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. 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 Chinese 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.

Ancient history


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). Go (), meaning "ancient", distinguishes it from the later Joseon Dynasty. The name Joseon is also now used as the official name of Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

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.[1]


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 (with a different tone.) (See: Transliteration into Chinese characters).


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 Chinese 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). In 高駒麗, the character 高 ("high") is an adjective, rather than a part of the transliteration. The character 麗 is sometimes pronounced ri.

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 Unified Silla until 935.

The succeeding dynasty called itself Goryeo (고려, 高麗), in reference to Goguryeo. 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 Mandarin Chinese form Gāolí. From "Cauli" eventually came the English names "Corea" and the now standard "Korea" (see English usage below).[2]

In 1392, a new dynasty established by a military coup revived the name Joseon (조선, 朝鮮). The Chinese characters were often translated into English as "morning calm", 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 may have been selected in reference to the ancient Samhan tribes who occupied the southern area of the Korean peninsula.[3]

20th century

When Korea 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 =  ‘people’ +  country/nation’ = ‘republic’ in East Asian languages).

Korea became independent with the Japanese surrender to the Allies in World War II (1945) and the country was then divided.

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 (조선 민주주의 인민공화국, 朝鮮民主主義人民共和國) literally the "Joseon Democratic People's Republic", known in English as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Current usage

East Asia


Today, South Koreans use Hanguk 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 "Dae Han 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") respectively. The term Bukchosŏn, however, is rarely used in the north, although it may be found in 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 "Northern Side" and "Southern Side", are used instead of Namhan and Bukhan.

The Korean language is called Hangugeo (한국어, 韓國語) or Hangukmal (한국말) in the South and Chosŏnmal (조선말) 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.

Chinese-speaking areas

In Chinese-speaking areas such as mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, different naming convention on several terms has been practiced according to their political proximity to which Korean governments 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 rarely 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 South Koreans.

Before establishing diplomatic relations with the 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"). After diplomatic tie was 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 "Hanguk"). 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 (朝鮮战爭) 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 now considers North and South Koreas two separate countries. However, general usage in Taiwan still refer to North Korean as Běihán (北韓 "North Han[guk]") and South Korean 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) or Hányǔ (韓語).

Similarly, general usage in Hong Kong and Macau have traditionally referred to North Korea as Bak Hon (北韓 "North Han") and South Korea as Nam Hon (南韓 "South Han"). Under influence from official usage, which is itself influenced by official usage by 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, 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.[4] 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)"). From January 2003, this policy started to be abandoned by most newspapers and TV stations, on the basis that other nations with naming issues such as South Korea (ROK) and Taiwan (ROC) are not necessarily referred to by their official names.[5]

For Korea as a whole, Chōsen (朝鮮; "Joseon") is commonly used.[6] 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.[7] 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.

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 solongos means "rainbows". 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).
Other theory:
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 Sogol or Solho in the language of the medieval Jurchens and their later descendants, the Manchus respectively.


In Vietnam, people call North Korea Triều Tiên ("Chosŏn") and South Korea Hàn Quốc ("Hanguk"). Prior to unification, North Vietnam used Bắc Triều Tiên (Bukchosŏn) and Nam Triều Tiên (Namjosŏn) while South Vietnam used Bắc Hàn (Bukhan) and Nam Hàn (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.

Outside East Asia

English usage

Both South and North Korea use the name "Korea" when referring to their countries in English.

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).[2] These included Caule, Core, Cory, Caoli, and Corai as well as two spellings that survived into the 19th century, Corea and Korea.[2] (The modern spelling, "Korea", first appeared in late 17th century in the travel writings of the Dutch East India Company's Hendrick Hamel.[2])

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.[8] 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 Japanese occupation.[9][10] English-language publications in 19th century generally used the spelling Corea, which was also used at the founding of the British embassy in Seoul in 1890.[8] However, US minister and consul general to Korea, Horace Newton Allen, used "Korea" in his works published on the country.[11] 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."[12] 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.[12]

A shift can also be seen in Korea itself, where postage stamps issued in 1884 used the name "Corean Post" in English, but those from 1885 and thereafter used "Korea" or "Korean Post".[13]

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."[8] However, the spelling "Corea" was occasionally used even under full Japanese colonial rule and both it and "Korea" were largely eschewed in favour of the Japanese-derived "Chosen".[9]

Other languages

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.

