山村訓長但知覓

The Sanchon Hunjang
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5/12/2008

 

Whence "Kim"?

There is the four-character saying 去頭截尾 (거두절미), “to get rid of the head and slice off the tail.” It's usually used to mean “cut the fluff and get down to the meat of the discussion.”

But interestingly enough, it's the description of the old Chinese fanqie method of glossing pronunciation, only in reverse. The fanqie method has you slice off the tail (of the first character given) and then discard the head (of the second character), to give the pronunciation of the character in question. Of course you have to know how to pronounce the two characters glossed, but that and saying “A音B”, or “A is a homonym of B” is the best they came up with.

To see the whole thing in action, the mother of all 옥편, the Character Dictionary of the Kangxi Emperor glosses the word “金” as being pronounced 金...居音切...居吟切...音今, or“居 + 音 [= 금], 居 + 吟 [= 금], sounds like '今 [금]'” Then it gives many many definitions and ends it's page-long exposition on the various meanings of this word over time by giving a second and final pronunciation of “居 + 良 [= 강], a homonym of '彊 [강]'.”

On a side note, the Korean names for their consonants were also laid out in a similar manner. There is no hint as to how the individual letters were pronounced in the original 한글 proclamation, but in 1527, the Collection of Characters for the Instruction of the Young 訓蒙字會 the individual letters are presented along with pronunciation. And the pronunciation is glossed with Chinese characters in a format similar to that of the time-honored fanqie method, except it's in reverse: ㄱ is “其役 (기역),” ㄴis “尼隱 (니은)” and so on. So ㄱ is pronounced like the lead-in to “기” when it's an initial and like the end of “역” when it's a final.

Back to 金.

This word, pronounced as "Kim" represents the largest surname group in Korea, at 22% of the population, followed not particularly closely by Lee 李 (15%) and Park 朴 (8%). If you want to find the story of the founding of this sea of a clan called Kim, you've got to go all the way back to the Shilla days, as described in the Historical Records of the Three Kingdoms.

The fourth king of Shilla was a nice fellow (the Sanchon Hunjang supposes ^^) named “탈해이사금 脫解尼師今” (they had funny names back then and “이사금” appears to be some sort of title that was so popular that it ends the names of kings #3 through #18, when it is replaced by 마립간 麻立干). At any rate, according to Book 1 of the Fundamental Records of the Shilla, in the ninth year of T'alhaeisagum's reign:

春三月 王夜聞 金城西始林樹間 有鷄鳴聲 遲明遣瓠公視之 有金色小櫃掛樹枝 白鷄鳴於其下 瓠公還告 王使人取櫃開之 有小男兒在其中 姿容奇偉 上喜謂左右曰 "此豈非天遺我以令胤乎" 乃收養之 及長聰明多智略 乃名閼智 以其出於金櫃姓金氏


So, um...春三月 In the spring of the third month, 王 the king 夜 at night 聞 heard 金城西 to the west of Gold Fortress, 始林樹間 among the trees of the First Grove, 有 there was 鷄鳴聲 the sound of a cock crying. 遲明At next light, [he] 遣 dispatched 瓠公 Prince Ho to [go] 視之see it. 有 There was a 金色gold colored 小 small 櫃 box 掛hanging in the 樹 tree 枝 branches and a 白 white 鷄 cock 鳴 crowing 於其下 underneath it. 瓠公 Prince Ho 還 returned and 告reported. 王 The king 使 sent 人 someone 取 to take 櫃 the box and 開 open 之 it. 有 There was a 小 small 男man-兒child 在其中 inside of it. 姿容 [His] appearance was 奇 wonderful and 偉 great. 上 The king, 喜 delighted, 謂 addressed [the court officials] 左右 to the left and right, saying 曰: “此 This 豈非天遺 was surely left by the heavens 我 for me 以 as an 令 appointed 胤 heir.” 乃 Whereupon [the king] 收 took in and 養 raised 之 him. 及 And [he was] 長 strong in 聰明 brilliance and [had] 多 much 智略 wisdom and was 乃 thus 名 named 閼智 Alchi and, 以 because of 其 his 出 coming out 於 from a 金 golden 櫃 box, [he] was 姓 surnamed the 金 Gold 氏 clan.

Lessee here...so the first of the 金 clan was named because he was found in a gold box, from which his surname was taken. And “gold” is “금.” To make things even stranger, the Kangxi Dictionary, above, says that 金 is only “금” or rarely“강” but gives no mention of 김.

So whence the surname pronunciation “김?”

According to some sources, including the admittedly populist 엽기조선왕조실록, 金 was always pronounced “금,” whether as “gold” or as a surname down until the beginning of the Chosun Dynasty. When 이성계 founded the new dynasty, with the royal surname Yi (李), some geomantically inclined scholars at court are said to have pointed out that the major element in 李 is wood (木), which would be the one of the five elements to power the dynasty. But there is a chain by which the five elements overcome one another in the cycle of creation and destruction that is life. And the element which overcomes wood is gold/metal 金.

With this clear prophecy hanging out there for all to see, it certainly could not be safe to have a nation swarming with people surnamed “금,” any one of whom might sweep in to remove the new dynasty at the drop of at hat. And, with so many 금s out there, killing them all off to secure the dynasty's longevity was not a realistic approach. So it was proposed that a next-best solution would be to change the pronunciation of 金, when used as a surname, to “김.” This would eliminate all danger of metallic 금 overthrowing the Dynasty of Wood.

When we consider that the Choson Dynasty continued for some 520 years, this verbal slight of hand that feels so contrived seems to have worked like a charm!

Comments:
Seems like its been awhile since you posted, even for the 태민 2 months is kind of a long time. ^^
 
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