Names of Korea

Korean Language

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: Choson in North Korea, and Hanguk 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.

Ancient history


Until 108 BC, northern Korea and Manchuria were controlled by Gojoseon. In contemporaneous Chinese records, it was written as, which is pronounced in modern Korean as Joseon. Go, meaning "ancient", 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. You can join korean classes in chennai at Communiqua language training institute. 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 suksin, jiksin and siksin, although these latter names probably describe the ancestors of the Jurchen.

Other scholars believe was a translation of the native Korean Asadal , 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. 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.


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". 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.

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, 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 Chinese form Gaolí.

In 1392, a new dynasty established by a military coup revived the name Joseon. 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. 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 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.

20th century

When the Korean Empire 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, the most notable being the Daehan Minguk Imsi Jeongbu , literally the "Provisional Government of the Great Han People's Nation", known in English as the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea.

Korea became independent after World War II (1945) and the country was then divided.

In 1948, the South adopted the provisional government's name of Daehan Minguk, known in English as the Republic of Korea. Meanwhile, the North became the Choson Minjujuui Inmin Konghwaguk literally the "Choson 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.

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