed after the country).
Goryeo, Joseon, and Han revived
In the south, the Han confederacies resolved into the kingdoms of Baekje and Silla, constituting, with Goguryeo, the Three Kingdoms of Korea. In 668, Silla unified the three kingdoms, and Unified Silla was overthrown in 935.
The new kingdom named itself Goryeo (고려; 高麗), in reference to Goguryeo. Through the Silk Road trade routes, Silla and Goryeo were known in 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 Mandarin Chinese form Gaoli. From "Cauli" came the English names "Corea" and the now standard "Korea" (see Western names below).
In 1392, a new dynasty revived the name Joseon (short name: 조선, 朝鮮, official name: 대조선국, 大朝鮮國). The Chinese characters are often translated into English as "morning calm," hence Korea's English nickname, "The Land of the Morning Calm."
In 1897, the nation was renamed, this time referring to the "Han" legacy: Daehan Jeguk (대한제국, 大韓帝國, literally, "Great Han Empire"; in English, Korean Empire).
When Korea came under Japanese rule in 1910, the name reverted to Joseon (officially, the Japanese pronunciation Chosen). During this period, many different groups outside of Korea fought for independence, including the Daehan Minguk Imsi Jeongbu (대한민국 임시정부, 大韓民國 臨時政府, literally, "Provisional Government of the Great Han People's Nation"; in English, Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea).
Korea became independent with Japan's defeat in 1945. The country was then divided into the Soviet-occupied north and American-occupied south.
The South in 1948 adopted the provisional government's name of Daehan Minguk (대한민국, 大韓民國, literally, "Great Han People's Nation"; in English, Republic of Korea). Meanwhile, the North became the Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk (조선 민주주의 인민공화국, 朝鮮民主主義人民共和國, literally, "Joseon Democratic People's Republic"; in English, Democratic People's Republic of Korea).
Today, North Koreans use Chosŏn to refer to Korea as a whole, and refer to the two countries as Bukchosŏn (북조선, 北朝鮮; "North Chosŏn") and Namjosŏn (남조선, 南朝鮮; "South Chosŏn"). South Koreans use Hanguk, Bukhan (북한, 北韓; "North Han") and Namhan (남한, 南韓; "South Han"), respectively.
The Korean language is called Chosŏnŏ or Chosŏnmal in the North and Hangugeo or Hangungmal in the South. Chosŏn'gŭl is the North Korean name for what the South Koreans call Hangul. The Korean Peninsula is called Chosŏn Pando in the North and Hanbando in the South. Official maps in both countries often do not show the DMZ that divides the two countries, giving the illusion of a united nation.
East Asian names
Newspapers in the People's Republic of China tend to use the names that each of the two sides prefer, by referring to North Korea as Chaoxian (朝鲜 "Chosŏn") and to South Korea as Hanguo (韩国 "Hanguk"). This is similar to the situation in Vietnam, where people call North Korea Triều Tiên ("Chosŏn") and South Korea Hàn Quốc ("Hanguk").
The Republic of China in Taiwan, on the other hand, uses the South Korean name, referring to North Korean as Beihan (北韓 "North Han[guk]") and South Korean as Nanhan (南韓 "South Han[guk]"). Similarly, people in Hong Kong and Macau call North Korea Bak Hon (北韓 "North Han[guk]") and South Korea as Nam Hon (南韓 "South Han[guk]"). Until recently, the People's Republic of China tended to use the North Korean name, by referring to South Korea as Nanchaoxian (南朝鲜 "South Chosŏn").
In Japan, the names preferred by each of the two sides is used, so that North Korea is called Kita-Chosen (北朝鮮; "North Chosŏn") and South Korea Kankoku (韓国 "Hanguk"). The Korean language is most frequently referred in Japan to as Kankokugo (韓国語). However, when NHK broadcasts a language instruction program for Korean, the language is referred to as Hangulgo (ハングル語) meaning language of the Hangul writing system. This term is not used in ordinary Japanese, but was selected as a compromise to placate both nations in a euphemistic process called kotobagari.
Both North and South Korea use the name "Korea" (or equivalent) when referring to their countries in English or other western languages. Russian and Central Asian citizens of Korean descent call themselves "Goryeo people" to avoid the North-South conflict.
Because of the common appearance of the spelling "Corea" in historical maps, some Koreans believe Japan, around the time of the Japanese Occupation of Korea, intentionally standardized the spelling on "Korea," so that "Japan" would appear first alphabetically. See Korean-Japanese disputes.
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