including some familiar names of provinces or peoples

In this list I propose some more acceptable etymologies for the names of some countries, or in many cases, a more elaborate research on the origin of names, than that found in common sources. In many cases I have chosen the etymology that seems more pertinent, and ignored other fancy, unjustified explanations.


Cherpillod, André, 1986. Dictionnaire étymologique des noms géographiques. Masson, Paris, New York etc.

Decret, François & Mohamed Fantar, 1981. L’Afrique du Nord dans l’Antiquité. Payot, Paris.

Deroy, Louis & Marianne Mulon, 1992. Dictionnaire des noms de lieux. Le Robert, Paris.

Desfayes, Michel, 1998. A thesaurus of bird names, etymology through paradigms. Museum of Natural History, Sion, Switzerland.

Egli, J.J., 1893. Nomina geographica. Leipzig.

Georgeacas, D. 1969. The names for the African continent. Intern. Kongress für Namenforschung 3: 329-353. Wien.

Grau, Juan, 2000. Voces indígenas de uso común en Chile. Glosario etimológico. 3a ed. Ediciones Oikos Ltda, Santiago de Chile.

Johnson Westropp, J. 1912. Proc. Royal Irish Academy, vol. 30, p. 240, 241, 1912.

Klein, Ernest, 1966-1967. A comprehensive dictionary of the English language. One-volume unabridged edition, 1971. Amsterdam, Oxford, New York.

Losique, S. 1971. Dictionaire étymologique des noms de pays et de peuples. Paris.

Salverte, Eusebius & L.H. Mordacque, 1864. History of the names of men, nations and places in their connection with the progress of civilization.

Muralt, Malou von, 1003. Un arbre devenu pays. Saussurea (Geneva), vol. 33, p. 39-61.

Muses, Charles, 1965. Celtic origins and the Arthurian cycle. In: Celticum XII. Actes du IVe Congrès international d’Etudes gauloises, celtiques et protoceltiques. Sarrebruck (Sarre) 4-9 septembre 1964. Supplément à Ogam. Tradition celtique, No. 98: 359-385. Rennes. This article has been republished in the Journal of Indo-European Studies vol. 7, p. 31, 1979.

Pearsall, Judy & Bill Trumble, editors, 1996. Oxford English reference dictionary, second edition. Oxford University Press.

Pokorny, Julius, 1959-1969. Indogermanisches Wörterbuch. Francke, Bern.

Ronsin, Albert, 1991. La fortune d’un nom, America. Le baptême du Nouveau Monde à Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. Cosmographiae Introductio suivi des Lettres d’Americo Vespucci. Jérôme Millon, Grenoble. 219 p.

Webster’s new universal unabridged dictionary, 1996. Barnes & Noble, New York.

Wikipedia. On line dictionary.

Xhevat Lloshi, Albanian pp. 277-299, in Handbuch der Südosteuropa-Linguistik. Herausgegeben von Uwe Hinrichs unter Mitarbeit von Uwe Büttner 1999, Harrassowitz Verlag. Wiesbaden Slavistische Studienbücher, Neue Folge. Herausgegeben von Helmut Jachnow und Klaus-Dieter Seemann, Band 10.

Countries that have changed their name

Recently we have witnessed the renaming of some countries like Dahomey becoming Benin, Congo > Zaire (now back to Republic of Congo), Ceylon > Sri Lanka, Burma > Myanmar of which it is a corruption). There still is an obvious reticence in calling Burma Myanmar. Sri Lanka on the other hand has been readily and promptly accepted. I regret the forsaking of Ceylon. Couldn’t we have conserved it ? After all the Germans are by no means disturbed if Deutschland is called Germany by the English, Allemagne by the French, Niemcy by the Poles or Tyskland by the Danes. The Magyars do not seem to mind being called Hungarians, the Hellens Greeks, and the Netherlanders Dutch (and their country Holland). Shqipetars are quite happy beeing called Albanians and the Kartvelebi Georgians, and their country Sakartvelo Georgia. Cerna Gora is universally known as Montenegro, Bhārat is called by the Westerners India, Suomi > Finland, Misr > Egypt, Zhon Guo > China.


Abyssinia. The former name of Ethiopia.

From Arabic al-habasha meaning “mixed”, many inhabitants of this land being a mixture of black and Semitic peoples. See Ethiopia.

Acadie. A region in the province of Québec, Canada.

From Amerind academ, tedlacadem “here, where we live” (not from akadi “fertile land”; the Indians of this region were not cultivators).

Afghanistan. A country in south central Asia.

“Land of the Afghans”, a Persian name of unknown meaning or origin; afghàn also means “lamentation” but the connection is uncertain.

Africa. From the name of an ancient tribe in Tunisia, the Afri (adjective: Afer). The name is still extant today as Ifira and Ifri-n-Dellal in Greater Kabylia (Algeria). A Berber tribe was called Beni-Ifren in the Middle Ages and Ifurace was the name of a Tripolitan people in the 6th century. The name is from the Berber language ifri “cave”. Troglodytism was frequent in northern Africa and still occurs today in southern Tunisia. Herodote wrote that the Garamantes, a North African people, used to live in caves. The Ancient Greek called troglodytès an African people who lived in caves. Africa was coined by the Romans and “Ifriqiyeh” is the arabized Latin name. (Most details from Decret & Fantar, 1981).

Ainu. A population of northern Japan, distinct from the Japanese.

In the Ainu language the name simply means “man”. The Chinese used to call them maomin “hairy people”.

Alan. A people of Persian origin that immigrated into Europe.

Also a medieval name for the Ossets. The name Alan has been given a Greek etymology alènon “vagabond”. The Ossets are a remnant of the Alans who called themselves As. The Greeks called them Asiaoi. The medieval Ossets were called Allons. See Asia.

Alaska. One of the United Sates of America

From Esquimo Alaxska or Al-ay-es-ka meaning “big land”.

Albania. A country in the Balkans.

Foreigners call them albanesi (Itan), Albaner (German), Albanians (English), Alvanos (Greek), Arbanasi (old Serbian), the country Albania, Albanie, Albanien, Alvania, and Albanija, and the language albanese, Albanisch, Albanian, alvaniki, and arbanashki respectively. All these words are derived from the name Albanoi of an Illyrian tribe and their center Albanopolis, noted by the astronomer of Alexandria, Ptolemy, in the 2nd century. From Ancient Greek Albanoi, an Illyrian tribe, in Modern Greek Arvanitis and by themselves arbënesh/arbëresh, the country Arbëni/Arbëri, and the language arbëneshe/arbëreshe. For the etymology of this name, see Alps.

The Albanian call their language Shqip (whence the adjective Shqipëtar: those who speak the same language). The belief that the name means “eagle” arose from a confusion between Shqip the Albanian language and shkipjë or shqipjë a collective name for birds of prey (including eagles). The bird name is cognate to Albanian shqep “to tear”, Serbo-Croatian shkopiti “to strike”, a characteristic of hawks. The language name must evidently have another semantics; shqiponj means “I understand”. “A new and more generalized ethnic and linguistic consciousness of all these people responded to this, distinguished against the foreigners as a community of men (shqiptarë) clearly understanding each other, that is understanding each other shqip. This adverb predominates in everyday use… There is nothing scientific in explaining Shqipëri as “the country of the eagle” and shqiptarë as “the sons of the eagle” (Xhevat Lloshi, 1999).

Albanians are called Arnaut by the Serbs, and Arnavutluk by the Turks, from Greek arneios “lamb” which should be taken as a collective name for “sheep”, thus: sheep raisers; see Dalmatia, for parallel naming. The Tosks in southern Albania call their northern counterpart Gegë, from gegeri; gogë is the surname of the Romanians. Gegë and gogë refer to the quality of their speech as heard by the Tosks; in Serbocroatian guga is the babbling of a child.

Albion. A literary surname for Britain or England, attested by Pliny the Elder. Albanach is still used today by the Irish as a name for the Scotsmen. The name would mean “Highlander”, from a root alb- “height”, cognate to Alps.

Algarve. A province of Portugal.

From Arabic al-gharb “the West”, see Maghreb.

Algeciras. A town in southern Spain.

From Arabic al-jazīra al-khadrà “the green island” a name for Spain.

Algeria. A country in North Africa.

In Arabic al-Jazà’ir meaning “the islands”, formerly designating the islands near the coast. The Spanish Argelia is a metathesis or inversion of letters.

Allemagne. The French name for Germany.

The country of the Allemands. The names means “the other men”, from a root al- “other” and “foreigner”:



















Old High German


from another land

Old High German


Alsace: land on the other side of the Rhine (from the point of view of the Germans)



the men established on the other side of the Rhine

This etymology has been proposed by Klein, 1977. The usual explanation from “alle männer” “all the men” is devoid of sense.

Allobroges. An ancient people of Gaul.

The name has probably never been in use by any people. It seems to have been coined by some historian with the Greek allos “other” and Breton broc’h “land”, and would be the equivalent of Alamann (see Allemagne).

Alsace. A French province. See Allemagne.

Ambrons. An ancient people from Denmark.

In Ancient Greek Ambrones, so named from the color of their hair (see Denmark):



having a yellowish tint



a reddish yellow substance



a people from Denmark



an amber-colored drink

Italian North


Yellow Bunting






hot coal

English, regional

yalla ember

Yellow Bunting



Yellow Bunting

Italian North



The Danish Ambrons have no relation whatsoever with the ancient peoples of southeastern France called Ambrons which were nothing but the inhabitants of the town of Embrun.

America. 1. The continent.

The naming of America

The earliest known use of the name America for the continents of the Americas dates from 1507. The western continent is named America on the maps of Martin Waldseemüller (ca. 1470 – ca. 1521/1522) a German cartographer. He was born in Radolfzell (or according to the Catholic Encyclopedia Wolfenweiler, near Freiburg, with his mother originating from Radolfzell) and studied at the university in Freiburg.

The derivation of America from Amerigo Vespucci was first proposed in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller from Saint-Dié (Lorraine, France) who wrote in his preface of Cosmographiae Introduction: “Je ne vois pas pourquoi on objecterait … de nommer cette partie [du monde] d’après Americus, c-à-d. Amerige” [I do not see why one would object…to name this part (of the world) after Americus, i.e. Amerige]. Amerigo Vespucci (March 9, 1454 – February 22, 1512), a Genoan merchant, came to the world’s attention chiefly through the publication in 1503 and 1504 of two brief letters called Novus Mundus “the New World” he purportedly wrote to Lorenzo de Medici about a voyage undertaken for the king of Portugal. Vespucci’s role in the naming issue, like his exploratory activity, is unclear.

The letters were the most interesting account of explorations in the Americas that had appeared up to that time and caused a sensation that if anything exceeded that created by Columbus’s description of his first voyage ten years earlier. The letters were reprinted in every European language and soon came to the attention of Martin Waldseemüller and his friends.

The Waldseemüller group published Cosmographiae Introduction (Introduction to Cosmography), the first attempt to update the geography texts of the ancients. They were quite taken with Vespucci’s idea that the Americas were a new land, since it meant they had gone beyond the knowledge of the ancients, in whose shadow they had long toiled. They thought it only appropriate that Vespucci’s name grace the new land, of whose extent they had at that point only the vaguest inkling. The naming of America after Amerigo Vespucci was thus a bit capricious. The fact that this is the most ancient explanation is no evidence of being correct.

A few alternative theories have been proposed, but none of them have any widespread acceptance. This explanation is quite unsatisfactory and is certainly not the origin of the name. Why should a whole continent be name after the first name of a navigator who was not even the discoverer of this land, and why was America named after a man who was otherwise so obscure. For centuries it was argued that Amerigo Vespucci was a fraud who had never traveled to the continent that bore his name and did not deserve to have either of his names applied to anything. But it is now fairly well established that he made at least two voyages to the Americas, not as leader of an expedition but possibly as navigator, the first time in 1499.

He was not the first European of his era to set foot on the mainland, as was once thought, but probably was the first to realize that the land he helped explore was a separate continent and not merely the coast of Asia, as Columbus and others believed.

Notes from Albert Ronsin (1991), Wikipedia and other sources.

Origin of America as proposed here:

It seems more logical to consider that the name America, like Antilles, was first used by the Portuguese who were the greatest navigators at that time, with the meaning of “the land beyond the sea” (mar); America is thus formed with the preposition a “in, with, toward” etc., and mar “sea”, with the Romance suffixe –ic as in Lybica, Africa, musica, classico etc. This etymology is consistent with the accentuation of the middle syllable.

America. 2. The United States of America.

The country is usually called U.S.A and within the country U.S. which has pleasantly been taken as the initials of Uncle Sam. The southerners used to call the northerners Yankees. This name originated in early times when, in the predominantly Dutch-speaking New Harlem (later New York), the pronunciation of /j/ was like /y/ as yohn etc. Yanqui is sometimes used, somewhat pejoratively, by Latin Americans who resent the name American being usurped by the North Americans for themselves. On the opposite, Yankee is used by Americans to describe things they are proud of, such as Yankee ingenuity. The U.S.A. are called by the


Wilayat Amrika al-Muttahidah




Etats-Unis, abbreviated E.U.


an t-Oilean-ur (New Iceland)


Vereinigte Staaten


Artzot Ha’Brit




Estados Unidos which they abbreviate EE.UU. (the double letters meaning plural)


Taleithiau Cyfenol or yr Unol Daleithian America


Zjdinjene Drzhave


Mei-kuo (which is their pronunciation of

“America”); given a Chinese etymology the name would mean “beautiful country”; it is also called Mei zhou, in which mei “beautiful” has only a phonetical value for the accentuated syllable in America; zhou = continent. Japanese Beikoku is their pronunciation of the Chinese name! Given a Japanese etymology, the name would mean “land of the rice” which is unapplicable since the Japan used to produce much more rice than the U.S.

Anatolia. A region of Turkey.

From Greek anatellein “to rise”, anatolè “sunrise, east”; thus: region of the rising sun. The Turkish Anadolu is from Greek.

Andalusia. A region of southern Spain.

Said to be from Vandals, a northern tribe who established themsemlves in Spain. This etymology is questionable. The loss of the initial V is unexplicable. For the Arabs, Andalus denoted the whole peninsula.

Andorre. A country in the Pyrenees.

In Navarra, andurrial is a scrub-covered, rough terrain.

Angleterre. The French name for England, “land of the Angles”.

Angola. A country in southeastern Africa.

From the Kimbundu language n’gola “lord, chief”. N’gola, name of a16th century king, when Portugal colonized the country.

Antigua and Barbuda.

Christopher Columbus named Antigua in honour of the Santa Maria La Antigua cathedral in Seville, Spain when he landed there in 1493. “Barbuda” means “bearded” in Portuguese. The islands gained this name after the appearance of the their fig trees, whose long roots resemble beards.

Antilles. Isles of the Caribbean.

From Portuguese ante ilhas “before the islands” so called by the early Portuguese navigators. The name was revived and given to those islands by Paolo Toscanelli. Aristotelis already mentioned a large island in the Atlantic that the “Carthagene” called antilia.

Aquitaine. A region in southwestern France.

A corruption of Basque Eskualdi; see Basque.

Aotearoa. Maori name for New Zealand, meaning “land of the long-white cloud”. Some Maori leaders are now petitioning the government to restore the country’s original Maori name.

Arabia. The land inhabited by the Arabs.

