Korea vs. Corea

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2010/10/10 07:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2010/10/10/10073175.aspx

The qiestion I received via the Contact link was an old one -- one that goes back centuries, really. It was a request to explain the issues about the English spelling of 한국 (or 조선 in the North), and the English spelling of it....

Now we're not talking Chaudhuri vs. Chaudhary? here.

And it isn't Bangalore vs. Bengaluru, either.

Though bearing some surface resemblance to Farsi vs. Persian, it ain't that, either.

Perhaps if you think about Macao vs. Macau or Uighur vs. Uyghur, you'd be a little closer.

But I'll tell you, the situation of

Korea vs. Corea

has them all beat when it comes to rumors and stories and conspiracy theories. Hands down.

The conspiracy theory generally tenfds to suggests that the move to use Korea rather than Corea was orchestrated by the (at the time) occupying Japanese, in order to make sure that Korea did not come before Japan in alphabetical order.

The wikipedia article on Names of Korea lays out the broad strokes:

English usage
Both South and North Korea use the name "Korea" when referring to their countries in English.

As with other European languages, English historically had a variety of names for Korea derived from Marco Polo's rendering of Goryeo, "Cauli" (see Revival of the names above). These included Caule, Core, Cory, Caoli, and Corai as well as two spellings that survived into the 19th century, Corea and Korea. (The modern spelling, "Korea", first appeared in late 17th century in the travel writings of the Dutch East India Company's Hendrick Hamel.)

Despite the coexistence of the spellings "Corea" and "Korea" in 19th-century English publications, some Koreans believe that Japan, around the time of the Japanese occupation, intentionally standardised the spelling on "Korea", so that "Japan" would appear first alphabetically. Both major English-speaking governments of the time (ie the United States and the United Kingdom and its Empire) used both "Korea" and "Corea" until the early part of the Japanese occupation. English-language publications in 19th century generally used the spelling Corea, which was also used at the founding of the British embassy in Seoul in 1890. However, US minister and consul general to Korea, Horace Newton Allen, used "Korea" in his works published on the country. At the official Korean exhibit at the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 a sign was posted by the Korean Commissioner saying of his country's name that "'Korea' and 'Corea' are both correct, but the former is preferred." This may have had something to do with Allen's influence, as he was heavily involved in the planning and participation of the Korean exhibit at Chicago.

A shift can also be seen in Korea itself, where postage stamps issued in 1884 used the name "Corean Post" in English, but those from 1885 and thereafter used "Korea" or "Korean Post".

[See Wikipedia article for the stamp pictures]

By the first two decades of the 20th century, "Korea" began to be seen more frequently than "Corea" - a change that coincided with Japan's consolidation of its grip over the peninsula. Most evidence of a deliberate name change orchestrated by Japanese authorities is circumstantial, including a 1912 memoir by a Japanese colonial official that complained of the Koreans' tendency "to maintain they are an independent country by insisting on using a C to write their country's name." However, the spelling "Corea" was occasionally used even under full Japanese colonial rule and both it and "Korea" were largely eschewed in favour of the Japanese-derived "Chosen".

This makes for a nice summary but just as the history of the battle is usually written by the winning side, the description does tend to favorite the Korea camp....

As a general principle, Germanic languages are more likely to go with a "K" while romance languages are more likely to go with a "C". English is of cvourse somewhere in the middle there, which is why both spellings "make sense" in a way -- until the eigenstate is resolved and one is chosen, at least.

 Articles like this one are really able to give a better flavor of the "Corea camp", though the many comments from people who disagree tends to shift the overall feel of the page in the other direction.

There are several other such articles on the Internet, of course....

I won't say that the article swayed me exactly, but it made a lot more sense as a theory (even if I ultimately decided my opinions went the other way) when I gave people the chance to present their case.

I didn't find the notion that a country or a language could be petty to be unlikely in general, it is just this case in particular that seems like a stretch.

But by reading these two articles (before looking at many others), I felt like I now had looked at some balance in the situation - that I had looked a little into both sides.

I suppose some might say this puts the whole "Wikipedia:Neutral point of view" thing in doubt a little, though I don't know if I would go quite that far for sure. But I do know that there are times I feel like I leave Wikipedia with a much more fair, balanced, and accurate view of a historical dispute that to this day remains.

But not this time....

For comparison purposes, look at the Greek vs.Ethnic Macedonian positions on the Macedonia Naming Dispute in Wikipedia. This is in my humble opinion much more in line with the stated intent of Wikipedia's neutral point of view.

Perhaps my presentation here on the issue also shows bias since I ultimately chose a side and do not pretend to be fair and balanced, but I have no "neutral POV" philosophy: my blog is the world from my point of view.

Plus regular readers know that if I am truly neutral on an issue then I'm unlikely to write about it....

But that is just me. :-)

As a random side note, Japan itself had names for itself in English like Wa and Wagoku and Nippon and Nihon, the bulk of which come alphabetically in English after Korean, anyway. This does make the "alphabetical conspiracy" argument feel a little less likely.

greenlight on 10 Oct 2010 9:00 AM:

The downside to the C-spelling in Swedish is you can't make the mind-boggling pun of "Var kan man köpa billiga kor? På Ko-rea!" ("Where can you buy cheap cows? At the cow-sale!").

Actually I take that back, now I wish we had the C-spelling.

name on 10 Oct 2010 9:16 PM:


Is it 倭国?

Then, we(Japanese) read it "Wakoku" or "Wa no kuni".

That name was invented by Chinese at the time to call japan.

I don't know how they pronounced at that era.

Michael S. Kaplan on 10 Oct 2010 9:59 PM:

Possibly...someone else's inferior transliteration, perhaps?

Michael S. Kaplan on 10 Oct 2010 10:13 PM:

This wasn't where I got it from, but the article has the same two names in it?

mpz on 11 Oct 2010 4:52 AM:

Really, this whole argument is a storm in a teacup. I don't see United States, Turkey, Sweden etc. complaining that they come at the bottom of an alphabetically ordered list of countries. This is because they've made a name for themselves instead of complaining that the proverbial Man keeps them down. A lot of the countries in the world are called with different names in English than their native language(s); IMHO it shows a great deal of national maturity and even pride to simply not care about it. Because it's just a name. It's not a big deal.

And the Korea issue is really far out there, even among conspiracy theories. Good grief.

Doug Ewell on 11 Oct 2010 7:32 AM:

One can't dismiss Wikipedia's NPOV policy in toto simply because articles exist that don't exemplify it well. Articles are written and edited (and hacked) by volunteers.

Pet peeve: people (especially non-Koreans) who use "Korea" to mean South Korea, as if to deny the existence of North Korea, or wish it away.

Michael S. Kaplan on 11 Oct 2010 9:30 AM:

I didn't dismiss the policy -- I just noticed it really wasn't beiing applied here. I pointed out that many articles did seem more balanced....

Michael S. Kaplan on 11 Oct 2010 3:42 PM:

Also Doug, note that I made no exclusive reference to either North or South Korea except when I gave both names. :-)

Doug Ewell on 12 Oct 2010 7:01 AM:

"I didn't dismiss the policy" — sorry, I kind of got that impression from "I suppose some might say this puts the whole 'Wikipedia:Neutral point of view' thing in doubt a little, though I don't know if I would go quite that far for sure," based on perceived biases in *one article*.

I didn't say you were guilty of the "just plain Korea" misusage. I was just throwing out a relevant pet peeve.

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2010/11/18 Oriya vs. Odia?

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