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What's in a Name?

What's in a Name? | Geography Education |

The Pentagon has upset patriots by labeling the body of water between Korea and Japan in an exhibition depicting various battles fought during the 1950-53 Korean War as "Sea of Japan" rather than "East Sea."

Seth Dixon's insight:

Earlier this week I posted on whether a group of islands off the coast of Argentina should be called the Falkland Islands or Las Malvinas.  There is some geopolitical significance to which name you ascribe to particular places.  Does it matter if I call the sea to the east of the Korean Peninsula the "East Sea" and if someone else refers to this same body of water west of Japan the "Sea of Japan?"  For many years the Sea of Japan has been the defacto name internationally and South Korean officials have lobbied (quite successfully) to bolster the legitimacy of the name within the media, publishers and cartographers and other governments.  Last summer, a worker in the South Korean government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested that I share some resources that state South Korea's position(see also this 10 minute video), showing their commitment to this rebranding effort.  Also see this GeoCurrents article on the subject in 2012, after South Korea's failed attempt to get international recognition.

Questions to Ponder: What other places have multiple names?  What are the political overtones to the name distinctions? What are other tricky places on the map where distinct groups would label/draw things differently?  Is the map an 'unbiased' source of information? 

Tags: language, toponyms, South Korea, historical, colonialism, cartography.

Justin McCullough's curator insight, October 17, 2013 10:16 AM

I agree with Peter Kim and others that are fighting to have the name changed to the East Sea. The term "Sea of Japan" was used in colonial times of South Korea. Now that those times are long gone, it I can understand why South Korea would want to get rid of anything related to that time period. This actually reminds of something that I'm going over in my colonial history class; the Pueblo Revolt (1680). During this time Indians revolted against the Spanish colonizers oppressing them and taking away their traditions, forcibly converting them to Christianity. During their revolt the Indians destroyed many of the Spanish institutions, especially those related to religion. They destroyed churches and even defaced the statues of the saints, and returned to their traditional practices.

This article also reminded of Sri Lanka changing the its colonial name on Government institutions from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. This happened not to long ago. The Island's colonial name (Ceylon) was dropped when they became their own country in 1972. However, the name Ceylon remained on many of the Government institutions (e.g. Bank of Ceylon or Ceylon Fisheries Corporation). However, in 2010 the name was dropped for good.  

James Hobson's curator insight, November 21, 2014 9:55 PM

(East Asia topic 10 [an independent topic])

{And finally a topic outside of China...}

Just as mentioned in a Scoop from a previous topic section, names can be viewed as more than a word which identifies a place. The context of a name can run very deep and be highly contentious. In this case "Sea of Japan" and "East Sea" are contenders for the official name of the body of water between Japan, Korea, and Russia. Sea of Japan is an older term with more of a history, which especially invokes mentioning of the Korean War. East Sea is a post-war term hopes to remove national tension form its name.

   Should officials really 'rename the wheel', or can the original name be accepted just because of its location and historical use? Or perhaps neither of these options, or even a national-level split as is currently the case?

   Personally, I see it as the difference between Aquidneck Island and Rhode Island (the actual island, of course), or even relatable to French fries vs. freedom fries. Physical things don't change just because their names do. In my view, perhaps everybody should just choose whichever they are more familiar with and comfortable using, while taking into consideration and expressing that their reference of a location is not meant to imply any political views.

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