The name was apparently first bestowed upon this people by a population of the eastern Mediterranean who was in contact with them, cf. Hebr. ‘aràbi the Beduins, the peoples of the tents. The name is of chromatic origin and alludes to the black color of their hair. It is cognate to the following terms :


gariba, `arib

to be black






the west



the occident



the setting sun












land of the setting sun

Ancient Greek





a black-colored precious stone

Modern Greek



Modern Greek


black (of animals)



the Arabs

Ancient Greek


Europe (region of the setting sun)

Argentina. A country in South America.

The name was apparently given by the French, after the name of the river Río de la Plata, argent (silver) being a translation of the Spanish plata. The explanations for the name la Plata “because the natives used to wear silver ornaments”, or “because there were silver mines”, or “because the river was shining like silver” are just light guesses. Her capital Buenos Aires was named after a Spanish town of the same name.

Arizona. One of the United States of America.

A Papago Indian name meaning “small spring”.

Armenia. A country in the Middle East.

From Ancient Greek Armenios, a name given to a people of the Middle East, by confusion with the Romanians and Aromanians which were also called by the same name. See Romania. The Armenians call themselves Haik (heros), their language Hai, and their country Hayastan. In Hebrew hàyah and Aramaic hayà means “he lived”. A relation is improbable since the Armenians are not a Semitic people. In the Andi language heka means “man, hero”. The Armenian hero Haik has been named after the country. The Persian call them Arikh (Aryans), the Georgians Mekhi or Sasomheti (Somekhi) and the Ossetians Somich.

Aryans. Originally an ancient people of south Asia.

From Sancrit Arya- to which the sense of “noble” has been given. A derivation from a pre-Indo-European hypothetical root *ar-yo- with a no less hypothetical meaning “to assemble skilfully” is non-explanatory . See Iran for a more down to earth explanation.

Asia. The eastern part of the Eurasian continent.

For the ancient Greek, Asia was the region situated to the Levant. From a root signifying “red, dawn, the color of the rising sun:

Ancient Greek



Ancient Greek


Anatolia, region of the dawn

Ancient Greek


the Ossets

Ancient Greek





the East

Old H. German


the East



the East



name of a tribe related to the Alans, people of the East, the Ossets, cf. Asioi,below






the East



yesterday (Latin hesternus “of yesterday” is evidently a borrowing)



Assyria. An ancient country in the Middle East. See Syria.

Australia. A country in the southern hemisphere.

The austral land. Explorer Matthew Flinders (1774-1814), the first to sail around and chart the Australian coast, used the term “Australia” in his publication. Australia is called Ho-Chu by the Koreans.

Austria. A country in central Europe.

Austria is a Medieval Latin calque of Oesterreich “eastern kingdom”, in French Autriche. In the 9th century, the territory formed part of the Frankish empire’s eastern limit, and also formed the eastern limit of German settlement against the Slavic area. Carl the Great dubbed the region “Ostmark” ‘Eastern border territory’. In the 11th century the term Ostarrichi first appeared. Austrians are called Avstrijskij by the Russians, Rakušan by the Czechs, Rakusko by the Slovaks, and Becz by the Hungarians.

Autriche. See Austria.

Avar. A people from Asia. From Turcic avar “vagabond”.

Azania. A term often used by Black African nationalists for South Africa.

Azania is the name that has been applied to various parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In Roman times, perhaps earlier, the name referred to a portion of the east African coast south of Cape Guardafui, extending south perhaps as far as modern Tanzania.

The earliest attestations for the name Azania do not explain it. Recently, G.W.B. Huntingford offered two suggestions for the origin of the word. The first was from the Arabic `ajam “foreigner, non-Arab”. The second, which he favors, comes from the Greek azainein (“to dry, parch”), which fits his identification of Azania with the arid coastline of modern Somalia.

Pliny the Elder (N.H. 6.34) mentions an “Azanian Sea” that began around the emporium of Adulis and stretched around the south coast of Africa. The slightly later Periplus of the Erythraean Sea offers more details about Azania (chapters 15,16,18). From chapter 15 of the Periplus, Huntingford argues that Azania properly referred to the Somali coast, plausibly identifying the “Lesser and Greater Bluffs”, the “Lesser and Greater Strands”, and the “Seven Courses” of Azania with landmarks of that country. However, chapter 16 clearly describes Rhapta, located south of the Puralean Islands at the end of the Seven Courses of Azania, as the “southernmost market of Azania.” Modern identifications of Rhapta place it on the coasts of either Kenya or Tanzania, indicating that Azania referred to a far longer stretch of East African coastline than Somalia, perhaps an area identical to the later Arab Zanj. The name Azania may also refer to a locality in Arcadia in Greece, named for Azan.

Later writers who mention Azania include Claudius Ptolemy and Cosmas Indicopleustes. Cosmas records the fact that in his time Azania was under the control of Axum, and that gold was bartered for butchered beef.

Azania appeared again in 1958, when the name was proposed as a replacement name for South Africa, at the All-African Peoples Conference hosted in Accra, Ghana by Kwame Nkrumah.

But the modern use of Azania as an alternative name for South Africa only began to become popular in 1979, appearing in the names of groups such as the Azanian People’s Organisation. At the time of the 1994 multi-racial elections, some proposed “Azania” as an alternative official name for the country, but this never received widespread support. While South Africa had diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China officially referred to South Africa as “Azania”.

Reference: G.W.B. Huntingford (transl. and ed.). Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Hakluyt Society. London, 1980. All notes about Azania are from

Azerbaijan. A country in the southeastern Caucasus.

Said to be of Persian origin: Pers. àzar fire, Middle Persian àtarpàtakan in which one may recognize àtar “fire”. (From surface fires on ancient oil pools) ?

Azores. Atlantic Islands belonging to Portugal.

From Portuguese açor “hawk”, presumably because of the numerous hawk-like frigate-birds cruising along the coasts (these birds may be easily be mistaken for hawks by the uninitiated). At any rate not the Goshawk which does not occur in these islands; the only hawk occuring in the Azores is the Buzzard which is by no mean characteristic.

Bahamas. A group of island to the south of Florida.

From bahama “large upper middle land”, the Lucayan word for Grand Bahama Island (Wikipedia).

Bahrain. A emirate in the Arabian Peninsula.

From Arabic al-bahrayn meaning “two seas”. Exactly which seas are being referred to is debated. Bahrain is located in a bay formed by the Arabian mainland and the peninsula of Qatar.

Balkans. The southeastern part of Europe, forming a peninsula.

From Mount Balkan in Bulgaria; from a root bal- “convex”: balkan is said to mean “mountain” in Turkish; it is however a borrowing from the Indo-European substratum; the Turkish name for “mountain” is dagh.

Baltic Countries.

From Lithuanian baltas “white”. The Baltic Sea is also called the White Sea.

Baluchistan. A region in Pakistan and Iran on the Indian ocean coast. Land of the Baluchi. The Baluchis were named by the Persian from their large headdress; the name is cognate to the following terms belonging to the root bal- “something convex”:



mountain top, crest, the Baluchis



crest, tuft









udder, bucket



a round thing


The Baluchis call Greece Yunan, from Iaonos, Ionos, Ian the name of an ancient Greek tribe in Attica (see Yàwan).

Bangladesh. A country situated between India and Burma.

From Bengali Bangla referring to the Bengali speaking people, and desh meaning “country”.

Bantu. A people in southern Africa

From the Bantu language in which ntu means “man” and the particle ba- indicates the plural, thus bantu “the men”. In the singular muntu “the man”, with the singular particle mu-.

Barbados. An island in the Caribbean.

Named by the Portuguese explorer Pedro A. Campos “Os Barbados” (“the bearded ones”) in 1536, from the appearance of the island’s lichen-covered trees, whose long roots resemble beards.

Basque Country. A land in the northwestern Iberian Peninsula.

From the French Pays Basque. The Basques call their country Euzkadi, of which Basque and Spanish Vasco are corruptions. Gascony, in French Gascogne, and Guask, a residual speech in the Pyrenees, are also derived from the same term. Euskalerri is the Basque Land, Euskara the Basque language and euskaldun the adjective Basque. The correct and logical etymology of Euzkadi has been given by Louis Charpentier in Le mystère basque, Paris, 1975: Euzkadi is from esku “hand” because of the magnification of the hand in the Basque tradition.

In Galicia (museum of Guimarães) some human forms are represented with hands reaching ten times their normal size. Other examples are found in Charpentier, chapter 19.

Bavaria. A region in Germany.

In German Bayern. From Baioarii “the land of the Boii”, an ancient Gaulish people. The name is from Slavic boj “warrior” and Romanian boier “noble”. In the ancient Romanian social organization land owning was the privilege of the aristocratic class who accomplished their military obligations. The Bayards were nobles who were established in France. Bayard is still a common surname in Savoie.

Béarnais. A region in southwestern France.

A name cognate to Gaelic bearna “gap”: A gap in the Pyrenees.

Beduin. A desert people

In Arabic Badàwi the inhabitants of the desert, from badia “desert”. The name badia “desert” implies something bad or worthless, as in the following cognates, froma root bad- “evil, worthless, boorish”:



bad, evil, ill-natured

Persian, Tadzhik, Kashmiri, Pashto, Waziri





not good; having an evil character (OE baeddel, baedling “womanish man” are derived from bad)

English (archaic)


an insane asylum; a scene of wild uproar (the etymology “from Bethleem” offers no explanation)



evil fellow



worthless fellow

Gaelic: Ireland








desert: barren, bad



waste land



Beduin, inhabitant of the desert (considered boorish, little appreciated by the Arabs). Perhaps a French loan-word (the French bédouin has been widely borrowed)



Beduin (quite possibly the Sarrasins, cf. bediel, below)

French: Neuchâtel (Switzerland)


name given to the partisans of the king of Prussia (they were little appreciated)

Old French


mercenary given to plundering

Old French


an injurious epithet (le sarrasin bediel)

Ital.: Abruzze


(a boorish, wild, evil person)

French: Valais


the inhabitants of the mountain village of Isérables, considered boorish by the lowland people




French: Limousin


ugly, dirty, Wartburg, Französisches etymologisches Wörterbuch vol. 23: 190

Old French


futility, stupidity; aler en bades “to be useless”



foolish, clot; more recently “gawper”




French: Vaud


clot, clumsy; bedâ to miss

French: Neuchâtel


very bad meat, carrion



lean meat



rubbish, nonsense, sillyness; badajo boring talker












misfortune; běda alas!, woe!


beditem (I)

I bother him



to annoy, pester (“origin obscure”)

Belgium. In French Belgique, in Flemish België. From a root bel- meaning light-colored, on account of the people’s blond hair:




French, dialectal


to dazzle






white whale



the Belgians

The other proposed etymologies such as “Bulgarians” are totally unacceptable.

Belarus. Formerly Byelorussiya “White Russia” (see also Belgium and Baltic “the White Sea). The name was changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union to emphasize that Belarus and Russia were and would continue to be two separate countries. The new term was marketed as having an independent etymological root Rus from Ruthenia. In fact Ruthenia and Russia are derived from the same Viking Rus root. Thus the Ukrainian region Ruthenia (known commonly as Rusynia) can be found in old texts as “Red Russia” where the term doesn’t refer to the whole of the Ukraine or to the Soviet Union.

Belize. A county in Central America, formerly British Honduras.

Perhaps from to the Maya word belix “muddy water”, applied to the Belize River.

Benin. A country in west central Africa.

Named after an old African Empire called Bīnī or Ibnī, on whose territory modern Benin does not actually lie. What is now Benin was previously known as Dahomey, after its principal ethnic group.

Berber. A people in northern Africa.

From ancient Greek Bárbaros, a name given to the foreign people who did not speak their language. The name has remained for the Berbers who call themselves Kel or, according to another source, Amzir (singular), Amazerqt, Tamazight (“free men”). Berbers from Algeria call themselves Kabyle (“men of the tribe”). Berber is cognate to the following terms :



to babble







Italian, dialectal


to stammer

French, dialectal


to babble (of ducks when feeding)

Bermudas. Small islands in the Caribbean.

So called because they were discovered by Juan Bermúdez.

Bhàrat. Hindi name of India.

From Bhàrata, mythical hero of ancient India. From a root bhàra “to bear, support”.

Bhutan. A country in the eastern Himalaya

From Hindi, Bhotàn, Bhota “Tibet”, Tibetan Bod id. The Bhotia migrated from Tibet to Bhutan in the 10th century. The Bhutanese call their country Druk Yul “land of the Dragon”, and themselves Drupka.

Bohemia. A region in Czechoslovakia.

From Boii, an ancient Gaulish people (see Bavaria), and German Heim “home”.

Bolivia. A country in South America

Named after Simón Bolivar 1783-1830, an anti-Spanish militant and first president of Bolivia after its independence in 1824.

Borneo. An large island in southeastern Asia.

A corruption of Brunei which, today, is a Sultanate in the island. Borneo is called by the Indonesians Kalimantan.

Bosnia. In Serbocroatian Bosna, from the name of the Bosna river.

Botswana. A South African country formerly called Bechuanaland.

The country (bo) of the Tswana people.

Brasil (Brazil). The largest country in South America.

The coast of South America was formerly considered as part of an island; it was called by the Portuguese Ilha da Vera Cruz, “…uma ilha outra Antilha mais” (an island beyond the Antilles). Brasil is from Bran’s Isle, the isle of St. Brandon, a famous navigator. This etymology was proposed by Ch. Muses, 1965: 380. The Vinland Map also shows an island called Magnae Insulae Beati Brandani Branzilliae dictae (Great islands of the Blessed Brendan called Branzil). This lost or hidden land of ancient Celtic tradition was located about 100 miles west of Ireland as indicated in navigation charts as late as 1850. The name was first mentioned on a map by a Genoese, Angelino Dulcert in 1325 as “Insula de montoniis sive de brazill” (island of mountains or of Brazil) (T. JOHNSON WESTROPP, Proc. Royal Irish Academy, vol. 30, p. 240, 241, 1912). One may note also that the continental Brazil has not been called an island and, as seen by the discoverers, is not mountainous. Cf. also Dalorto, Angelino, 1325. L’isola brasil. The explanation “from Portuguese braza `hot coal´ because of the red-colored wood from a tree that was found there” is a folk etymology. Bresil was already utilized by Marco Polo in 1250 as a name for certain wood from the Nicobar islands, Sumatra, Ceylon and the coast of Malabar (India). The name appears to come from Arabic wars the name of a red wood, transformed in Italian verii, verzi, verezino (Venice, 1243) and, progressively brasile (Ferrara, 1194), brezel (France, 1208), brasile (Barcelona, 1221). (Malou von Muralt, 2003). The term results from a mixture between bresil, the material, and Brasil the country so named by the Portuguese. The association with the country’s name appears thus to be a coincidence.

Bretagne. The French name for Brittany. See Britain.


A Welsh name Latinized in Britannia “land of the Britons”. In the Welsh language brython means “warrier”, bruth “combat” and bryd “courage”. Briton is the same as Brezhon “Breton” a name deriving from brezel “war”, brezeliad “warrier” (not from brezh “motley”; there is not a single evidence that the Britons were motley or painted. See Picts). Britain is called Lloegr by the Welsh.

Brittany. A region in France. See also Britain.

