The Wikipedia article on Korea states that South Koreans call Korea 한국, while north Koreans call it 조선. Do 'Korea', '한국', and '조선' all refer to the same thing? If so, how did the three different names come about?
Some ethnicity-associated names
- Korea originated from the Goryeo dynasty, from about 10th-14th century.
- Joseon, as present in North Korea's name 조선민주주의인민공화국, originated in the later Joseon dynasty from about 15th-19th century.
- Han 한 originated as a native Korean word for "leader" and similar notions, which has been suggested to be related to khan (as in Genghis Khan) and the like found in the hypothetical Altaic language family. It was used to refer to the Three Hans (leaders) which led people who would eventually form the three Korean kingdoms of Baekje 백제, Silla 신라 and Gaya 가야, hence becoming a name for the ethnic group. The word was later transliterated into hanja as 韩 when the Chinese Han script was used for writing Korean, before the invention of hangul.
The countries' names
Apparently, when DPRK formed, it chose to adopt the name of the last dynasty in Korea, hence Democratic People's Republic of Joseon.
When RoK formed however, the name which was more politically independent (in the sense that it does not pay homage to any dynasty) and ethnically inclusive (since it was claimed that all Koreans descended from people led by the three Hans), was chosen, hence Republic of Great Han.
Finally though, Europeans just cannot resist adhering to the name they are used to - Korea, so the English name for these countries have Korea in place of Joseon and Han. Not only was their name Korea in English, if you look at binomial names (Latin) of some species, the Korean pine is called Pinus koraiensis, so you can expect most European languages to call it Korea.
Due to all these words having hanja forms, languages of the Sinosphere do not use the word Korea and instead stick to their native forms of the official name:
- Simplified Chinese: 大韩民国, 朝鲜民主主义人民共和国
- Traditional Chinese/Japanese: 大韓民国, 朝鮮民主主義人民共和国
- Vietnamese: Hàn Quốc, Cộng Hòa Dân Chủ Nhân Dân Triều Tiên
Note: Due to the recency of the Joseon dynasty, modern South Koreans may still refer to their country as Joseon.
In the end, the word Korea is used in English, and other European languages, merely for historical reasons. Their names in their native language, and the other languages of the Sinosphere, are more consistent with how Koreans identify themselves, unlike in English.
Basically, 'Chosun' is the old name of 'Korea'. Used a lot in the past, it is rarely used anymore. 'North Korea' still uses the term 'Chosun', but it is rarely used in South Korea. That's why you have to understand the two words differently.
The English word "Korea" comes from the Korean word Koryeo (고려 / 高麗). Koryeo is a historical dynasty existing between 918 and 1392. As such, it does not make much sense to modern Koreans as a name for their country.
Usually, 'Korea' and '한국' refer to South Korea(Republic of Korea, 대한민국), and '조선' indicates North Korea(Democratic People's Republic of Korea, 조선민주주의인민공화국).
How is everyone is this thread so wrong about Joseon and Goryeo.
The name Joseon/Choseon comes from the historical period 2333 BCE-108 BCE. The name "Guryeo/Korea" comes from 37 BCE–668 CE.
Thus the name Choseon predates the name/character "Han" referring to the "Samhan/Three Kingdoms" period, and "Korea" comes immediately afterwards.
They retroactively add a "Go-", the Chinese word for ancient/older/etc., to the front of both Choseon and Goryeo names to distinguish them from the newer dynasties/periods named after the original ones.
(Think about how empires based in Turkey and Germany both called themselves Rome or Roman at some point. Just because they were more recent doesn't mean they were the original "Rome" obviously.)
'Joseon(조선)' is a country that has been destroyed and does not exist at present. In a modern society divided into South and North Korea(북한), there is only North Korea that calls itself Joseon. The official name of Korea (남한, South Korea) is Republic of Korea.
고조선 ->... ->고려 (Korea) -> 조선 (Joseon) -> 북한, 남한(=한국=대한민국)
Korea is from 고려 so that for 남한, republic of Korea, Korea, and south Korea are possible.
And for 북한, Joseon and north Korea are possible.
On the rare occasions on which the ROK and DPRK have cooperated in international sporting events (1991 table tennis world championships, summer olympic opening ceremonies 2000 and 2004 and winter olympics women's ice hockey 2018), they have used the name 'Korea'.
In general, though, Koreans use the name 'Korea' when they speak in English. At least South Koreans do - I haven't met any North Koreans.