Names of Korea

While "North Korean" and "South Korea" are the most commonly used internationally, the formal names are Republic of Korea (ROK) for South Korea and Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) for North Korea.

"Korea" derives from the Goryeo (Koryŏ, 고려) period of Korean history, which in turn referred to the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo (Koguryŏ, 고구려). See also Korean-Japanese disputes for the spelling issue of "Corea" and "Korea."

In the Korean language, Korea as a whole is referred to as Han-guk (한국, Han Nation) by South Korea and Chosŏn (조선) by North Korea.

Korea’s founding mythology describes Dangun's establishment in 2333 B.C. of Gojoseon (Ancient Joseon Kingdom), the first kingdom on the Korean peninsula.


The later kingdoms of Koguryo, Baekje, and Silla each had its own founding mythology, but the Dangun legend was later emphasized in unified Korea as the story of the beginning of Korean national identity.

It is recorded in Samguk Yusa and Jewang Ungi that Hwanung, son of the heaven god Hwanin, was interested in the affairs of the humans below. Seeing this, Hwanin sent Hwanung, along with 3,000 spirits, to the earth. Hwanung descended upon the Taebak Mountain and with the wind, rain, and cloud gods under him in the Holy City, ruled over the affairs of the people.

At this time, there lived in a cave a bear and a tiger who wished to become human. They prayed to Hwanung to grant their wish.

Upon hearing their fervent prayers, Hwanung called them to him and gave them 20 cloves of garlic and a bunch of mugwort, and told them that if they could remain out of the sunlight for 100 days, only eating that food, then he would grant them their wish.

The tiger gave up after a little while and left the cave. But the bear remained true, and after 21 days, the bear transformed into a beautiful woman.

The bear-woman, Ungnyeo was very grateful and made offerings to Hwanung, but after a while had passed, she became sad from being lonely. Once again, she prayed to Hwanung beneath a sandalwood tree, to be blessed with a child. Hwanung, moved by her prayers, took her for his wife and soon she gave birth to a son.

That son is Dangun Wanggeom, who established Gojoseon (Ancient Joseon Kingdom), and after ruling for 1,500 years, made Kija the King of ancient Joseon.