Brittany is called by the Welsh Llydaw and by the Gaelic Irish Letha. An ancient name was Letauia which can be compared to Lithuania: land on the littoral (Pokorny, p. 833). In the Breton language, ledenez means “peninsula”.

Brunei. A sultanate in the island of Borneo.

Its full name is Negara Brunei Darussalam. Negara means “state” in Malay while darussalam means “abode of peace” in Arabic, an Islam import.

Bucovina. A region bordering Romania and Ukraine.

From Slavic byk “beech”, from the extensive beech forest in the region.

Bulgaria. A country in the Balkans.

The Bulgarians originated from the eastern Slavic land, in the region of the Volga. The Slavic people known to the Ormuri in neighbouring Afghanistan were called by them burghàl “bulgar”. The suffix –gar also indicates an eastern origin, as in hunghar (Hungarian), madjghar (Magyar), Dzunghar (in northern Singkiang). Volga Bulgaria or Volga-Kama Bolghar, is a historic state that existed between the 7th and 13th centuries around the confluence of the Volga and Kama rivers. The republics of Tatarstan and Chuvashia are considered to be descendants of Bulgaria in terms of territory and ethnicity.

Burgundy, in French Bourgogne. This region of France was occupied by a German speaking people that came from Burgundrholm, today Bornholm, a Danish island.

Byelorussia. See Belarus.

Burkina Faso. A country in western Africa.

From the Moré language burkina “honest, deserving”, and from the Dioula language faso “country” thus “country of honest people”. Previously the country was named “Upper Volta”, after the Volta’s two main tributary rivers, both originating in Burkina Faso. It was changed in 1984 by president Thomas Sankara who had taken power in a coup.

Burma. See Myanmar.

Burundi. A country in central Africa.

From the Kirundi local speech Burundi, Kiswahili Urundi. A name formed with the prefix bu- “country”, ki- “language, and rundi: those who speak the Rundi language”.

Caffre. Formerly designated the people of southern Africa.

From Arabic kafir “infidel” (see Kafir).

Caledonia. The Latin name for Scotland.

Borrowed from Welsh Celyddon which is from Gaelic Gaeldoine “land of the Gaels”.

California. One of the United Sates of America

The name was given to that region by its discoverer, Cortez, on account of its bountiful land and pleasant climate. Califerne was an imaginary land in the Chanson de Roland (1100-1125) and was also the name of a terrestrial paradise in the 16th century Spanish novel “Las Serges de Esplandian”. The etymology is simply “worthy of a caliph or khalif” the name of wealthy Arab dignitaries.

Cambria. Latinized form of C ymru (see this word).

Cambodia. A country in Southeast Asia.

In Khmer language Kampuchea. Kambuja or Kamboja was the ancient name of Cambodia. The name derives from Sanskrit Kamboja, which is the name of an ancient tribe still living as Kamboj & Kamboh in northern India and Pakistan. It is important to remember that Kamboja frequently referenced in ancient Sanskrit literature always refers to Kamboja located in the Uttarapatha of Indian Subcontinent and not to Kambuja or Kamboja located in Indochina archipelago as is erroneously supposed by some writers (Wikipedia).

Cameroon or Cameroun. A country in western Africa.

From Portuguese Rio de Camarões “River of Shrimps”, the name given to the River Wouri by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century.

Canada. The largest country in North America.

From Huron kanata “establishment, village (Onomastica 10, 1955).

Canary Islands. Spanish islands in the Atlantic.

In Spanish Islas Canarias. The Latins called these islands insula Canariae. This name means nothing else than “island of the canaries” where these well-known cage birds originate. The people of the Iberian peninsula are fervent amateurs of cage birds. The canaries are prized for their song, and called by the Spaniards canarios meaning “songster”, Latin canor “song”, canorus “that utters a melodious song”. The etymology “from canis `dog´ because of the large dogs that were found there” is an explanation given by Pliny who just supposed that the word derived from canis “dog”. Guanches, the first natives of the islands, called the Canaries Tamaran “land of the forts”.

Cape Verde. A country consisting of a group of islands in the Atlantic.

From the Portuguese Cabo Verde “green cape”, named after the most westerly cape in western Africa.

Catalonia. A land in the northeastern Iberian peninsula.

Apparently so named by their neighbors on account of their garrulousness (the Catalans, like the Spanish talk loud and fast), from a root cat- “prattle, noise” etc.

French: Béarnais






Spanish, regional


parrot and other noisy birds




Italian: Otranto



Spanish: Malaga


tern (a bird with a shrill voice)

French, regional


to prattle


The Catalans are said to have been called Lemosin (Limousin is a region in France); however, it is not known to which Catalans this name applies (other Gaulish tribes were called Catalans).

Cathay. See China.

Cayman Islands. A territory of the United Kingdom situated in the Caribbeans.

A Carib word for “crocodile”.

Ceylon. Former name of Sri Lanka, an island and country in the Indian Ocean.

Ceylon, in Portuguese Ceilão, appears to be a corruption of Hindi silon, sinhal which is said to be from sinha, singh “lion”. There is no explanation for this etymology. There are no lions on the island and probably never have been. Singh, sinha “lion” is coincidental with Sinhala, the indigenous people which were called Cinghalese and the language Sinhala. The island was called Taprobanè by the Ancient Greek and Sarandib by the Arabs (see those words). Taprobanè is a corruption of Sanskrit ta:Mradvipa, and Sarandīb from Sanskrit siMhabadvi:pa (Sinhala-dweepa), meaning “land of the Sinhala people”), both meaning “island of copper”.

Chad. A country in central Africa.

The country has been named after the lake Chad, which is from tsad, a local word meaning “a large expanse of water”.

Chechnya. See Ichkerya.

Chile. A country in South America.

Said to be the name of a valley. Several etymologies have been posited. We opt for the most logical, proposed by Grau (2000): an Aymara name meaning “the most remote, the deepest”. The Qechua word chili “limit of the world” is also a possible derivation. The Incas used to call Chili or Chilillaqta “land of Chili” any land situated south of Taltal, which the conquistadores called Chilimapu (in the Mapuche language mapu means “land”). When Pedro de Valdivia arrived in this country, the Aconcagua gap was called Valle del Chili.

China. A large country in eastern Asia.

Interestingly, China is not a Chinese word. The Oxford English dictionary (2nd ed., 1991) says that it is found in Sanskrit writings from about two thousand years ago, and appears in various forms in several Asian languages. The earliest European usage is by Marco Polo, and the earliest cited English usage dates from 1555. The country was called Tchin or Tsinstan, by the Ancient Persian, before the Qin (or Tsin) dynasty, and Sinai by Ptolemy. However the Qin dynasty could not have inherited the name since the Chinese do not call their country Tsin but Zhon Guo (Tchung-kuo) which means “land of the middle” or “central country”. China is called Chungoku by the Japanese, Kitat by the Mongols and Kitay by the Tatars (whence Kitaj by the Russian and Cathay by Marco Polo), the name of a Tatar kingdom; also spelled khotai. Kitay derives from Khitan the name of a people who conquered China in the 10th century.

Colombia. A country in South America.

Named after Christopher Colombus.

Comoros. An archipel in the Indian Ocean.

From Arabic Djazair al Qomr “island of the moon”.

Congo. A country in Africa.

So called after the tribe Congo, a name later given to the river Zaire (see this name).

Corsica. A large French Island in the Mediterranean.

In the Corsican language Córsica, in French Corse. Origin of the name unknown.

Cossack. A people from Asia. In Russian kazak, from Turkish qàzàq “vagabond”.

Costa Rica. A country in Central America.

The name means “rich coast”. Costaricans are called Ticos by Latin Americans, a short for Costarriqueños.

Côte d’Ivoire. A country in western Africa.

The name means “Ivory Coast” in French. The French named the region in reference to the ivory traded from the area.

Crimea. Peninsula of the Black Sea. From Russian Krim (see Cymru).

Croatia. A region in the Balkans.

The country’s name is Republika Hrvtska. From krvat “mountain”, a name cognate to Albanian krep, Italian dialectal crap “rock”, whence also the Karpathian Mountains. In ancient Greek Choroatès.

Cuba. An island and country of the Greater Antilles.

Apparently named from the Portuguese town of Cuba. There are some indications that the Portuguese discovered the Caribbean island before Colombus: they called the region ante ilhas, whence the later name Antilles. Also said to come from the Taíno Indian name Cubanacan “center place”.

Cumbria. A county in nowthwestern England (see Cymru).

Cymru. An ancient Greek name for Wales.

Like the Scyths and the Scots, the Welsh were named by the ancient Greeks who called Kimbroi several peoples living in the far North: Kimbroi in Denmark and in the British Isles, Kimmerios in Campania (Italy) and in Sarmatia, whence Russian Krim the Crimea. Crimea Cambrua and Cumbria are latinisations of Krim and Kimbroi. The Skythos were also peoples from Sarmatia and the British Isles. Kimbroi means “peoples from the dark regions, the North” and belongs to the root k-m “dark”:












a people from Sarmatia






a mythical bird who hides the sun and creates darkness



Ancient Egypt (land of dark people)



son of Noah: the dark one

French, regional


to blacken

etc. The etymology of Cymry “from a hypothical *com brog “compatriot'” is a Welsh etymology given to a foreign word.

Cyprus. An island in the eastern Mediterranean.

In Greek Kypros; the island of cypress trees (KLEIN, 1987, sub Cyprian) or from kypros “copper” because the island was the place par excellence where the ancients obtained copper (KLEIN, sub copper); the second explanation is probably correct.

Czech Republik. A country in central Europe.

The origin of the name is unknown. The proposed “etymologies” are unsatisfying.

Dahomey. Ancient name for Benin.

From the Dauma kingdom mentioned by Léon l’Africain in his Description de l’Afrique (1526) (Deroy & Mulon, 1992).

Dalmatia. A region on the Adriatic Sea.

From Albanian delmë “sheep”: land of the sheep raisers. See Albania for parallel naming of the people of this region.

Deccan. The southern part of the Indian peninsula.

The name means “the South”. In Sanskrit dak shina is “the right hand” (when one looks toward the rising sun).

Denmark. A country of Europe.

Literally “march (frontier) of the Danes”. The Dani were mentioned by Jordanes (6th century). The Danes were named for the color of their hair:



reddish brown


dun crow

Hooded Crow

English, regional


a red-haired man; a pink color combination; several plants with red flowers or berries


danish crow

Hooded Crow



a people characterized by the preponderance of fair-haired individuals

See Ambrons and Vandals. The Danes are called Datskij by the Russians.

Deutschland. The German name for their country.

From a name meaning “the people” and cognate to Lettish tauta “people”, Lithuanian tauta “people, Germany”. Old High German diot “people”, diutisk “German”, Middle High German tiutsche and German deutsch “German”. See Dutch.

Djibouti. A country on the easte coast of Africa.

Named after the bottom point of the Gulf of Tadjoura. Possibly derived from the Afar word “gabouti”, a type of doormat made of palm fibres. (Wikipedia).

Dominica. An island republic in the Lesser Antilles.

From the Latin “Dies Dominica” meaning “Sunday”, the day of the week Christopher Columbus first landed on the island.

Dominican Republic. A country in the Caribean, the eastern part of Hispaniola. Derived from Santo Domingo, the main city, which bears the name of the Spanish Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the founder of the Dominican Order (Wikipedia).

Dravida. Land in southern India where Dravidian language is spoken.

The name means “country of the hot sun”.

Dutch. A name given by the British to the Germanic peoples.

The people of Germany were named named later by the more literary German borrowed from the Latin. Dutch, from Middle Dutch dutsch, Dutch duits, has remained the equivalent of Deutsch but has been restricted to the Netherlanders. See Deutschland.

Egypt. A country in northeastern Africa.

The country was first named Aegyptos by the Greek from a root meaning “to burn, hot, the South” to which belong the following terms:



to burn












the South

Albanian, Slavic


the South






dawn (in Hesychius)

Ancient Greek


dawn, sunlight

Ancient Greek






Ancient Greek


August: the hot month (the “month of the emperor August” by folk-etymology; August was not born when the Greek named the month)

The Egyptians call their country Misr (Persian masreg “the East”), the Hebrew call it Mitsrayim. Al Kimtà was the name of “Egypt” according to Herodotus. This name appears to come from Cham, the Semitic name for black people (see Hamite). Egypt was called Yàwan by the Hebrew (see this name).

El Salvador. “The saviour” in Spanish, named after Jesus.

England. Often taken improperly as a synonym of Great Britain.

“Land of the Angles”, the name of a Teutonic tribe who came to Britain from the region of Angul, east of Schleswig in Germany. The etymology “from angle “fishing hook”, “because of the hook-shaped district they came from” cannot be taken seriously. The English people are called by the Welsh Saisneg and by the Bretons Saez (Saxons). Lloegyr is the Welsh name for England. The modern Greek name for England is Anglia. The Koreans call England Igirisu (English).

Epire. A region in northern Greece.

In Ancient Greek Epeiros, from ēpeiros “firm land, continent”.

Eritrea. A country in eastern Africa, bordering the Red Sea.

Named by Italian colonizers, from the ancient Greek name for the Red Sea Erythrea Thalassa.

Eskimo. A people around Hudson Bay.

They have been called Eskimo or “eaters of raw meat” by their Indian neighbours of the South; from eski “raw meat” and mants “eat”. Eskimos call themselves Inuit “the men”; compare Bantu and Ainu. The Eskimos dub the Europeans Qavdlumat “big eybrows”.

Estonia. One of the Baltic countries.

In Estonian Eesti. Likely to have been named by the Swedes. In Swedish östan “East”. The Ancient Greek Aestia, thought to be a region in Poland is probably the same word. The Estonians are called Iggauni by the Letts, Chukhonets by the Czech, Routsians (Russians) by the Swedes, and Ven by the Russians (see Vandals). Estonia is called Viro by the Finns, after the name of an ancient tribe in eastern Estonia.

Ethiopia. A country in eastern Africa.

Called Aithiopis by the Ancient Greek, a name meaning black face and applied to all black people. The name has been borrowed by the Ethiopians themselves as Ityopya. The ancient Egyptians called it Kāsh, the Hebrew Kush, the name of a son of Cham. See Abyssinia.

Etruscan. An Illyrian people who lived in what is today northern Italy and Tuscany.

Both Tuscany and the rhotacised form Etruscan are cognate to Tosk, an Albanian people. According to Dionysius, the Etruscans called themselves Rasena or Rasna. The ancient Greeks called them Tyrrhenos.


For the ancient Middle Eastern peoples, Europe was the region of the setting sun. From a Semitic root meaning dark:



to go down (of the sun)



sunset, evening

Anc. Greek


a place of nether darkness

Anc. Greek



The Greek word is borrowed from Semitic.

Falkland Islands. A territory of the United Kingdom. Named in honor of Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount Falkland, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, and the term was eventually applied to the whole island group. Malvinas

Fiji. An archipel in the western Pacific.

From the Tonganese name for the islands Viti.

Faroe Islands. Islands in the North Sea, territory of Denmark.

From Faroese føroyar “sheep islands”.

Finland. A country in northern Europe.

Land of the Finns. So named for their blond hair, apparently by Gaelic people:






beautiful, blond, clear


finnog, feannog

Hooded Crow



Norwegian, Finnish

The Finns are called Suomi by themselves, Soome by the Estonians (Sami is also the name by which the Lapps call themselves), and Chud by the Czechs.

