Legends of Place Names
This category of legends narrates the origins of the names of villages and the various related place names.
A number of place name legends are found in Samguksagi (History of the Three Kingdoms), the earliest among them being the tale about the origins of the name Changwon, now a major city, which came from the fact that Crown Prince Haemyeong, during King Yuri’s reign in Goguryeo, killed himself with a spear, which is chang in Korean. There are also records of villages populated by people known for their filial piety, with names like Hyogari (Village of Pious Families) and Hyoyangbang (Village of Pious Nurturing). Documented in Samgungnyusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms) are legends of origins of place names like Wolmyeongni (Moonlight Village), Jaemaegok (Jaemae Village), Yulli (Chestnut Village) and Jupochon (Port of First Arrival).
Village names reflect the experience and culture of the villagers, and oftentimes there is more than one legend related to a name. For example, the village Aeogae in Seoul, means “child hill, ” which is associated with three different meanings: that of “little hill”; that of a hill where infant corpses were sent to; and that of a hill that functions as a geomantic supplementation (bibo), to keep the child of Buaak (Mountain Carrying Child on Its Back) from running away by comforting it with cake.
Village names can change with new turns in history. For example, the village Sirim (First Forest), now part of the city of Gyeongju in North Gyeongsang Province, was changed to Gyerim (Rooster Forest), to reflect the myth that a white rooster crowed when King Alji of Silla appeared.
Place name legends can be categorized into nature name legends and historical name legends.
The former includes the story of Samsongni (Three Pines Villages) or that of Daeyulli (Great Chestnut Village), while the latter includes the tale of Jeongjeonggol, in Goryeong, North Gyeongsang Province, an onomatopoeic name that reflects the sound of the twelve-stringed zither gayageum played by the legendary composer Ureuk, and Piggeutmaeul (Blood End Village) in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, where it is said that the blood of those killed in the violent revolt to restore King Danjong reached.
Village name legends associated with geographical features are mythological, for they narrate the creation of the village and its surroundings, and are reflected in names like Gumi (Turtle Tail), Masan (Horse Mountain) and Baeneomijae (Boat Crossing Pass), observed around the country. At the same time, some village name legends are more locally specific than any other narratives in the oral tradition, for they serve as references in defining the identity of the communities; what distinguishes each village from others. Fragments of communal history, left out from official records, are reflected in these place names, contributing to supplementing official history and to rearranging historical truths according to the oral tradition.