Temple names are commonly used when naming most Chinese, Korean (Goryeo and Joseon periods), and Vietnamese (such dynasties as Trần, Lý, and Lê) royalty. They should not be confused with era names. Compared to posthumous names, the use of temple names is more exclusive. Both titles were given after death to an emperor or king, but unlike the often elaborate posthumous name, a temple name always consists of only two characters:
- Zu ("forefather") implies a progenitor, either a founder of a dynasty or a new line within an existing one. The equivalent in Korean is jo (조), and tổ in Vietnamese
- Zong ("ancestor") is used in all other rulers. It is jong (종) in Korean, and tông in Vietnamese.
The "temple" in "temple name" refers to the "grand temple" (太廟), also called "great temple" (大廟) or "ancestral temple" (祖廟), where crown princes and other royalty gathered to worship their ancestors. The ancestral tablets in the grand temple recorded the temple names of the rulers.
At earlier time only rulers performed have temple names, such as Taihao (太昊). Temple names were assigned sporadically from the Han Dynasty and regularly from the Tang Dynasty. Some Han emperors had their temple names permanently removed by their descendants in 190. They are the usual way to refer to emperors from the Tang Dynasty up to (but not including) the Ming Dynasty. For the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty (from 1368), era names were used instead.
In Korea, temple names are used to refer to kings of the early Goryeo (until 1274), and kings and emperors of the Joseon Dynasty. For the Korean Empire (1897–1910), era names should be used, but the temple names are often used instead.
In Vietnam, most rulers are known by their temple names, with the exception of Nguyễn and Tây Sơn Dynasty rulers, who are known by their era names.
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