Florida. One of the United States of America.

So named by the Spanish explorers from the extensive white sand beaches. From a root flor- meaning “white” :






blond; white goat



blond-haired goddess

Spanish: México

pascua florida

a white buzzard (Leucopternis)



a peninsula with extensive white sand beaches (as seen by the first travellers)

Formosa. See Taiwan

France. The country of the Gauls.

The Franks were a Germanic people who dominated the northern part of Gaul. Their name means “the real ones”. See Germany and Deutschland. The value of the word is still conserved in today’s franc “true” as in Moineau franc, the House Sparrow, the true sparrow (as compared to the other species). France is called by the Finns Ranske (loss of initial /f/), by the Japanese Furansu, by the Chinese Falansa, Fa (Fa guo: land of the Fa), by the Koreans Pulanso, by the Indonesians Parancis (pronounced pranchis), by the Middle Eastern people Ferenghistan (country of the Franks). France is also called by the Welsh Gàl (Gaul), by the Irish Ghael, by the Bretons Broc’h Gall or Broc’hall (land of the Gauls), by the Greek Gallika (see Gaul). In Irish Letha was the name of Gaul and in Welsh Llydan is the name for Brittany. For these two names, see Lithuania. France is called Tsarfati by the Hebrews (Tzarfat was a place of exile as part of the Babylonian exile. Two biblical commentators, Radak and Rashi, who were living in France during the medieval times, connected the Tzarfat of the exile to the France of their era).

Gabon. A country in western Africa.

From the Portuguese pronunciation of the river name Mbe or Mpongo. The Portuguese discoverers called the river “río de Gabão”. No sensible explanation can be put forward for a derivation from Portuguese gabão a type of hooded overcoat.

Gambia. From the river Gambia that runs through the country.

Gascony. A region in southwestern France.

Land of the Gascons, in Spanish Vascos “Basque”; these names, including “Basque”, are all corruptions of the Basque language euskal “Basque”.

Gaspésie. A region in the province of Quebec.

From Amerindian gaspeg “tip, extremity”; the region is situated at the eastern end of Canada.

Gaul. The ancient name of France.

Before the occupation of the land by Romance speaking people, Gaul was inhabited by a Celtic people. The name means “(land of the) braves”, from a root gal-, val- “brave, powerful”:






to gouvern


valt, volt

greatness, glory



value, authority, importance

English (slang)


brass, cheek; to have gall: to be bold



brave, dauntless, fearless



brave; a strong, vigorous man



valiant, brave

Old Irish



Gaelic Ireland



Gaelic Scotland



Gaelic Scotland


Gaulish, Celtic; Gaeldoine “land of the Gaels”

Gaelic Scotland


their own name (pronounced gayal)


Pays de Galles




country inhabited by a Brittonic people



the people of Wales



the Gaulish people



the Gaulish and Roman people on their southern borders

Georgia. A country near the Black Sea.

The name is a western adaptation of Gurz, a people of Georgia. From Gurz are derived the Persian Gorji (the country is Gorjestàn), Turkish Gurdzi, archaic Russian Gurzi, today Gruzij (the country is Gruzija), Turkish Görcö, ancient Greek Georgoi, from which the western name Georgia. After the christianisation, the name has been associated to Saint George by folk etymology. The Armenians call the Georgians Virq and the country Vrastan. The Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi (ebi is the plural) and their country Sakartvelo which means “enclosure, fortified place”.

Germany. A country in central Europe.

The English name is borrowed from the Latin Germanus which means “real”. It was first mentioned by Poseidonios, Tacitus and Caesar. It is the exact equivalent of the French franc which is also the name of the Germanic tribe who immigrated into northern France and means “the real ones”:



true, real


cugino germano

natural cousin



mallard, common duck: the real one

Italian, regional


in French moineau franc House Sparrow: the true sparrow (see France)



brother: natural (true) brother

The Germans were called by the Ancient Greek Gnesioi (the true ones), a translation of the latin Germani. The Germans call themselves Deutsch (see Deutschland and Dutch). They are called Tedeschi (Teutons) by the Italians, Tysk by the Scandinavians, Saksa, Saksalaiset by the Finns (Saxons), Vàcietis (those from the West) by the Lithuanians, Allemands by the French (see Allemagne), Nemetes by the Romanians Nemets by the Russians, Nem by the Hungarians, Neamts by the Romanian, Niemcy by the Poles, and Nemdzios by the modern Greek. The eastern European people having suffered many invasions by the Germanic tribes have come to call them “the enemy”, the actual meaning of nemets:







Ancient Greek


guilty, criminal

Ancient Greek


the personified vengeance






the Germans

These terms are formed with amicus “friend” preceded by the negative particle ne: the inimical people. The German invaders who extended to the Black Sea and southern Spain were certainly not welcomed as friends.

Ghana. A country in western Africa

After the ancient West African kingdom of the same name.

Gibraltar. The southern tip of the Iberian peninsula.

A corruption of Arabic Jebel Tarik “Tarik’s mountain”, named after Tarik ibn-Zeyand, a Berber who landed there in 711 to launch the Islamic invasion.

Goth. An ancient Germanic people.

The people from Gotland, southern Sweden. Several etymologies have been proposed, none of them satisfactory. One may retain gaot “the sea”; thus “people of the sea” or “from beyond the sea”. Poland is also called Gudais (the Goths) by the Letts.

Granada. An island in the Caribbeans.

After the southern Spanish city of the same name.

Greece. A country and its islands in the eastern Mediterranean.

Graecus was the name given by the Romans to an Illyrian Epirotic tribe, the Graes. The name Graecus is said to be frequent in Etruscan onomastic. Also said to be from Graikos, the inhabitants of Graia in Boeotia. Perhaps not coincidentally, one may mention the Albanian village of Greci in Campania (Italy). From a root gr-k having the notion of raucous or having a desagreable voice. The Illyrian speech sounded unpleasant to a Roman ear. One might compare the name gringo given to foreigners by the Spaniards:



to grate; grakal to crow

Ancient Greek


a crow-like bird

Serbian, Russian





to talk loud; a card player

German, regional


Nutcracker (grating call)

Italian, regional


Garganey (duck with a rattling call)


Gaelic: Ireland


raucous call, crowing

English: Scotland


to make a noise in the throat

Gaelic: Ireland





to chirp






unintelligible (language); foreigner



to gnash one’s teeth


The Hungarian name for Greek is Görög. The Greek call themselves Hellen (see this word) and Rumi or Romaios (see Romanian). The modern Greek language is Romeka. They are also called Rumi by the Arabs, Rumeli by the Turcs, Hurumistan by the Kurds, Sasberdznetsi by the Georgians, Yunanistan by the Arabs. The Egyptians call the Greek Yevana, in Sanscrit Yavanah, in Old Persian Yaun, in Baluchi yunan. In Akkadian Yàvanu (Hebrew Yàwan) was the name of Egypt. These names appear to be from the Greek Iaones, Iaonos, Ionos, Ian the inhabitants of the Attique or the region bordering the Ionan Sea (see Ion).

Greenland. A country and island in the North Atlantic.

Groen Land (green land) was so named in 982 by Erik the Red. The explanation “in order to lure the colons” is rather naive. What advantage would Erik get by lying to lure the colonists? Compare with the no less naive etymology given to Iceland, attributed to an attempt to dissuade outsiders from attempting to settle on the land ! It is most probable that the land he described by that name was the North American continent, and that the name Greenland, along with Iceland, have shifted westwards: it seems logical that Greenland is in fact the Ice Land, and that western North America is the Green Land. On some ancient maps, Greenland and America were represented as one continent. The natives of Greenland call their country Kalaallit Nunaat “land of the men” i.e. themselves.

Guadeloupe A territory of France in the Antilles.

Christopher Columbus named the island in honour of the Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Estremadura, Spain when he landed in 1493.

Guam. An island in the western Pacific, territory of the United States of America.

From the native Chamorro word guahan “we have”. (Wikipedia)

Guatemala. A country in Central America.

From an Amerindian language quauhtemalah “land of the trees”.

Guinea (Bissau), and Equatorial Guinea. Countries in western Africa.

Formerly the Guinea was the name of all the coastal region between Senegal and Angola. This name means “the South”, from a root guin- “red” to which belong the following terms:






hell, gehenna






the South



the sky



the inhabitants of a country to the South, whence Guinea




Gaelic Scotland



French, dialectal


a red cow






a kind of red pepper, also called pimiento de guinéa



a gold coin (French guinée)

Guinea Bissau. A country in western Africa.

In Portuguese Bissão, the name of a tribe. See Guinea.

Guyana. A country in northern South America.

In Spanish Guayana, from the Amerindian tribe Ouayana, said to mean “land of many waters”. Cayenne, the capital of French Guyana is from the name of the tribe Roucouyenne.

Gypsy, Gipsy. The name of a wandering people originating from India. For practical reasons, I still use this name which may not be “politically correct” any more.

The Gypsy earned themselves many names according to the region they were thought to come from, their occupation or their own qualities or defects as seen by outsiders:

From their supposed origin:

By themselves


The Gypsies opted to call themselves

Rom, a shortened form of Romani at their first congress in 1971. The name simply reflects the Romanian origin of most European Gypsies (cf. the following names). They radiated throughout Europe from Romania (rom in the Gypsy language does not mean “man” (as in Klein, sub Romany) but “a member of the Gypsy people”. Claims that Rom is not related to Romanian are unfounded and are part of the “new pride” of the Gypsies

By the French (Gascony)



By the French (17th century)


By the Hungarians


Hungarian-speaking Gypsies

By western Europeans


By the French


probably so called originally by themselves: in their language chel means “people, race”, Russian chelavek “man”

By the Norwegians


By other northern Europeans

Romanichal, Romnichal, Romnichel

By the Italians


(from Valachia = Romania)

By the right-bank Ukrainians


By the Slavs


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The Vlax (also Vlach, Wallachian) are a branch of European Romanies. Their dialect is characterized by a large lexical and structural influence from Romanian.

The Egyptians

By the French (in Provence)


By the Albanians


By the Romanians


By the Turks


By the English

Gypcian, Gipson, Gypsy

East York. Gipsies, Ghypseys, Cumberl. Gyp, Scotland, Cheshire Egyptians

By the Irish Gaels


By the modern Greeks

Jyptos, Jyphtos

By the Greeks of the Peloponnese


(the non-settled Gypsies)

By the Albanians and Macedonians


By the Basques

Ijiito, Xito

the Spanish Gypsies

By the Italians


By the Spaniards


By the Spaniards in Aragon


By the French (South)


By the Albanian and Macedonian


the Greeks. For this word, see Greece

By the Albanians

Evgjit, Jevg


By the Scandinavians


From the belief that they were from the nomadic people of Central Asia.

By the Swedes

Tartar (or Tattare)


By the Norwegians



By the Albanian


the Arians

By the French and French Swiss



By the Hungarians of Transylvania


from the land of the Pharaos



By the Germans



By the southern Poles



By the Italians (Alto Adige)



By the Austrians (Tirol)


from Kärnt (Carinthia)

By the Spaniards


Castilian-speaking Gypsies in the general area of Castile, Spain, many of whom are still nomadic

By the Spaniards



By the Basques



By themselves

Ungri, Romungri

Hungarian Gypsies generally known as musicians. Most speak Hungarian as their native language instead of Romanian

By the Albanians (formerly)


Magyars or Hungarians

In Germany and Hungary

Machwáya (Machvaya)

supposedly from the Serbian province of Matsva

By the German speaking people of Switzerland and parts of Germany and Austria

Jenisch (Yenish)

a shortened form of indianisch, just like the name of the turkey in Steiermark janisch(huhn) stands for “indianisch(es) huhn”.

By the New Yorkers in the 19th century


same as Yenish ?

By the German and Italians of the Piedmont

Sinti (Senti, Cinti)

coming from Sind. This seems rather to be a self appellation.

The Gypsies speak an Indo-Iranian language. An early indication of their origins is found in Herodote (vii, 153) who mentions the “Indians of Rhodes”. The island of Lemnos was originally called Sinteis. At the time of Herodote, the Sindoi were established at Sindikè on the Black Sea in the northwestern Caucasus. Some Gypsy tribes call themselves Sinto (Sinti man) and Sintajka (Sinti woman).

The Gypsies have also been called Turks, Jews, Ishmaelites Greeks, Harvati (Croats), Carpatichi, Slovaks.

The ancient Greeks reported that the Gypsies were the only people to live in wagons like the Scyths. Were the Scyths a Gypsy people ? Or could the Gypsy people be related to the Scyths ?

From their wandering life:

By the Frenchmen


because of their wandering ways, like that of the Bohemians (the Boii) who unfurled throughout Europe

By the Basques (from French)



By the French in Sologne and Beauce



In Francophone media

Gens du voyage

“travelling people” a recent “politically correct” name for the Tziganes

In French Switzerland media


“wayfarers”; same remark as for preceding word

By the French in Saint-Claude


“flying camp”

By the Norwegians



By the British (Kent)

Pikey, Pikie

from an archaic English verb to pike “travel”

From their occupations:

By the Germans

Kalderari, Gelderari (from Romanian)

caldron makers

By the Poles

Kalderash, Keldarash

caldron makers

By the Ukrainians


caldron makers

By the Romanians and Moldavians


caldron makers

By the Spaniards


caldron makers

By the German Swiss (Grisons)


caldron makers

By the French: Alsace


(German spengler “cauldron maker”)

By the Romanians



By the Romanians



By the Romanians



By the Romanians

Chirpachi (Kirpaki)


By the Romanians

Chivuste, Chivutsele


By the Romanians



By the Romanians

Ciurari (Churári)

sievemakers, from Romanian ciurar. Known for making strainers and other cooking utensils out of aluminum and wood

By the Romanians


tinners ? or rather makers of coş “basket”

By the Romanians


tent dwellers of the Carpathian forest and foothills

By the Romanians


known for sharpening cutlery, scissors, knives, and anything with a metal blade

By the Romanians


repairmen; from dres “repair, mend”

By the Romanians


traditionally known for making and repairing furnaces and hot water bottles

By the Romanians

Ferari (or Herari)

workers in iron, repairers of carriages

By the Romanians

Covachi (Covaci)

blacksmiths, a Slavic term

By the Romanians


caldron makers (from Turkish tuç “bronze)

By the Romanians


makers of wooden utensils

By the Romanians

Lovari (Lowára, Lowrara, Lovara)

horse or cattle dealers

By the Ukrainians


horse or cattle dealers

By the Albanians (Tirana)


By the Romanians


makers of keys, locks and burglar-bars

By the Romanians


ironworkers and shoers of horses

By the Romanians


cart makers

By the Romanians

Rudari (also Rudars, Ludari, Blidari)

makers of wooden spoons, troughs

By the Romanians



By the Romanians


traditionally known as animal dealers and trainers mostly horses

By the Romanians


known today for making strainers, rolling pins, and other cooking utensils

By the Romanians


bear showers

By the Romanians



By the Romanians



By the Romanians



By the Romanians

Shiplari (Şiplari)

makers of flask bottles

By the Romanian, Moldavians



By the Romanians


slave grooms, coachmen

By the Romanians



By the central Bulgarians



By the Bulgarians


the Romanian-speaking Christian Gypsies

By the Bulgarians


horse traders

By the Macedonians


horse traders, acrobats

By the Serbs


skilled craftsmen

By the Moldavians





By the Poles


the coppersmiths

By the Moldavians

Chache (Şaşe)

the coppersmiths

In southern Balkans



By the British

Tinkers, Tinguery

menders of kettles and pans

By the Norwegians


dancers ?

