What are the actual names of North and South Korea? Why do English speakers say “Korea” but Koreans don’t?

Tensions are high on the Korean Peninsula. The aggression by North Korea on the South has captured the world’s attention and raised a number of questions about Korea’s history, names, and geography.

Prior to 1910, Korea was a kingdom. Then, from 1910 to 1945, the country was under Japanese rule. At the end of World War II, the country was divided into two occupational zones along the thirty-eighth parallel. In 1948, these areas became the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, in the north, and The Republic of Korea, or ROK, in the south.

The strip of land, or buffer zone, between North and South Korea is called the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half.

Korean is the official language of both North and South Korea. It is also one of the official languages of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China.

Throughout history, Korea has been referred to by different names by both its residents and outsiders. The name “Korea,” used by English speakers today, appears to have derived during the time of the Silk Road when the dynasty in Korea called itself Goryeo. The word was transliterated as “Cauli” in Italian and used by Marco Polo. The English words “Corea” and then “Korea” came from this transliteration. South Korea refers to the  whole, undivided peninsula as “Han-guk.” North Korea calls it “Choson.” One term for the region roughly translates into English as “The Land of the Morning Calm.” Let’s hope that name rings true soon.

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