Names of Seoul
Seoul has been known in the past by the successive names Wiryeseong (위례성; 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 colonial rule (1907-1945), Seoul was named Keijō (京城) (in Japanese) or Gyeongseong (경성; 京城) (in Korean) . Its current name is Seoul, and this name has been in use since at least 1882, at times concurrently with other names.
Etymology of "Seoul"
Seoul originated from the Korean word “seo'ul” meaning "capital city". An etymological hypothesis presumes that the origin of the native word “seo'ul” derives from the native name Seorabeol (서라벌; 徐羅伐), which originally referred to Gyeongju, the capital of Silla, then called Geumseong (금성; 金城).
Also believed to be the origin of the name Seoul is "Se-ultari," which literally means "new walls" or "new castle." Seoul was a walled castle city from its construction in the early 15th century until most parts of the walls were destroyed during the Korean War (1950-1953).
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, "Hon3 Sing4" in Cantonese). For a time during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the transliterated name Sūwū 蘇烏, which closely resembles to the English pronunciation for Seoul, was used.
This often caused problems in translation, for 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 the two names. When the names of these institutions and entities are translated into Chinese, both "Seoul" and "Hanseong" are automatically translated to 漢城 (Hànchéng).
Typical examples of such errors in translation include the Seoul National University (漢城大學, later 漢城國立大學, officially Seoul大學) and Hanseong University (漢城大學), as well as the Seoul Science High School, and the Hanseong Science High School, which are completely different institutions, but can be confused when their names are translated into Chinese.
Change of Chinese name
The problem, along with the confusion it caused for years, was solved in January 2005, when the city government requested that the Chinese name of the city be changed to 首爾 ("Shǒu'ěr" in Chinese pronunciation), 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 ("Shǒuwu'ěr" in Chinese pronunciation).
The chosen name is a close transliteration of Seoul in Mandarin Chinese, where 首 (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, 首爾, 以前的漢城 [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 most Chinese people.
For some time, Mainland China media refused to adopt the new name, claiming that Chinese people have the right to choose how they name other cities around the world (see Exonym and endonym). They relented by the end of the year.
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 it bears no resemblance to the Korean 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 the Shanghai dialect, 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.
"Gyeongseong" is a Sino-Korean word for "capital city," and was in occasional use to refer to Seoul throughout the Joseon Dynasty, 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 opened with the name "Gyeongseong Station" (京城驛) in 1900, which name it retained until 1905. It was called Gyeongseong Station again from 1915 to 1947, when it assumed its current name.
Gyeong (경; 京) means "capital" and seong (성; 城) means "walled city." Gyeong is still used to refer to Seoul in the names of various railway lines and freeways, including:
- Gyeongbu Line (Gyeongbuseon (경부선; 京釜線) in Korean) and Gyeongbu Expressway (Gyeongbu Gosok Doro; 경부 고속 도로) between Seoul and Busan (부산; 釜山);
- Gyeongin Line (Gyeonginseon; 경인선; 京仁線) and Gyeongin Expressway (Gyeongin Gosok Doro; 경인 고속 도로) between Seoul and Incheon (인천; 仁川);
- Gyeongui Line (Gyeonguiseon; 경의선; 京義線) between Seoul and Dorasan (the ui comes from Sinuiju (新義州), the Revised Romanized spelling of Sinŭiju (신의주) in North Korea, the line's original terminus on the Chinese border—see the article on the Gyeongui Line for details);
- Gyeongwon Line (Gyeongwonseon; 경원선; 京元線) between Seoul and Shintanni (originally the line went to Wonsan (원산; 元山) in what is now North Korea); and
- Gyeongchun Line (Gyeongchunseon; 경춘선; 京春線) between Seoul and Chuncheon (춘천; 春川) in Gangwon Province.
- Author: the Seoul Searcher (2010-07-28). "Was Seoul Always Called Seoul?". Wordpress. Retrieved 2010-08-23.
- "壹蘋果旅遊網－南韓－首爾﹝漢城﹞ (Translation: NextMedia Travel: Seoul, South Korea)". Retrieved 30 July 2010.