By the French Swiss


basket makers

By the French Swiss (Valais)


basket makers (from panier “basket”)

By the French in the Vosges


basket makers (from charpagne “basquet”)

By the French in Alsace


from German scherenschleifer “scissor sharpener”

By the Turks of Cyprus


sabre makers

By the Basques


sheep shearers

By the Greeks (year 1340)


fortune tellers

By the Moldavians


makers of kobza, a musical instrument

In Iran


By the Albanians


tent dwellers; nomadic Turkish Gypsies

By the Serbians


tent dwellers






Names associated with their characteristics, as seen from the host countries.

From their noisy ways (see ** below for origin of name):

By the Romanians

Tsigan, plur. Tsigani (ţigan, ţigani)

By the Letts


By the Slovenes


By the Hungarians

Cigàny, Ciganyok

By the Poles


By the Slovene


By the Russians


By the Czech


By the French


By the Germans

Tzigeuner, Zygenier, Zigeni

By the Alsacians


By the German Swiss




By the Germans (regional)


By the Romansh

in Switzerland (from German)


By the Portuguese

Cingano, Cigano

The Spanish (Mexico) chingano, a term of comtempt for a person, has the same origin, as has also the Mexican-American chicano “Mexican immigrant”. In Honduras chingar is “to laugh at”.

By the Italians

Cingali, Cinguli

By the Albanians


By the Kossovars


By the Italians

Zingani, Zingaro

By the Spaniards


By the Basques


By the Turcs

Chinganie, Chingen

By the Georgians


By the Greeks

Tsinganos, Atzinganos

(the settled Gypsies, cf. Yifti, above)

By the Greeks of Nauplion (Peloponnese, 1378)


In Byzantine Greek, the name is spelled athinganoi and later translated, wrongly, as “untouchables”

**The preceding appellations mean “rowdy, noisy, talkative” and are cognate to the following:



to make noise, prattle


ţigani (Tsigani)

as a name for the Gypsies, the name is of Romanian origin

French (regional)


noise, quarrel




Italian (regional)


to yell






to babble

French (regional)


to quarrel

Romani (Gypsy)


to yell



bell; canganë a musical instrument



to sound

Italian (Sicilia)


garganey, a duck with a rattling call, etc. Many names of noisy birds in most European languages are cognate to this group.

By the Spaniards


from a root meaning “noisy”

[Gascony cagnaulà “to howl”, French cagne “bitch (dog)”, regional French cagnard “preacher”; also many names of birds or noisy things in Romance and Slavic languages]

By the Spaniards


The word has a “noisy” connotation and comes from a widespread root kal- “voice, noisy” etc. Caló is the dialect of the Spanish Gypsies


dialect spoken by the Finnish Gypsies

By the Germans

Lalleri, Lallero

(those coming form Bohemia and Romania), from lallen to stammer” (in speaking German)

By the Germans (Westfalia)


probably with same meaning as the preceding name

By the Romanian

Cioroi, Ciorobor, Cioroboară

sense of noisy, quarrelsome, cf. Tsigan, above

Various other names:

By the Dutch



By the Romanians



By the Romanians


Gypsy boy

By the Romanians


“gypsy woman”

By the Romanians


concubine ?

By the French in Normandy


gypsy woman

By the French in Normandy


gypsy woman

By the Albanians (Gheg)


(liar, deceiver)

By the Albanians


(prob. from gaberr “boor”)

By the modern Greeks



By the French Basques


(probably from Basque kaskaran “stain produce by the walnut husk – a reference to the dark complexion)

By the French in Bordeaux


By the French in Picardie


In the USA (state ?)


before 1995 when they were disbanded. (In an internet forum)

In England, early 19th century

Moon men


dialect spoken by the Basque Gypsies

By the Poles


By the Romanians

Netotsi (Netoţi)

the runaway slaves in the Carpathians

By the Romanians

Laieshi (Laieişi)

members of a band of Gypsies (laie = a Gypsy camp)

By the Italians


By the Albanians (Tirana)


In Greece and Turkey


from Turkish sepetçi “drill makers”

In the southern Balkans

Burgudji, Kalburdju

from Turkish burguc

In Bulgaria


from Turkish yerli “settled”

In Kosove, Macedonia and Greece


from Turkish yerli “settled”

By the Albanians


from Turkish yerli “settled”. They do not speak Romani

In Montenegro, Kosove and Macedonia


By left-bank Ukrainian


In Montenegro, Kosove and Macedonia


they do not speak Romani

In the southern Balkans


In Armenia and southern Caucasus


The Gypsies who call themselves Lom; their dialect is called Lomavren, see Lom, below

Europe, America

Boyash, Bayash, Beyash

a Vlax Romanii population who descends from the Rudari and have a Romanian dialect as their language instead of Romani. The Boyash (also Bayash, Beyash) are the Romani populations, widespread throughout Europe and the Americas, who descend from the Rudari (see below) and who have a Rumanian dialect as their native language. Boyash appears to be the same word as Bohemians (Boii)

In the USA


the musicians descendant of Hungarian-Slovak Gypsies

By the English

Boswell, Bossil Lanc. Not., Linc., Bozzel, Bozzil n. Lanc., Bosl Not.

“The name is said to be from the name of Charles Bosvile or Boswell, a Yorkshire gentleman, who established a sort of sovereignty among the gypsies (Wright’s English dialect dictionary)

By the Norwegians


By the Norwegians


By the Germans


those coming from the Giuliano region, NE Italy

By the Germans


the Gypsy language

By the Germans


those from Slavic countries

By the Egyptians


By the Albanians


By the Albanians


By the French in the Velay


By the French in Rombas (Moselle)


also tinsmith

By the Spaniards


the Castilian speaking Andalusian Gypsies who have permanently settled in house-caves or town houses in such areas as Granada city and Guadix

By the French (Parisian slang)


(miser, skinflint)

By the French


(especially the circus Gypsies), from

the Gypsy language manush “man”; maniche is the Gypsy language. Manush may be identical to the German Mensch (the men, the people). Manouche is also the name given to themselves

By the Romanians


(from Gypsy gero “man” – Graur*, Juilland*)

In Bosnia-Hercegovina


By the Norwegians


By the Scots

Faw, Faa

In Asia Minor


In Persia (430-443 A.C.)


In Asia Minor

Luli, Kara Luli

By the Arabs

Nuri (plur. Nawar)

(a corruption of Luri)

By the Iranians and Turks


and for all Indus-valley people (Jat is an Indian tribal name)

In Persia (5th century)


By the Arabs


(same word as the preceding)

In northern Syria and Iran


In Asia Minor, Transcaucasia, Iran


By the Armenians


By the Egyptians


In India

Banjara, Badija, Bahoria, Biloc, Bhantu

In the Deccan


By the Sanskrit writers


In northwestern India


A menial class in India whose occupations include musicians,

slaughterers and janitors,and members of the Sudra caste. The Sudra are the lowest of the four Hindu castes, believed by some to have been the ancestors of the Gypsies (Sanskrit). Domari is the language of the Dom; speakers of the dialects of Eastern Romanis, inhabiting Syria and other parts of the Middle East. Dom, plural Domba, feminine Domni, is usually translated as ‘folk, people’.

From the southern Caucasus to Arabia


(from the preceding word)

By the Bulgarians (Shiven)

Xoraxane (Khorakhane)

the Turkish language of Muslim Gypsies. After the 10th century Central Asian Karakhanid Turkic empire.

By the Bulgarians


Muslim Gypsies. However this name and the preceding are also said to refer to Muslim non-Gypsies

In India the Gypsies call outsiders kâjwâ, kajjâ or kâjarô; in the Middle East Kadja, and in Armenia Kacha. In some regions of Europe the same word has become Gadjo, plural Gadje, feminine Gadji, fem. plur. Gadja, meaning peasant, non-Gypsy. In the British Isles Gaujo, Gorgio.

In Alto Adige, they are called Gadjkine Sinte (In Romani Gadjikano is the masculine singular adjective meaning “non-Gypsy”).

Payo is the Calé term for gadjo (for Calé, see above).

Pomana. Wake (vigil ?) in Romani.

Rajputs. A predominantly military northwestern Indian people, who claim to be descended from the Kshatriyas. Believed by some scholars to have been the ancestors of the Gypsies.

*Graur, A., 1934. Les mots tziganes en roumain. Bulletin de linguistique 2:108-200.

*Juilland, Alphonse, 1952. Le vocabulaire argotique roumain d’origine tsigane. Cahiers Sextil Puşcariu 1: 81-151.

Some names for the Gypsies were provided by Fergus Smith, on line, 1998.

Haiti. A country in the Greater Antilles on the island of Hispaniola.

“Mountainous land” from the Carib Indian (now extinct) ai “montain” and ti “land”, or Taino language hayiti “tall mountain”.

Hamite. An ancient name designating “the black people”.

The descendants of Ham (Khām), son of Noah. Ham if from a root k-m meaning “dark”, see Cymru.

Hebrew. An ancient people in the Middle East.

In Aramaic `ibhray, `ebhray, in Hebrew `ibhri, literally “he who came across (the river). Thus the Hebrews would be “those who came across the river (Euphrate) to go to the land of Canaan” (Gen. xi, 31). In Ancient Egyptian `apiru.

Hellen. Name by which the Greek call themselves.

The Hellens were originally the inhabitants of Hellas, a Thessalian city which was presumably named for its white color, from a root meaning “light, shining”:






a fiery (thus shining) imaginary place




Ancient Greek


the sun

Ancient Greek


daughter of Zeus

Ancient Greek


a Thessalian city (the white one), whence the name of the country)



the sun

Herzegovina. A part of Bosnia. From Serbocroatian herceg, itself from German Herzog “duke” a title given to Stepan Kosaca who separated Herzegovina from Bosnia.

Hispaniola. One of the Great Antilles islands.

A name meaning “Spanish”.

Hittite. An ancient people in Asia Minor.

Assyrian Khita people of Khatti, Georgian Somkheti. In Hebrew Hitti and in Hittite Hatti “the people”. However the Hittites called themselves Nes and their language Nesili.

Holland. The Netherlands (actually a part of the Netherlands).

From an earlier Holtlant meaning “woodland”.

Honduras. A country in Central America.

Given a Spanish etymology, the name would mean “the depths” which would be a reference to the deep waters off the northern coast. As a country’s name it is in need of an explanation.

Hong Kong. A territory of China.

Cantonese Heung Gong meaning “spice harbour”, presumably from the fact that Hong Kong was a major trading port for spices.

Hottentots. A native people from southern Africa.

A name given by the Boers who heard the natives clicking language as hot and tot.

Hungary. A country in east-central Europe.

From Ungur, a region of the Ural mountains where the Hungarian originated; a region of southern Finland is called Ingria (the Hungarian language is related to the Finnish). The same root emerges in the ethnonym Yugra, a people living in Siberia and distantly related to Hungarians. The name Huns may have influenced the modern spelling Hungary. Their name is cognate to Mongolian hün “man” (Levin Potapov, The People of Siberia); for parallel naming, see Ainu, Inuit, Bantu and Manouche (sub Gypsy). The Huns were already known to the ancient Greeks (Ounnoi) and to Sanskrit writers (huna). The Hungarians are called Vengerskij by the Russians, Ugorščina by the Ukrainians, Vuhorščina by the Belarussian, and Uher (adjective uhersky) by the Czechs. The Hungarians call themselves Magyars (from Madjghar; for the suffix –ghar, see Bulgaria). The Albanian call the Arabs Magye and Egypt Magyur.

Iberia. 1. The ancient name of the Spanish peninsula.

In Ancient Greek Ibères: the people inhabiting the region of the river Ebro. The name Ebro is from Basque ibar “valley, water meadow”. The Basque call the interior of Spain Herribera, from herri “people”, and Iber, thus “the inhabitants of the Ebro”. The Greek name was borrowed from the Basque.

Ibēría. 2. Ancient Greek name for a region in the western Caucasus.

From Imeriti, the name of its inhabitants. No relation to the Iberian Peninsula; the ressemblance is coincidental; note the place of the accent.

Iceland. An island and country in the North Atlantic.

The Icelandic name is Island meaning “land of ice”. Ice is by no means characteristic of the country. The name rather describes what is called today Greenland. For a possible confusion of the land situations at the times of early discoveries, see Greenland.

Ichkerya. A territory in the northern Caucasus, now seeking independence from Russia. Ichkerya is the official name for Chechnya. The language spoken in Ichkerya is called Chechen.

Illyria. Ancient name of a region on the shore of the Adriatic.

In Greek è chora è Illyria “the country of Illyria”. The Illyrians were the inhabitants of the region of the Ill river. A region West of Trieste is still called today Ilirska Bistrica in Croatian.

India. A country in southern Asia.

Name given by Europeans; from Ancient Greek Indos, the name of the river called in Sanscrit Sindhu, the meaning of which is “the barrier”. Pashto sind and Khowar sin mean “river”. India is called Hodu by the Hebrews. The Sanscrit name for India was Aryavasta “dwelling place of the Arians”. It is commonly accepted that the name Bhàrat derives from that of the son of Dushyanta, whom the Mahabharata credits with bringing the whole of Bharatvarsha under his rule and securing the title of an emperor. Mahabharata is a Sanskrit epic principally concerning the dynastic struggle and civil war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas in the kingdom of Kurukshetra about the 9th century B.C. Bha in Sanskrit means “knowledge” or “light”, and rat is a verb for ‘doing’. Bharat is therefore ‘the one who is in search of knowledge.’ The god Bharat was probably named after the country and not vice versa.

Indonesia. A many islands country in southeast Asia.

The name has been coined by Europeans with India and the Greek nēsos “island”, added to the country name India. The Vietnamese call Indonesia Nam Dương.

Inuit. The Eskimos (q.v.). A name meaning “the men” (cf. Ainu, Bantou).

Iraq. A country in the Middle East.

In Arabic al-‘Iraq. Same origin as Iran.

Iran. A country in the Middle East.

Like several regions of the Middle East, Iran was considered a country of the Levant. Its name derives from a root meaning sun, dawn, red :






province of the rising sun


Irun, Iran

Iran (often pronounced Irun in the country)





Aryans, originally the name of a people of south Asia



the easternmost of the Sunda islands



goddess of the sun




etc. Tibetans call Iran “sTag.Dzig” (pronounced “Tajik”; see Tajikistan).

Ireland. A country and island forming part of the British Isles.

In Irish Gaelic Éire. From eir, iar “the West”. Ireland is called by the Welsh Ywerddon “the green country”. Green is the national color of Ireland. The Irish are also called by the Welsh Gwyzel, and by the Bretons Gouezel, the name formerly given to the tribes who used to hunt in the woods (gwyz), in order to distinguish them from the Gàl who made a living by tilling their fields; they are also called the Welsh Gwyddell (from gwýdd wood); according to the Welsh tradition the Gwythelians were the first inhabitants of Wales. The Irish call Gall the Normands, the Englishmen, the Anglo-Irish and the foreigners in general; see welsh.

Irian Jaya. The western part of New Guinea.

