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The Many Names of Dokdo

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Samguksagi and Goryeosa record that, in the 13th year of King Jijeung of Silla (512), Isabu subjugates Usan-guk, a reference to present-day Ulleungdo. ‘Ulleungdo’ and ‘Usan-guk’ were initially used to refer to the same island we know today as Ulleungdo, but later, while this island continued to be called Ulleungdo, ‘Usan’ was used to refer to present-day Dokdo.
In the section on Uljin-hyeon(village) of Gangwon Province in Sejongsillokjiriji, which was compiled in 1454 (14th year of King Sejong of Joseon), it is stated that ‘the two islands of Usan and Mureung are in middle of the sea due east of the (Uljin) hyeon’. The section on Uljin-hyeon in Sinjeung-dongguk-yeoji-seungnam that was published in 1530 (the 26th year of King Jungjong of Joseon) also states that ‘Usando and Ulleungdo are in the middle of the sea due east of the hyeon.’ These examples show that ‘Mureung’ was used for Ulleungdo, while ‘Usan’ was used distinctively for Dokdo.

In the Joseon Dynasty, Dokdo was also referred to as Sambongdo and Gajido, in addition to the name of Usando.
‘Sambongdo’ is mentioned quite often in Seongjongsillok (The Annals of King Seongjong; compiled in 1476), along with a description of the three peaks of Dokdo. The name ‘Gajido’ also appears in a report on Ulleungdo compiled in 1794 (the 18th year of King Jeongjo) by Gangwon Provincial Governor Sim Jin-hyeon, which states, “on a trip to Gajido on the 26th day of the 4th lunar month, gaji-eo (sea lions) jumped up in surprise”. Here, gaji-eo is used as a written transcription of ‘gaje’ the pure Korean word for Zalophus Californianus, while ‘Gajido’ refers to an island with many sea lions. Many sea lions did once inhabit Dokdo, and even now in the northeast part of the island there are rocks named, the ‘Large Gaje Rock’ and the ‘Small Gaje Rock’.
The name ‘Seokdo’ was first used in Imperial Ordinance No. 41 issued by the Greater Korean Empire in October 1900 (the 37th year of King Gojong). This Ordinance changed the name of Ulleungdo to Uldo-gun (county) and ordered the assignment of a county magistrate who had jurisdiction over Jeondo, Jukdo and Seokdo, where Jeondo referred to Ulleungdo, Jukdo to the small island adjacent to the east of Ulleungdo, and Seokdo to Dokdo. The Sino-Korean characters for Seokdo mean, literally, ‘rock island’, which is ‘dol-seom’ in pure Korean. In the local dialect, ‘dol’ was pronounced as ‘dok’, and the people of Ulleungdo soon started referring to the island of rocks as ‘dol-seom’ and ‘dok-seom’. ‘Dokdo (獨島)’ was used to express this name using Sino-Korean characters, and was first seen in the report made in March 1906 by Ulleung County Magistrate Sim Heung-taek, who wrote of ‘Dokdo, which is a part of my county (Uldo-gun)’.
Different countries also use different names to refer to Dokdo.
Japan started out by calling Ulleungdo as Takeshima and Dokdo as Matsushima, but with its unilateral announcement in 1905 that incorporated Dokdo into Japan’s Shimane Prefecture, it started to use the name Takeshima to refer to Dokdo.
The French have called Dokdo ‘The Liancourt Rocks’ after the Liancourt, the ship that sighted Dokdo in 1849. Meanwhile, the British refer to the island as the ‘Hornet Rocks, and the Russians call it ‘Menalai-Olivutsa’.