It’s no wonder that Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, chose to name his new country “Canada” on July 1, 1867 at the enactment of the British North American Act, which created the dominion of Canada by uniting the then three provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada (which later became Ontario and Quebec) – under one federation. The name “Canada” had been in use since 1534 when French explorer Jacques Cartier first encountered the Iroquois natives on the banks of St. Lawrence River where he first heard them say “kanata,” meaning town or village. This word was later used to refer to the part of New France along the St. Lawrence River and subsequently to the two British Colonies, Upper and Lower Canada, during the 17th and 18th centuries.
In contrast, Korea today has not adopted the name “Chosen” despite the fact that the Chosen Dynasty had ruled the Korean peninsula for more than 500 years: from 1392 to 1910. Instead, Korea has adopted a name with its origin in the Koryo Dynasty, a dynasty that ruled the Korean peninsula from 918 to 1392 prior to the Chosen Dynasty. It was during this period when Arab merchants, travelling via China, first met the Korean people from whom they learned the country’s name “Koryo.” After years, “Koryo” became “Korea” and this was how Korea came to be remembered by the Western world. Formally, the country’s name was adopted on April 13, 1919 by the provisional government of the Republic of Korea.
But insofar as the name is used, only foreigners call this country “Korea.” For people of Korean nationality, they use the name 대한민국 (大韓民國), which literally means the country where the people of “Han 韓” live. Specifically, the people of “Han韓” are those who live or have lived in the Korean peninsula, Manchuria or the Primorsky Region, and speak the Korean language. Such reference to the identity of the Korean people was first made by King Gojong in 1897 at the declaration of the Korean Empire: the era of the three Kingdoms was a period of division and strife among the people of “Han.” It was not until the Koryo Dynasty that the people of “Han” united under one nation. The Chosen Dynasty maintained and prospered this unification; the use of “대 大,” meaning grand, along with 한韓 signifies this unification of the Han people.”