Irian is the Indonesian term for the island of New Guinea. It was then renamed Irian Jaya (roughly translated, “Victorious Irian”) by Suharto, a name that remained in official use until 2002 (Wikipedia). Irian, like Java, is of Indian origin and probably means “the Levant”, see Iran.

Israel. A country of the Middle East.

Named after Ysrà’él alias Jacob. The people of Israel are Jewish which is from Hebrew Yehudi “belonging to the tribe of Judah”.

Italy. A country in southern Europe.

In Italian Italia. The name is of Greek origin (certainly not from Latin vitullus “calf” an etymology devoid of any logic) and was first given by Greek people to a burnt over region in the southern peninsula; from a chromatic root meaning “blackened” (Desfayes, 1998):

Ancient Greek



Ancient Greek


negro, black slave

Ancient Greek



Ancient Greek


blackened with soot

Ancient Greek


a locality in Mesenia

Ancient Greek


a Doric tribe in Crete

Ancient Greek


a locality on the gulf of Mesenia (Homer, Iliad 2, 585)

Ancient Greek


(Homer, Iliade, 638)

Ancient Greek


the Greek name for the Island of Elba, because of the clouds of smoke rising from burning coal stacks (W. Keller)

Ancient Greek


a locality in Hekatea (= Calabria)

Ancient Greek


a locality between Catania and Messina (Sicily)

These localities were probably places blackened by forest fires, which are so frequent in the Mediterranean countries. The Calabrian locality name, already latinized, was presumably the ancestral place name of Italy. The Welsh call Italy Yr Eidal. The Italians are called wolch, wolsz by the Poles, olas by Hungarians (see Welsh).

Ivory Coast. See Côte d’Ivoire.

Jamaica. An island country in the Caribbeans.

From Taino Indian Xaymaca or Hamaica “land of springs” ?

Jan Mayen. A Norwegian island in the North Atlantic.

The origin of the name is disputed. The general consensus is that it derives from a Dutch sailor named Jan Mayen who came across the island in 1614 (he didn’t actually discover it). (Wikipedia).

Japan. An island and country in the Far East.

From the Chinese name of the country Jēh-pēn-ko “land of the rising sun”, whence the Italian pronunciation Cipango by Marco Polo, in Middle Chinese nzyet-pwun “sunrise”. The Japanese call their country Nippon, from “nippon-gu” “origin of the sun”.

Japheth (Hebrew). The youngest of the three sons of Noah, brother of Shēm and Khām, q.v. Giant of the first ages, eldest son of the sky and earth, father of the peoples of the Occident. In view of the evident relation of Shēm and Khām to colours (see Semite and Hamite), Japheth could also relate to a colour, his fair hair. From a Semitic root s-f yellow:



yellow (Latin sulphur appears to be a lambdacism for safar)

Arabic: Liban




saffāra et var.






sufrah, sifyr




a yellow colour



descendants of Iberian Jews



“Traditionally, Japheth was

understood to have been the progenitor of the peoples of Europe. Thus “Japhetic” came to be used as a synonym for Europeans. In Medieval Europe the world was understood to have been divided into three large-scale racial groupings. In addition to the Japhetic peoples of Europe, the Semitic peoples were equated with all Asians, and Hamitic peoples with Africans. The link between Japheth and the Europeans is reflected in Genesis 10:5, which states that the sons of Japheth moved to the “isles of the Gentiles,” commonly believed to be the Greek isles, while others claim them to be the British Isles.” (WIKIPEDIA).

Kurdish: Sorani



Persian: Sivand



Java. One of the Greater Sunda islands.

From Sanscrit yavadvipa “rice island” (yava “barley” should be understood as a collective name for cereals).

Jibuti. See Djibouti.

Jordan. A country of the Middle East.

In Arabic al Urdun. Named after the Jordan river, in Hebrew Yardén; from yàràd “to go down”, because it flows deep down in the valley.

Kabyle. A Berber people in Algeria.

From Arabic kabā’il “tribe”.

Kafir. A mountain people of northwestern Pakistan.

From Arabic kafir “infidel” (see Caffre).

Kashmir. A region in the western Himalaya.

Etymology unknown, but certainly not from Polish Kazimierz, a proper name.

Kazakhstan. A country in central Asia.

“Land of the Kazakhs”, from the Kazakh language kazak “free person”. From Kazakh comes the Russian cossack.

Kenya. A country in eastern Africa.

Named after Mount Kenya. From the Kīkūyū language Kere-Nyaga “Mountain of Whiteness”.

Korea. A country in eastern Asia.

After the Goryeo Dynasty, the first Korean dynasty visited by westerners. Koreans call their country Hanguk. (Wikipedia). In Japanese Korai and in Chinese Kao-li (the Chinese language has no r); given a Chinese etymology kao-li would mean “lofty, beautiful”. North Korea is called Chosun “calm morning” (in Chinese Zhao-xian in which zhiao = morning), and South Korea Hanguk “land of the Han”.

Kosove. The Albanian feminine and official name of the region usually known by the Serbian name Kosovo. At the time of writing the region is officially part of Serbia, but is seeking independance.

Origin unknown. The etymology “field of the blackbird” is folk etymology. Just because kos means “blackbird” in Serbian does not mean Kosove is a derivative. “Field of the blackbird” is a Slavic etymology given to an Albanian name. Kocove is also the name of a locality in central Albania.

Kurd. A people in the Middle East.

A word meaning “courageous” in their language. In Kurdish körmänj. The Greek called them Mèdes, after the name of their king Mèdos (or was Mèdos named after the people ?). They are called Mar by the Armenians and Madi by the Iranians.

Kuriles. A group of small islands in the Far East.

From the Ainu language kuri “fog”.

Kurland. A region of western Russia.

From German Kurland “land of the Kurs”, a people of Finnish origin.

Kuwait. In Arabic al-Kuwayt “the small fortress”. From the Arabic speech of eastern Arabia kūt meaning “fort”.

Kyrgyzstan. A country in central Asia.

From the Kyrgyz language kyr “steppe” (Turcic kir “country”). The name was formerly spelled Kirghizstan.

Laos. A country in southeastern Asia.

From French Laos, itself derived from the Laotian language lao meaning “a Laotian” or “Laotian”. Possibly a corruption of Lan Xang the former name of Laos meaning “land of many elephants”.

Lapland. A region of northern Finland.

A Swedish name “country of the Lapps”; from lappen “rag”, so named from the ragged appearance of the early people of this region. (The Sami people used to be considered inferior to the Scandinavians, and were at a time, persecuted. Today in Sweden “Lapp” is not considered politically correct).

Latvia. One of the Baltic countries.

In Lettish Latvietis. Same etymology as Lithuania. The name has been given Celtic, Latin, German and other origins; it cannot however be dissociated from Lietuva “Lithuania”. The Russians call the Letts Ven (see Vandals).

Lebanon. A country of the Middle East.

From Hebrew Lebhànon (whence Akkadian Labnànu, Aramaic Libhnàn, Arabic Lubnàn), from a root meaning “light, clear, white”, on account of the snow-covered mountains :







Old Irish



Old Norse






Old Persian



Old Persian









The French name of Lebanon is Liban, the Arabic name is Lubnan. The Arabic djebel Liman “Mt. Lebanon” is probably from the French.

Lesotho. A small country in southern Africa.

From Sotho, the name of the people inhabiting this region; le is a prefix in the Lesotho language.

Levant. The Middle East.

From French le Levant “the rising (of the sun)”. Also a region in eastern Spain.

Liberia. A country in western Africa.

From liberty, so named because the nation was created as a homeland for freed American slaves in 1922.

Liechtenstein. A small country between Switzerland and Austria.

The country was named after the Liechtenstein dynasty who purchased and united the counties of Schellenburg and Vaduz and were allowed by the Holy Roman Emperor to rename the new property after its own family.

Liguria. A region in northern Italy.

Etymology unknown. The ancient Greeks writers reported that “these peoples were small and skinny”. This is probably a folk etymology suggested by Albanian lig “skinny”.

Lithuania. One of the Baltic countries.

In Lithuanian Lietuva. Several etymologies have been proposed, the most logical of which appears to be from a root l-t- as in Italian lato “wide”, Latin Latium “flat coutry”, Irish Letha and Welsh Llydaw “Brittany”, Breton led “width”, ledenez “peninsula”, and finally littoral. Like the Finns, the Balts may have been named by Celtic people. The Irish Gaelic Letha could explain the /h/ in the English Lithuania.

Lombardy. A region of northern Italy.

In Italian Lombardia. Some fancy guesses: From Latin lombardus “long bards” or “long spears” or from German langbart “long beards”. (Their Germanic name was Winnile; for this name, see Vandals). The name however is authentically Romance. Its meaning is “region along the edge of the Alps”, from a root having the notion of “elongated”:

Ancient Greek





parts of the body on each side of the backbone (English loins)



long piece of wood









a big ugly cow: having a salient backbone

etc. Also many regional names of birds having a band on certain parts of the plumage.

Lusitania. Ancient name of Portugal.

In Ancient Greek Lysitania. Etymology unknown. “From Greek lysis `freeing´” is a Greek etymology for a foreign word. I posit here that this land could have been occupied at that period by a tribe of Vandals coming from the region called Lusatia (or Wend, see Vandals). Germanic invaders (or nomads) were in Spain earlier than usually admitted. Pliny already mentioned a German people on the upper Guadiana (New Castille).

Luxemburg. A small country near Belgium.

From Lützelburg or Lëtzebuerg, literally “little borough”.

Lybia. A country in northern Africa.

Appears to have been named after a people originating in Asia Minor. The name was already mentioned by the ancient Egyptians as Libu. Herodote mentions a tradition according to which the Maxyes, a Lybian tribe, pretended to be the descendents of the Troyans. Lygias was a synonym of Lybies. Lydia and Lycia are also ancient regions of Asia Minor. In Roman times Lybica was synonym of Africa: Lybicae volucres “the Guinea fowl”, an African bird; Lybicus dens “ivory”. The Latin Libicus (Lucretius) “kinky hair” appears to be secondary, i.e. “like the hair of the Lybians or Africans”. The Arabic name is Libiya

Macedonia. A region in northern Greece and southern Yugoslavia.

Literally “highland”, from a root mak- “high” and edos “land”.

Madagascar. An island and country off southeastern Africa.

A name mentioned by Marco Polo but pertaining however to the Somalian coast. From Maqdasu, Arabic name of the main city, today called Mogadiscio, the Italian pronunciation. The natives from Madagascar call themselves Malagasy, pronounced malgash, in French Malgache.

Maghreb. The norwestern part of Africa.

The Sahara Maghrebia or Maghrebian Sahara is a country in western Africa south of Morocco. In Arabic Maghreb means “the West”.

Malawi. A country in eastern Africa.

From the local language malawi, from Maravi, the name of the people inhabiting this region. The name would mean “flames”.

Malaysia. Land of the Malay people.

Formerly known as Malaya. Perhaps from the Tamil language malai “mountain”. Malaysia came to English via French Malaisie.

Maldives. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean belonging to India.

In Hindi Māldīvī. The main island is called Male. Etymology unknown. Not from Sanskrit mālā “garland” or Tamil malay “mountain” – there are no mountains in this flat archipelago.

Mali. A country in western Africa.

Etmology unknown. The people of Mali are the Malinke.

Malta. Island of the Mediterranean.

From Semitic malàt “refuge, port” (and certainly not from melitta “honey”). The Maltese call themselves Ghawdex.

Malvinas (Las). The Argentinian name for the Falkland Islands.

Named Malouines by the French sailors who came from Saint-Malo in Brittany towards the end of the 17th century.

Manchuria. A region of north-eastern China.

In Chinese Manzhouguo “Manchu land”. Manchu is from the Tunguse language Manju.

Marianas Islands. An archipelago in the western Pacific.

So named in honour of Mariana of Austria, widow of Spanish king Philip IV.

Marshall Islands. named after British Captain John Marshall, who first documented the existence of the islands in 1788.

Martinique. An island in the Caribbean, and territory of France.

It has been supposed that Columbus sighted and perhaps anchored at the island on November 11, 1493, the feast day of Saint Martin.

Mauritania. A country in western Africa.

From Mauretania, an ancient province of northwestern Africa in Roman times. It was the land of the Maures, in Spanish Moros “the dark (haired) people”.

Mauritius. Independant islands in the Indian ocean. So named after Dutch Prince Maurice of Orange, stathouder of the United-Provinces.

Mayotte. A territory of France in the Indian Ocean.

A corruption of the indigenous name M’Ayâta, Mawutu, sense unknown (Cherpillod).

Mesopotamia. An ancient name of the region that is now Iraq.

A calque of the ancient Greek name Mesopotamía, from mésos “in the middle” and potamós “river”. The Greek name may be a translation of ancient Semitic beth-nahrin “between the rivers, a reference to the Tigris and Euphrates.

Mexico. A city and country in North America.

No less than 45 etymologies have been proposed for México, most of them based either on the Nahuatl metl “maguey”, or metztli “moon”, and xictli (navel) and thus means “navel of the moon”, with the somewhat tortuous explanation that the city was formerly situated on an island in a lake. None are really convincing. Mexitli the Aztec god has probably been named after the country. The city was formerly called Anáhuac and the region around it Tenochtitlán. The country was named after its capital.

Micronesia. Islands in the western Pacific Ocean.

Coined with Greek mikro “small” and nēsos “island”.

Midway Islands. A territory of the United States of America.

Named after their geographic location midway in the Pacific ocean.

Moldavia. A country between Romania and Ukraine.

Named after the river Moldova.

Monaco. A principalty in southern France, in ancient times Monoikos, a Greek colony founded in the 6th century B.C. by the Phoceans.

Mongolia. A country in central eastern Asia.

From a root meng-, mong- “brave”.

Montenegro. A country in the Balkans.

The Venetian name of the republic that Serbocroatians call Crna Gora “Black Mountain”. Montenegro was so named before the arrival of the the Slavs who translated the name as Crna Gora.

Morocco. A country in north-western Africa.

From Marrakech, the capital, from Berber marūkus meaning “fortified” (Cherpillod), not from Classical Arabic marrūkuch “the beautiful one”; the Berber name certainly antidates the Arabic one. The Arabic name of the country is al-Maghrib “the West”. See Maghreb.

Mozambique. A country in southeastern Africa.

In Portuguese Moçambique is the name of the principal city and port. No satisfying etymology is known. Perhaps from the name of a previous Arab ruler, the sheik Mussa Ben Mbiki, that in spoken Portuguese sounds like Moçambique (Wikipedia).

Myanmar. A country in southeastern Asia.

Pyi-daung-zu Myan-ma Naing-ngan-daw (Union of Myanmar) is the official name. “In 1989, the military junta officially changed the English version of its name from Burma to Myanmar (along with changes in the English versions of many place names in the country, such as its former capital city, from Rangoon to Yangon). The official name of the country in the Burmese language, Myanmar, did not change, however. The renaming proved to be politically controversial, seen by some as being less inclusive of minorities, and linguistically unscholarly. Acceptance of the name change in the English speaking world has been slow, with many people still using the name Burma to refer to the country. Major news organisations like the BBC still refer to it as Burma. Some question the military junta’s ability to “officially” change the name in English in the first place” (Wikipedia). Burma is a corruption, by Westerners, of Myanmar.