Koreans abroad

Emigrants who moved to Russian 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 the Ukraine, 2,000 in Belarus, 350 in Moldova, 250 in Georgia, 100 in Azerbaijan, and 30 in Armenia.[14]

Koreans living in the United States 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:

  • 아사달 (阿斯達) Asadal, apparently an Old Korean term for Joseon.
  • 배달 Baedal, an ancient reference to Korea.
  • 백의민족 (白衣民族) Baeguiminjok, "The white-clad people".
  • 청구 (靑丘) Cheonggu, or "Blue Hills".
  • 대동 (大東) Daedong, "Great East".
  • 동방 (東邦) Dongbang, literally "an eastern country" but in some contexts referring to Korea.
  • 동방예의지국 (東方禮義之國) Dongbang yeui jiguk, "the country of courteous people in the east".
  • 동국 (東國) Dongguk, "Eastern Country".
  • 동토 (東土) Dongto, "Eastern Land".
  • 동이 (東夷) Dong-yi, or "Eastern Foreigners".
  • 금수강산 (錦繡江山) Geumsugangsan, "Land of Embroidered (or Splendid) Rivers and Mountains".
  • 군자지국 (君子之國) Gunjajiguk, "Country of Scholarly Gentlemen".
  • 계림 (鷄林) Gyerim, "Rooster Forest", in reference to an early name for Silla.
  • 해동 (海東) Haedong, "East of the Sea" (here being the Yellow Sea separating China from Korea).
  • 팔도강산 (八道江山) Paldogangsan, "Rivers and Mountains of the Eight Provinces", referring to the traditional eight provinces of Korea.
  • 소화 (小華) Sohwa, "Lesser Flower" or "Little China" was used by Chinese ambassadors in the Joseon Court but was never officially recognised. It is nowadays considered degrading and is not used.

See also


  1. ^ [땅이름] 태백산과 아사달 / 허재영 (Korean)
  2. ^ a b c d Korea原名Corea? 美國改的名. United Daily News website. 5 July 2008. Retrieved 5 July 2008. (Chinese)
  3. ^ <히스토리아> » 한토막 역사 5화. 대한제국이 <광무>를 연호로 정한 이유는? (Korean)
  4. ^ Shane Green, Treaty plan could end Korean War, The Age, November 6, 2003
  5. ^ [1][2]
  6. ^ Japanese Wikipedia, for instance, has the articles of ja:朝鮮語 (Korean Language), ja:朝鮮半島 (Korean Peninsula), and ja:朝鮮民族 (Koreans), while ja:韓国語, ja:韓半島, and ja:韓民族 are all redirected.
  7. ^ In the program, however, teachers avoid the name Hangurugo, by always saying this language. They would say, for instance, "In this language, Annyeong haseyo means 'Hello' ".
  8. ^ a b c Barbara Demick. "Breaking the occupation spell: Some Koreans see putdown in letter change in name." Boston Globe. 18 September 2003. Retrieved 5 July 2008.
  9. ^ a b "Korea versus Corea" 14 May 2005. Retrieved 5 July 2008.
  10. ^ Korea from around 1913 using the spelling "Corean"
  11. ^ H N Allen, MD Korean Tales: Being a Collection of Stories Translated from the Korean Folk Lore. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1889.
  12. ^ a b "Korea in the White City: Korea at the World's Columbian Exhibition (1893)." Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 77 (2002), 27.
  13. ^ KSS-Korbase's Korean Stamp Issuance Schedules
  14. ^ Commonwealth of Independent States Report, 1996.

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