The Historical Country Names of Korea

|Korean Peninsula

In general a country’s name is a unique name for a nation which intensively reflects the dignity and honor of the country and people. The country name “Joson” (Kojoson [ancient Korea]) is the name of the ancient nation—the first in Korean history—which was founded at the beginning of the thirtieth century BC.

In the first country name of “Joson” the unique meaning is reflected of Pyongyang and Asadal, the capitals”the sacred ground where the country arose—and of the land where the sun rises. From ancient times the people of Korea have interpreted the Chinese character for the jo of “Joson” as having the meaning of “morning” and that for the son as “fire,” “just now,” “word,” and “light” [as in “ray of light”].

The country name widely known in Korean history in the medieval period of the Three Kingdoms is “Koguryo.” Koguryo was a strong state for a millennium which sounded its name as the first medieval feudal state in the East, being based upon the great military might resulting from the intermeshed centralized authority and military ethos from the initial period of the founding of the nation. In “Koguryo”, as it was the successor state to “Kuryo”, the Chinese character for ko is a term that denotes the surname of King Tongmyong, the founder of the state, and at the same time the sun, and the term “Kuryo” is Old Korean that had the meaning of being divine, and sacred and large. Consequently, it is possible to say that that the country name “Koguryo”—combining “ko,” which included the meanings “sun” and “descended from the gods,” with “Kuryo,” which had the meaning of being mystical, and sacred and large—was a country name that contained the profound meanings of “mystical country where the sun rises” and “divine country governed by the descendants of the gods.”

After Koguryo had ended its existence, its freed-up people built a new state in 698, and called it Palhae. In the country name “Palhae” are included the meanings of bright sun, the sun, and land where the sun rises. Here the traditions of Kojoson and Koguryo were passed down, and included the will of the state of Palhae to possess a foundation as a new nation and country of heaven, striving to accomplish yet newer advances and development.

The country name of the first unified state in Korean medieval history was Koryo. Koryo was a feudal state which existed from the beginning of the tenth century to the end of the fourteenth century. The country name “Koryo” originated from Koguryo, which was the most powerful in the history of the Korean people. In the country name of Koryo, which was the successor to Koguryo, the intention and will of the people of Koryo at the time of the founding of the nation is reflected—inheriting the unifying policy of Koguryo, to strive to unite as one country of the same ethnicity—and contains their desire and faith, hoping for its becoming eternal as the country of the sun.

The Koryo Dynasty, which continued for close to 500 years, died out in 1392, and a new dynasty was established, making Ri Song Gye its first king. The country name of the new dynasty was “Joson.” The country name “Joson” instituted after founding the new dynasty can be said to have directly included the meanings of “land of clear mornings” and “eastern land where the sun rises”, while suggesting that it is a country possessing the “historical traditions” of a period longer still than Koryo, being a country of the same ethnicity where the Ri Dynasty took King Tangun as its original ancestor.

Today, striving to live possessing a single country name and step out onto the international stage—in a unified country of one ethnicity, ending the division of the ethnic group—is the greatest cherished desire of the Korean people, and is a pressing demand which cannot be postponed any longer.

The country name “Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryo” is a unified country name able to be sympathetically received by the North and South together. The name “Koryo”, an established name symbolic of the Korean people, is already widely known in the world. While Korea’s historical country names of “Joson,” “Koguryo,” “Palhae,” and “Koryo” differ in their forms of appellation, the meaning contained in each of the country names is one: the meaning of land of the bright sun.

[Translated by ERINA]