Namibia. A country in southwestern Africa.

From Namib, the name of the coastal desert. From the Nama language of a Hottentot tribe namib “vast, arid plain” or “area where there is nothing”.

Nepal. A country in southern Asia.

Sanskrit Nepāla, from nipa “at the foot of the mountains” and alaya “land”.

Netherlands (The)

Literally the Low Countries, in French Pays-Bas. Netherlanders are called by the Russians Gollandskij, by the Finns Alankomaat, by the Welsh Isalmaen (from French les Allemands) and by the Englishmen Dutch (see this word). A Germanic tribe called by the Greek Bátavoi occupied the region of Betuwe.

New Caledonia. A territory of France in the Pacific Ocean.

Caledonia is an ancient name for Scotland. A latinisation of Gaelic Gaeldoine “land of the Gaels”. Scotland is called by the Welsh Ysgoed Celyddon. The name was given by James Cook to an island of the Pacific New Caledonia.

New Guinea. A large island north of Australia.

Discovered in 1526 by the Portuguese navigator Jorge de Meneses, and named Nueva Guinea by the Spaniard Ortiz de Rez because the natives reminded him of the Black Africans of Guinea (Deroy & Mulon).

New Zealand. A country off the coast of Australia.

The Dutch named the islands Nieuw-Zeeland, after a region of the Netherlands called Zeeland, “land of the lakes”. See Aotearoa.

Nicaragua. A country in Central America.

Named after Nicarao, the name of the chief of the main tribe at the time of its discovery in 1522.

Niger. A country on the river Niger in central northern Africa.

From a native term Ni Gir ‘river Gir’. The name of the river Niger is Ghir-n-ighiren “river of the rivers” in Arabic.

Nigeria. A country on the river Niger in western Africa.

See Niger.

Nippon. The Japanese name of Japan.

From Japanese nichi “sun” and hon “origin”, i.e. “rising sun”.


From Norwegian Norge (with the change w>g) formed with northr “north” and rike “kingdom”.

Nubia. A region in Soudan and southern Egypt.

In Arabic an-Nuba, from the Coptic language nubti “to braid (the hair)” on account of the well-known braided hairdo of the Nubians.

Numidia. Ancient region of North Africa. From Ancient

Greek Nomadia “land of the nomads”.

Nyasaland. A former name of Malawi. Nyasa means “lake” in the local indigenous languages. The name applied to Lake Malawi (formerly Lake Nyasa).

Oman. A sultanate in the southern Arabian peninsula.

In Arabic ‘Uman. Origin disputed; possibly after the personal name Oman, common in Arabic. The name has been mentioned by the geographer Ptolemy (AD 85–AD 165).

Osset. A people in the Caucasus speaking an Iranien language.

From Ancient Greek Asioi, Asiaioi “the Ossets”. For etymology, see Asia. They call themselves Ir, their country Ireston; Iron “Ossetish”. For etymology, see Iran. The Ossets call the Balkans Asi. The medieval Ossets were called Allon i.e. the Alans who established themselves in France and even reached North Africa.

Pakistan. A country of southern Asia.

Separated form India in 1947, and named Pakistan, a word coined by a Muslim nationalist Chandhari Rahamat Ali for the Moslem regions of India, and formed with the letters P.A.K. for Punjab, Afghanistan and Kashmir (Wikipedia). However it cannot be excluded that the name originally meant “land of the pure” (pak = pure). The element –stan means “country”.

Palestine. Ancient land in the Middle East.

In Ancient Greek palaistinè, land of the Palaestes, in Akkadian Palastu, an Illyrian people originating from Epire, northern Greece. The ceramics of the Philistines is called Egean, another indication of their western origin. Philistine is from Greek Philistoi, another orthography for Palaistinè. Hebrew pelishtim, pelésheth is from Greek. In Arabic the name is Filastin.

Panama. A country in Central America.

In Spanish Panamá. Said to be a former village near the capital. From an Amerindian name of unknown meaning. Some etymologies have been proposed, but they are groundless hypotheses.

Papua. The western part of the island of New Guinea, formerly called Irian Jaya, now a province of Indonesia.

The island was named ilhas dos Papuas by its discovererDon Jorge de Meneses. From the Malay language pua-pua or papuah “frizzled”, on account of the conspicuous hairdo of the Papuan people.

Papua New Guinea. See Papua, and New Guinea.

Paraguay. A country in South America.

Named after the river Paraguay, which is from Guarani para river.

Patagonia. A region in southern Argentina.

According to the British author Bruce Chatwin, the name appears to be taken from the novel Primaleón de Grecia published in Castilla in 1512 (7 years before Magellan left for his journey), which tells about a far away island in which lives a dog-headed monster called the Great Patagon. Now, it is known that the Indians Tehuelche wore masks representing dog heads. The connection is thus easily made and the naming more readily acceptable than the explanations “from Spanish patagón ‘big foot’, because of the large footprints seen by the first explorers, or the large footwear of the Indians” which are just tales invented to support the meaning patagón. For another geographical name similarly taken from the literature, see California.

Pelasgi. An ancient people of Greece and Asia Minor.

In Greek pelasgoi “the inhabitants of Greece, Asia Minor and Crete”. The Pelagosos were an Illyrian tribe East of lake Ohrid. The following etymology has been given: From Greek pelátes “neighbor of” (in relation to the center Greece). From pélas near. However, according to Hesychius, the Athenians pronounce pelastikós instead pelasgikós and in this case, this name could be related to Peléstai, a population in Attika, Pelástai, a population in Thessalia, and several other related names such as the Palestes of Anatolia and eventually Palestina. GEORGIEV in the Introduction to the history of the Indo-European languages (Sofia, 1981) explains the literary form Pelasgoi as the result of a blending with pélagos “sea”, suggesting by folk etymology the vague connotation of a sea-faring people.

Persia. The former name of Iran. Formerly the inhabitants of Fàrs or Pārs. From pārsā “pure”. The Pārsi were the “Pure” who fled the Mahommedan persecution. Their language is the Farsi (Persian). The Persians are called `Ecem by the Kurds, Bagdati by the Albanians (“from Bagdad”). The Romanian name of the “Persians” (= the Turks) was Cazilbash a Turkish word meaning “red head”, on account of their red fez.

Perú. A country in South America.

Perú is also the name of a hamlet in Spain. The name could have been transferred from here, like many other Iberian place names in South America. The explanation “so called after Biru, the name of a people, or the name of a river in Ecuador are without any foundation.

Philippines. An state of many islands in the Pacific of Asia.

The archipelago, currently known as the Philippines in English, was named as Las Islas Filipinas in 1542 by the Spaniards who named it after Felipe II de Habsburgo, the future king Philippe II of Spain. After colonization the native-born population, searching for a national identity, started calling themselves “Pilipino” (the /f/ does not exist in the local languages). The official language is Pilipino, and the country’s name Pilipina.

Phoenicians. An ancient Semitic people of the eastern Mediterranean. In Ancient Greek Phoinikos; so named for their reddish brown complexion, from phoinos “red”, phoenix “crimson ” and also “a fabulous bird” (= the sun). The Latin Punicus is a calque of the Greek name. The Phoenicians were the ancient Canaanites.

Phrygians. An ancient people in Asia Minor.

They were called Byges by Herodote. According to several classical authors, the Phrygians were either Armenians or Thracians.

Picts. Name of an ancient people of Britain.

This name appears for the first time in 297 in Eumenius’ Panegyric. It is not the name of some mysterious people, but simply the translation in Latin of the Breton Breizad “Breton” (see Britain) and confused by Latin scribes with Breton brez “motley, painted”. It was this confusion which inspired Isidorus of Seville in saying that the name came from the habit of this people to tattoo themselves. This is evidently a pure invention.

Pityusas. Small islands in the western Mediterranean.

Meaning: Pines islands. They were named by the Greeks, from pitus “pine”.

Polab. A Slavic people.

Name formed with the Slavic particle po- “by, at” etc., and Laba the Czech name of the Elbe river.

Poland. A country in eastern Europe.

From Slavic polje “field, plain”. The Poles call themselves Lech, from the name of a people established between the Vistula and the Oder in the 7-8th centuries. The Ukrainians and Russians call them Ljakh, the Lithuanians Lenkas, the Hungarians Lengyel, the Lithuanians Lenkija, the Romanians Leah (archaic and popular). In Turkish, Poland is Lechistan “land of the Lech”. Polab, a people who once lived on the Elbe River Basin is formed with the Slavic prefix po- and Labe the Elbe river.

Poles’e. A region of Bielorussia.

Formed with the Slavic particle po- “by, at” etc., and les’ “forest”, thus “by the forest”.

Polynesia. A territory of France in the Pacific Ocean.

Coined from Greek poly = many, and nēsos = island.

Portugal. A country in southwestern Europe.

Meant simply “port of the Gauls”, today the city of Porto.

Prussia. An ancient region on the Baltic.

Formerly spelled Borussia, from the name of the tribe Borussi. Formed with the polyvalent Slavic prefix po- and Russi “the Russians”.

Puerto Rico. An island in the West Indies, and territory of the United States.

The capital city’s name is Puerto Rico, meaning “rich port”.

Puglia. Region in southern Italy, formerly Iapudia inhabited by the Iapyges (Strabon), later Apulia and Puglia.

Qatar. The Arabic name of an emirate in the Arabian peninsula.

From Arabic qatran “tar”.

Quebec. The French language province of eastern Canada.

From Algonquin kebec meaning “the place where the river narrows (WIKTIONARY).

Romania. A country in eastern Europe.

Not named after the Romans but after the tanned complexion of the people. From a root r-m describing some dark red or sometimes reddish-yellow things or animals:



pink, red (complexion)


















red-brown, dark red



a kind of red wine



to get tanned






a reddish colored drink



a plant with red stalks




Modern Greek


a red grape

etc. See also Armenian for the closely related root arm-.

For the names given to the Romanians by Slavic people, see Walach.

Russia. A country extending from the White Sea to the Pacific.

Land of the Russians. From the root rus- “blond”, “rufous”:






the reddish-colored iron oxide






red-haired woman



reddish blond



blond (Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian id.)

Old Ukrainian





having red hair



blond (cheveux)



a red-haired person



blond, roux, châtain clair






the Vaeringi, Vikings who penetrated into Russia


Russie (cuir de)

a red dyed leather, FEW 20: 45 (“de Russie” by folk etymology; it is simply “cuir roussi”)


rosso (d’uovo)



The Letts call the Russians Kriev, Russia Krievija, after the name of a Slavic tribe the Krievich established west of Moscow. The Estonians call the Russians Venemaa and Russia Vene, the Finns call them Venät, and Russia Vänäjä (see Vandals). Russia is called Su-Lian by the Chinese and Soren by the Japanese.

Ruthenian. Another name for Ukrainian, now in disuse.

From a root rut- “reddish”, also for the color of their hair:









the East, the Orient



tomorrow (= at dawn)



(borrowing) glowing red

Gaelic: Ireland


herb robert, a plant with red stalk






(borrowing) Ruthenian, Ukrainian




Rwanda. A country in central Africa.

From the people name Vanyaruanda; meaning unknown.

Sahara. A huge desert.

Arabic Sahrà, from asHar, asfar “fulvous colored”, a characteristic of this desert (also said to mean “emptiness”, but this meaning is probably secondary).

Sakartvelo. A country in the Caucasus, called Georgia by Westerners. See Georgia.

Salvador (El). A country in Central America.

“The saviour” in Spanish, named for Jesus Christ.

Samoa. A Pacific island, territory of the United States of America.

From “Sacred Moa Preserve”, after the Moa, a native extinct bird species.

San Marino. A small enclave republic in Italy.

San Marino the name of the city and the capital of the republic of the same name was named after San Marino of Rimini who is said to have founded San Marino in 301 AD.

Sarandib. Ancient Arabic name for Sri Lanka.

A corruption of Sanscrit sinhaladvipa “isle of the Sinha” (see Ceylon).

Sardinia. A island formerly colonized by the Sardes, among many others. The name was already known to the Phoenician as Sardan in 800 B.C. Sardes was the capital of Lydia, a land occupied by a people related to the Etruscans. The Serdes were a Thracian tribe. The Sardiola were a Dalmatian people; in Slavic Serdica, Sredets was the name of Sofia; the Sardones were the inhabitants of today’s Cerdanya, a region in Catalogna.

Sarmates. An ancient people from the northern Caspian region.

In Ancient Greek Sarmatioi, borrowed from Persian and meaning “people from the cold region”:



the cold




Ancient Greek


the Sarmates

Slavic mythology


the deified Winter; he flees before Pagoda (the deified Spring) and his wife Simzerla, goddess of flowers

Saudi Arabia. A country of the Middle East.

In Arabic al-Mamlakah al-‘Arabiyah as-Sa‘udiyah; from sa`ād which is said to be cognate to sa`id “happy”. The name appears to be a retranslation of Arabia Felix, for which see Yemen.

Scandinavia. Collective name given to Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

From Skane, a Swedish province. Etymology uncertain. Those proposed are not convincing. The Scandinavian peoples could have been named after their (supposedly) loud utterances, perhaps during battles. If so, the root of their name should be related to Lettish skandinat to ring, from a root kan- of acoustic origin:



to sound

Tokharian A


melody; TokharianB kene id.



to laugh



cock, crow, goose

Old Persian





to sound



to sound



a musical instrument, organ ?



to chatter




Scotland. The Scots were named Skythos by the ancient Greeks, a name that also refered to the Scythians. They were so called as being the peoples from the dark regions (the North). It should be noted that the ancient writers mostly took little interest in barbarian peoples, and so they sometimes applied ethnic names in conflicting ways (see also Cymru). From a root sk-t meaning dark:

Ancient Greek



Ancient Greek


to get dark

Modern Greek


to get dark

Ancient Greek



Ancient Greek

skiathis, skiaina

Corvinus nigra, a dark-colored fish

Ancient Greek



Ancient Greek


the Scythians

Latin (from Greek)


the Irish people

Modern Greek (Naxos)



Modern Greek (Macedonia)



There is at least one reference in Hesychius that the Skythos were Celts: A borrowed name for the Swan was agly (“hypo Skython”); this name is cognate to Gaelic glé “brillant, pure”, a reference to the immaculate white plumage of the Swan. The Greek aglè “brightness, light” is also a borrowing from the Gaelic. Diodorus (60-30 B.C.) wrote: …the people who are established above this land of Celtica in the parts which stretch to the north, both along the ocean and along the Hercynian mountain, and all the peoples who come after these as far as Skythia, are known as Gauls.

The Scots call themselves Gaidheal (pronounced gayal) “Gael”. The Highlanders are called Gael by the Scot English (see Gaul). They are called Ysgotyn (the Scots) by the Welsh. The Irish call Scotland Alba, the Welsh yr Alban (whence Albion) or Ysgoed Celyddon (from Gaeldoine “land of the Gaels”, Caledonia), and the Breton Bro-Skos (land of the Scots). The Irish also call the Scots Lirionnach.

Scythes. See Scotland.

Seistan. A region in southern Afghanistan.

In Ancient Greek Segestēnē, an adaptation of Sakastan “land of the Saces” or Saka, their Persian name. Saka is today the language of Saxaul, a region in Transcaspia bordering Iran. The Greek Sogdianoi or Sogdoi or Sogdians were an ancient people speaking a related language. Their name appears to be cognate to Saka and Segestènè.

