When I first went to Japan, I had to learn that the Japanese don’t call their country Japan. they call it Nippon or Nihon. I couldn’t figure out why the rest of the world used the word Japan and not Nippon. It is because of influence from English. In many countries, they just use a rendition of Japan rather than Nippon, but I still don’t know why English speakers began calling them Japan instead of Nippon or Nihon which is what they call themselves.
Here in Korea, I learned that Korea calls itself Hangook or Dehanmingook. Here we go again. In Spanish and Romanian both, I know they call Korea “Corea. ” However, I discovered that was not particularly because of influence from English this time. I have learned that “Korea” or “Corea” comes from the original name the world learned for Korea along the old Silk Road (the old trading road that connected the east to the west). Korea was a hermit kingdom, but when they began traveling the old Silk Road to trade, they were calling themselves Goryeo. Often, when Koreans speak, the “g” and the “k” sound can get confused, so I can see how “Goryeo” could be heard as “Koreyeo.” It makes sense for other countries to call Hangook either Korea or Corea.
However, Japan doesn’t call them Korea. They call South Korea Kankoku. They say it is a translation of Dehanmingook. The Japanese call North Korea Choson because that is the Japanese translation of what the North Koreans call themselves, Jeoson. Jeoson was actually a great dynasty of the past from old Korea, but North Korea has not given the name up. The North Koreans call South Korea “Nam Jeosan” which means South Jeosan. If the Japanese call the South Koreans “Minami Choson,” which is the Japanese translation of Nam Jeosan, it is a slam. Choson is what the Japanese called Korea when they were occupying Korea.
When I was in America several years ago, I heard someone listing off derogatory names they thought should not be used. They mentioned the word “gook.” I had no idea what they were talking about. They said it referred to Orientals. However, when I came to Korea, I could tell they were specifically referring to Koreans because the South Korean people call Korea Hangook. Han is the name of the great river that flows through and around Seoul. When North Korea talks about Jeoson, Jeoseon was one of the three kingdoms of Korea when Korea was three kingdoms, and the capital of Jeoson was Seoul. Seoul has been around almost from the beginning of time. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. The Koreans probably wouldn’t feel bad being called “gook,” but they might think it is funny.
And, by the way, I have been told in America, we need to change the word “Oriental” to something else. However, “Oriental” is not originally an English word. It comes from Latin. In Romania, they use oriental meaning east, and the counterpart “occidental” meaning “west.”
They don’t just do this calling of things other than what the original people call themselves in the East. When I was small, I lived in England. I was taught to think of the whole Island as England, but it isn’t. England is only part of the small island. On the one island, there is England, Scotland, and Wales. Together, they are called Great Britain, but many people around the world don’t realize that. They may want to call them the United Kingdom, but the United Kingdom is much more than just England, Scotland, and Wales. It also includes Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, S. Africa, Canada, and islands south of S. America. It sounds complicated, but at one time, the British Empire had vast territories all over the world, and many of those countries are still part of the United Kingdom. They are separate countries, but they are all still under the Queen of England. When I left England, I heard people calling them Brits. When I was in England, I realized that many in England called themselves Blokes. Sometimes they used the word “bloke” as synonymous for “guy,” but it must be a British guy.
In America, we come to the same problem. If you are from America, you are American. However, there are several other countries from the North American, Central American, and South American continents, and sometimes, they don’t like only people from the U. S, being called Americans. They hear people saying it and say, “Hey! I am American too!”
If you are in the United States, the people from the north are called Yankees, and I am not sure why except it began around the time of the Civil War. The southerners are not called Yankees. However, if you go to another country, they want to call everyone from the United States Yankees.
If you are from Mexico, you are Mexican. However, if you are Hispanic in Texas or California, you may be called Mexican. However, many American Hispanic people feel like people are speaking derogatorily about them if they are called Mexican. In Mexico, they acknowledge the people who have lighter skin have more Spanish in them than Indian, but they are all Mexicans and should be proud to be Mexican. Mexicans have overcome great odds because the Mexican Indians have a very hard history of being dominated by Spain. It was hard for them to become a country, but they made it.
American Indians have been called American Indians from the beginning of when the white men stepped off the ships from Europe. Oklahoma was called “Indian Territory” before it became a state. If you are part Indian or a full blooded Indian in America, you are accustomed to being called Indian, and it doesn’t bother most even though I have heard a minority is bothered. They are trying to force everyone into calling Indians “Native Americans.” Okay, I don’t mind, but it is the same thing, and no one meant the word “Indian” to be derogatory. Now a days, anyone whose family has been in America for several generations and was born in American should technically be called Native American.
They made a big deal out of a ball team that was called the “Red Men” not long back. Red men is another word for American Indian. They tried to stop them from calling themselves “Red Men,” They were afraid someone would get offended. The white men nor the black men understand in America that calling an American Indian “red man” is actually a complimentary term because “Red Man” is actually the name of an American Indian god.
When I was a little girl, my grandfather used what was considered a derogatory word for black people. I was told never to use that word. However, the blacks use it for one another. I was taught to say “colored people,” but guess what, we all have color. Okay, the new word was black people. However, I was told recently that there is a new word for black people, and I shouldn’t be saying black people. I don’t know what the new word is. When I went to Nigeria, I found out the origin of the word that my grandfather was using because the ancestors of most of the black people in America came from Nigeria. Probably, in the beginning, the world my grandfather was using wasn’t considered derogatory either. However, because of slavery, it became derogatory. And, I must add that the blacks are not the only people who have a history of being slaves. The American Indians were the first slaves in America. In Africa, the blacks were enslaving each other, and in Europe and the middle East many centuries back, they enslaved one another. That is a whole other discussion.
Why are Americans so set on changing the names of things that have been used forever, but they insist on calling Nippon “Japan” and insist on calling Hangook “Korea? Japan is not so fond of North Korea, so for the Japanese to call them Choson, I understand. Japan likes South Korea, so they cooperate with S. Korea and translated Dehanmingook into Japanese. American southerners don’t want to be called Yankees because they aren’t Yankees. The Northerners are. I understand why American Hispanics don’t want to be called Mexican. Mexico is not as rich as America, and there was a time in Texas when Mexicans were treated as slaves and not allowed in restaurants and other places which was wrong. However, American Indians used to be looked down on too, but now, people who aren’t Indian want to claim to be part Indian, and the ones who are part Indian are distancing themselves from their family heritage because they now live as white men and don’t want to be called liars. The world just can’t seem to get it right. Maybe we should just be polite and ignore it all. We are all people, and we need to forgive one another for what our ancestors did.