Names of Seoul

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An early 20th century trading card from Germany, using an alternate spelling of Seoul, with "o" for "eo". Tor des Kaiser - Palastes in Soul.jpg
An early 20th century trading card from Germany, using an alternate spelling of Seoul, with "ö" for "eo".

Seoul has been known in the past by the successive names Wiryeseong (Korean : 위례성; Hanja : 慰禮城, Baekje era), Namgyeong (남경;南京, Goryeo era), Hanseong (한성;漢城, Joseon era) or Hanyang (한양;漢陽). During the period of Japanese occupation (1910–1945), Seoul was referred to by the Japanese exonym Keijō (けいじょう or 京城), or Gyeongseong (경성;京城) in Korean. After World War II and Korea's liberation, the city took its present name, Seoul, which had been in use since at least 1882, at times concurrently with other names. [1]


Etymology of "Seoul"

Seoul is a rendering of the Korean word “seo'ul” (서울), pronounced [səˈul]. An etymological hypothesis presumes that the origin of the native word “seo'ul” derives from the native name Seorabeol (Korean : 서라벌; Hanja : 徐羅伐), which originally referred to Gyeongju, the capital of Silla, then called Geumseong (금성;金城).

Chinese name for Seoul

Unlike most place names in Korea, "Seoul" has no corresponding hanja (Chinese characters used in the Korean language), although its name is presumed to derive from 徐羅伐 (Seorabeol), so Chinese-speaking countries for decades have referred to the city by its former name: 漢城 ("Hànchéng" in Mandarin, "Hon Sìhng" in Cantonese and "Hoe Zen" in Shanghainese). On a 1751 map of China and Korea prepared in France, Seoul was marked as "King-Ki-Tao, Capitale de la Corée", using an approximation of the Chinese pronunciation of Gyeonggi Province (京畿道). The use of "King-Ki-Tao" to refer to Seoul was repeated again on the 1851 Tallis/Rapkin map of both Japan and Korea. [2] For a time during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the transliterated name Sūwū (蘇烏), which closely resembles the English pronunciation for Seoul, was used.

This often caused problems in translation, as in Korean, the terms "Seoul" and "Hanseong" are considered different. There exist many institutions and entities, most of them having no connections whatsoever, which use either name. When the names of these institutions and entities are translated into Chinese, both "Seoul" and "Hanseong" were automatically translated to 漢城 (Hànchéng). Typical examples of such errors in translation included Seoul National University versus Hansung University, which both would be translated to 漢城大學 (Hànchéng Dàxué), as well as Seoul Science High School versus Hansung Science High School.

The problem, along with the confusion it caused for years, was solved in January 2005, when the Seoul City Government under then mayor Lee Myung Bak publicly requested that the Chinese name of the city be changed to 首爾 (pinyin :Shǒu'ěr), written as 首尔 in simplified Chinese in mainland China. The name was chosen by a select committee out of two names, the other being 首午爾 (pinyin:Shǒuwu'ěr).

The chosen name is a close transliteration of Seoul in Mandarin Chinese; (shǒu) can also mean "first" or "capital". For a some time after the name change, Chinese-language news media have used both names interchangeably during their publications or broadcasts (首爾 [漢城] in print, [3] 首爾, 以前的漢城 [4] [literally: Shouer, formerly Hancheng] in television and radio). Despite the adoption of Shǒu'ěr (首爾) in Chinese media, the name Hànchéng (漢城) is still widely used by some Chinese people. This change was intended for Chinese speakers only, and has no effect on the Korean language name. The new name would be written and pronounced 수이 (Su-i) in Korean. Some linguists have criticized the selection of the new name, claiming that its pronunciation in Korean bears no resemblance to the native name at all, and that its intended representation of the Korean pronunciation, while effective in Mandarin, is lost in other regional dialects, such as in Cantonese, where the name is pronounced "sau2 yi5", or in Shanghainese, in which the new name (首爾) is pronounced "sew2 el3". These critics have said that the names "西蔚" or "徐蔚" (the latter being the ancient name of Seoul) would have been much more effective in representing the city's Korean name.


Revised Romanization Gyeongseong
McCune–Reischauer Kyŏngsŏng

"Gyeongseong" is a Sino-Korean word for "capital city" (Gyeong (경; ) means "capital" and seong (성; ) means "walled city"). It was in occasional use to refer to Seoul throughout the Joseon dynasty, [5] [6] having earlier referred to the capitals of Goryeo and Silla. The term came into much wider use during the period of Japanese rule, because it is also the Korean form of Keijō (京城), the former Japanese name used for Seoul during the colonial rule.

Seoul was called Hanseong (漢城) or Hanyang (漢陽) during the Joseon dynasty, but the city's main railway station, Seoul Station, opened with the name "Gyeongseong Station" (京城驛) in 1900, which it retained until 1905. [7] It was called Gyeongseong Station again from 1923 to 1947, when it assumed its current name. [8] [9]

Gyeong is still used to refer to Seoul in the names of various railway lines and freeways, including:

See also

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  1. "Was Seoul Always Called Seoul?". The Seoul Searcher. Wordpress. 28 July 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-08-07. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
  2. "JAPAN & COREA': Yedo (Tokyo) King-ki-Tao (Seoul). Korea.TALLIS/RAPKIN 1851 map".
  3. 壹蘋果旅遊網-南韓-首爾﹝漢城﹞ [NextMedia Travel: Seoul, South Korea)] (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 14 July 2011. Retrieved 30 July 2010.
  5. Katsuhiro Kuroda (2004-07-02). 漢城、京城、セソウル?. Sankei Shimbun . Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  6. "ソウル". 日本大百科全書. Shogakukan.
  7. 경부철도 (PDF). Hwangseong Sinmun. 1905-04-11.
  8. 역명개칭고시. Dong-a Ilbo. 1922-12-29.
  9. "Introduction of Seoul Station on KTX Cyber Station". Archived from the original on 2008-10-20.