Semites. The people speaking a Semitic language (Arabic, Berber, Hebrew).

From Hebrew Shēm, one of Noah’s sons (see Hamite). Originally they were the inhabitants of Sem “Syria”; for etymology, see Sumer.

Serbia. A republic in the Balkans.

Land of the Serbs; from a root s-rb meaning reddish, yellowish, pale; so named from the color of their hair (see also Slavs):






Serb, people with pale hair; the Sorabs are a Slavic people in Germany; they are also called Wend (see Vandals)



a tree bearing red berries, English service-tree (from the same root)



a plant with reddish flower



a kind of sirup, whence sorbet

Senegal. A country in western Africa.

After a Portuguese spelling of the Zenaga (Arabic Senhaja) tribe who dominated much of the area.

Siam. The name of Thailand until 1939. See Thailand.

Sierra Leone. A country in western Africa.

Named Sierra Leão by the Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra. The meaning is “lion Sierra” but the reason for this naming is unknown. The Italian form leone is unexplained.

Singapore. A city and island country in southeastern Asia.

Written Singapura in 1598 by a Dutch traveller. From the Sanskrit Simhapuram, where pur means “city”. The translation of simh or sing as “lion” is uncertain and would require an explanation; those put forward are not convincing.

Sind. A province in Pakistan.

Named after the Sind river. See India.

Seychelles. An archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.

Named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Finance Minister to King Louis XV of France.

Slavs. The people of eastern Europe speaking Slavic languages.

Like many people, the Slavs were named for the color of their hair. See Serb, Romania, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Rutenians, Vandals. Slav is from a root (s)l-v “pale”: the people with predominantly pale-colored hair:




Old Norse






Old Persian



Old Persian








isabelline, also nightingale

Italian (Lombard)





nightingale (an isabelline colored bird)








Slaven, Sloven

Slav, Slovene










For other peoples named after the color of their hair, see Serb, Ruthenian, Russian, Danes. The Albanians call the Slavs Shqeri which means “wax-colored”. The etymology “from Russian slovo “word, glory” is “politically correct” and would please the Slavs but is not descriptive. Peoples like to give themselves noble origins. Most people are defined by what others thought of them.

Slovakia. See Slavs.

Slovenia. See Slavs.

Solomon Islands. An archielago in the Pacific Ocean.

So named by the Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendaña y Neyra in 1567/8. He thought that there would be a lot of gold there, so he named them after the Biblical King Solomon of Israel, who was famous for the large amount of gold he had. So the story goes.

Somalia. A country in eastern Africa.

Arabic Aş-şūmāl. From a root s-m “dark: Sumerian šim “darkness”, Persian šāma id.: land of the dark people.

South Africa. A country in southern Africa.

Takes its name from its geographical position. See Azania.

Spain. A country in the western Mediterranean.

In Spanish España. The Iberian peninsula was named by the Greeks for whom it was the region of the setting sun:

Ancient Greek


the West, region of the setting sun

Ancient Greek


land of the setting sun

Latin (borrowed from Greek)



Ancient Greek



Latin (borrowing)



Spain is called by the Welsh Hisbaen, by the Hebrew Spharad which is the same as Greek Hesperis, and by the Basque Erdaldun, from erdera “foreign language”. For amusement, here is a tortuous etymology: “From Phoenician šəpānîm ‘isle of hyraxes’ [a small African mammal]. The Phoenician settlers found hares in abundance, and mistook them for hyraxes, thus they named the land in their Canaanite dialect. The Latin-speaking Romans adapted the name as Hispania. The Latin name mutated among the Romance languages, and entered English from Norman French Spagne” (Wikipedia).

Sri Lanka. Official name for Ceylon.

In Sanscrit sri means “happiness, wealth, glory” and lanka “isle”. Ancient names: Sarandib (from Sanskrit Sinhala-dwīpa, meaning “land of the Sinhala people”), and Taprobanè. Coincidentally, sinha means “lion” in Sanskrit. See also Ceylon.

Sudan. A country in eastern Africa.

In Arabic as-Sudan, from Arabic Bilal as-Sudàn, ‘land of the blacks’; sudàn is from aswad “black”.

Sumer. An ancient region of the Middle East.

In Assyrian Sumeru. Like several regions of the Middle East, Sumer has been named as a “country of the Levant”, from a root s-m “red” for the skies at rising sun (see also Asia, Osset, Iran, Syria):

Gaelic Scotland





to burn



the hot season

Slavic mythology


goddess of the flowers, wife of Pagoda (the Spring deified)









region of the Levant

Suriname. A country in northeastern South America.

After the Surinen people, the earliest known native American inhabitants of the region.

Sweden. A country in northern Europe.

The southern Scandivanian country, as opposed to Norway, the northern kingdom. From a Germanic word meaning “south”. Sverige, the Swedish name, means “the kingdom of Sweden”. The Estonians call Sweden Rootsi, the Finns Ruotsi (which is today’s region called Roslagen). Ruotsi means the blond ones (See Russia).

Suomi. Name given by the Finns to their country. From Finnish suo “swamp” and maa “country”, on account of its many lakes.

Swaziland. A kingdom enclaved in South Africa.

Named after the Swazi people, who are the dominant ethnic group in the country. The word “Swazi” derives from Mswati I, a former king of Swaziland.

Switzerland. A country in central Europe.

In German the country is known as Schweiz, formerly Schwyz which is still the name of the canton situated in the heart of the Alps. From a root meaning “white”. For the first Germanic tribes who came from the North, the whiteness of the snow-covered Alps was the most noticeable character of the region:

Old High German









German (Switzerl.)

Schwytz, Schweiz

region of the white mountains






to shine

etc. The French Swiss call their country Suisse, the Italian Swiss Svizzera (both from the early Schwytz), the German Swiss Schweiz. The Greek call Switzerland Helvetia, a name adopted on postage stamps, for instance, in order to avoid spelling out its four other official names of Schweiz, Suisse, Svizra and Svizzera; Switzerland’s official “all-in-one” Latin name is Confoederatio Helvetica (CH), from the name of the first inhabitants of the region, known to the Ancient Greeks as Helvetoi, the Helvets; this name derives from Alp: to the Greeks, the Helvetoi were the people of the Alps.

Syria. A country in the Middle East.

From a root signifying “red, color of dawn or the rising sun”:




Persian, regional








Assyria (with the Semitic article)

Ancient Greek



Ancient Greek


Anatolian solar god

Ancient Greek


a people of eastern Asia

Latin (borrowing)


red; syricum minium

etc. An explanation of Assyria as coming from Hebrew Aššur “son of Sem” is anecdotic. The opposite is true. Syria is called Arám in Hebrew, a name of Indo-European origin signifying also red, like Romanian arama red, copper. See Romania and Armenia. The Arabic name of Syria is Suriyah. Historical Syria was call aš-Šam (see Sumer).

Taiwan. An island off the coast of China.

Taiwan may be a corruption of the name of an aboriginal tribe, transliterated as “tayouan” in the records of the Dutch East India Company, and adopted by the Chinese merchants. Given a Chinese etymology, tái would mean “terrace” and wàn “bay”. Taiwan was formerly called Formosa “the beautiful” by the Portuguese discoverers.

Tajikistan. A country in central Asia.

The word “Tajik” in the Iranian world, and in Sanskrit tajika, simply means Persian. The name is from Persian tāj “tall cap”, on account of their turbans. The Tajik flag features a crown symbol on it, in support of this explanation. The Tibetans call Persia sTag.Dzig (pronounced “Tajik”); given a Tibetan etymology this name would mean “tiger”. This could explain why so many Tibetan legends about their western neighbours feature tiger/leopard combinations.

Tanzania. A country in eastern Africa.

A combination of the names of two states that merged to form this country, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar.

Taprobane. Ancient Greek name for Sri Lanka.

A corruption of Sanskrit ta:Mradvipa “copper island” or tāmraparnā in which one sees tāmra “copper” or “copper colour”; the second element, in spite of a superficial resemblance, has no relation to parna “leaf, feather, wing”

Tatar. Just as the Greek dubbed the foreigners barbaros “the stammerers”, the Slavs called the Turcic speaking people Tatars, from a root tat- “to stutter” etc.



Lapwing (a bird having shrill cries)


tatarska duša




Great Reed Warbler


tattle, twaddle

silly, idle talk, tittle-tattle gossip



noise; titter to laugh in restrained way



to stammer




Thailand. A country is southeastern Asia.

From the native thai ” free” to which has been added the English land “country”. The Thai name is Prathesthay, “land of the free” from Sanskrit pradesa “country”; more familiarly it is called Muang Thai, in the native language muang meaning “country”. Siam, was the name given to the ancient Thai people by their neighbours the Burmese; it is the main region in the northern part of the country.

Tibet. A land in the southern plateau of Central Asia.

In Tibetan Bod or Bod Yul. The name Tibet has come to Europe via the Arabic tobbet, tibbet which may be a corruption of Tibetan thopobod “high Tibet” or of bodpa, stodpa “Tibetan”.

Timor. One of the Sunda islands.

The eastern part of Timor acquired independence in 1999. It is situated east of the main Indonesian islands. In the Malay language timor means “east”. Timor L’este, its official name, from Portuguese este “east” is therefore a tautonym, as also seen in its Indonesian name Timur Timur. In its official Tetun language East Timor is known as Timor Lorosae or “East Timor”. In Indonesia the name is usually shortened as Tim-Tim.

Togo. A country in western Africa.

From the settlement Togo, currently Togoville, formerly Miayi Togodo, from the lake Togo. In Ewe speech, to is ‘water’ and go ‘shore’ thus “(the place on the) water shore”.

Tonga. An archipelago in Polynesia.

In the Hawaiian and Samoan languages tonga means “south”. The Tonga islands are due south of Samoa.

Trinidad and Tobago. Islands in the Caribbeans.

Trinidad was named by Columbus in 1498, after the three prominent mountain peaks on the island. Tobago is said be a corruption of Spanish tabaco “tobaco”, which was grown and smoked by the natives.

Tuareg, plural Targui. A people of the Sahara.

From Arabic tergah “tribe”. The Touaregs call themselves Kel Tamashek.

Tunisia. A country in North Africa.

From the Shagga dialect tēnēsē, plural tines, the city of Tunis. The name appears to mean “a stopover place for the night” or from a Berber word meaning “a small cape”. The Arabic name of the country is Tunis.

Turkey. A country in the Near East.

Said to be from a root türk “strong”. The Turks were already known to the Romans as turcae (Pliny). Turkey is called Rom by the Kurds. The Byzantines called themselves by the Greek name Rhomaioi “the Romans” which gave the name Rom to the region where the Turks would settle. The Turks are called halldup by the Albanian; this word contains the notion of “boorish”.

Turkmenistan. A country in western Asia.

“Land of the Turkmen”. See Turkey.

Tuvalu. Archipelago in the western Pacific.

“Eight islands” in the native speech.

United Kingdom. A political entity comprising Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Often abbreviated U.K.

Uganda. A country in eastern Africa.

From the earlier Buganda “land of men”, the ethnomym of the region’s dominant group.

Ukraine. A country in eastern Europe.

From Slavic krai “edge, end, frontier, region”, thus: region on the frontier, and Slavic prefix o “of, concerning, about, upon”. Ukraine was called by the Germans Kleinrussland “little Russia”. Ukrainians were also called Ruthenians, see this word.

United Arab Emirates. In Arabic al-Imarat al-‘Arabiyah al-Muttahidah.

Upper Volta. Ancient name for Burkina Faso.

Uruguay. A country in South America.

A Guarani name meaning “river of birds”.

Uzbekistan. A country in central Asia.

A name perhaps taken from the Golden Horde Khan Ozbeg. Uz in Turcic means “self” and bek, of Iranian origin, means “master”.

Vandals. An ancient people who invaded western Europe, the Iberian peninsula, and reached North Africa. Also named for the color of their hair; from a root v-n “light coloured” (see also Finland):



beauty, grace






the goddess of beauty; also the brightest star



to be white






Vienna: white city



a white fish of the genus Leuciscus



the Lombards, a Germanic people; Vinnil was also the name of the Old Frisians, an indication of the geographical origin of the Lombards

Old Scandinavian


the Jutland (today Vendesyssel whose inhabitants are called Vaendlefolk)



an ancient people established near the Bodensee; also the Vandals



the Sorabs (see Serb)

Ancient Greek


city of the Venets: Venice

Ancient Greek


city of the Iapudes (an Illyrian people established in southern Italy)



goddess of the Earth

Ancient Greek


Artemis for the Thracians



the Letts and the Estonians



the Slovens



I turn pale

Italian, regional




blond vénétien




the region of Venice (at one time inhabited by Slavic people


Venät, Venäja

the Russians

(Ancient Greek Ouenetoi a people in Gaul (Strabon) are the inhabitants of Vannes, Vendée, like the Ambrones are the inhabitants of Embrun; Vannes does not belong in the above filiation).

Vanuatu. A archipelago in the western Pacific.

From the Bislama language “forever on our land”. The territory was known earlier as the New Hebrides, after the islands in Scotland.

Vatican. “From the Latin vaticinari, ‘to prophesy’, from the name of the hill ‘Mons Vaticanus’ on which the Vatican is located, the street beneath having been used by fortune-tellers and sooth-sayers in Roman times”. So goes the folk tale which seems to be a Latin etymology given to this name. While the Latin word vates does indeed mean “prophet” or “seer”, I don’t think it has anything to do with the presence of the Holy See. That particular area has been called the ‘Mons Vaticanus” or Vatican Hill since pre-Christian times. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia there may have been an Etruscan city there called Vaticum.

Venezuela. A country in South America.

Diminutive of Venezia “Venice”. So named by the seamen of Christopher Columbus who discovered on the lake Maracaibo an Indian village built on piles.

Viet Nam. A Indochinese country.

A name corresponding to the Chinese yü nan “beyond the south”.

Volta (Haute). From the Portuguese river name Rio da Volta “river of the return”; Haute = high.

Wales. A principality in the United Kingdom.

A name cognate to Gael and Gaul. The French name is Pays de Galles (see Gaul). The Welsh call their country Cymru and themselves Cymraeg (see Cymru). The Bretons call Wales Kembre and the Welsh Kembraed (see Cumbria). North Wales is called by the Welsh Gwynedd. See also Welsh.


Inhabitants of the French speaking part of Belgium. The Wallons are simply “those of the River Waal”. They are called Waal by the Flemish people. Already in 56 B.C. the Vahales were were known as a people established at the mouth of the Rhine, near the Bataves. For the Germans the Wahal were a “Celtic” people.

Welsh, Welsch, Walach. Name given by the Slavic and German peoples to the Romance speaking populations established to the South and the West. The name results from the change g>w and means Gaulish or Gallic, as in Wales ® Welsh (French Pays de Galles, see Gaul). It has later been taken to mean “foreign”:



the people of Lorrain and French Switzerland



the people of Tirol





Wälscher Tal

Walser Tal, valley of the Welsch



turkey, a bird that came to Germany via the Welsch people




By the Slavic peoples:




Modern Greek


Romanian (borrowed from Slavic)



Romanian (borrowed from Slavic)









Romanian, Italian

The English Welsh, inhabitant of Wales, has the sense of Gaulish, not “foreigner”. In Brig (Switzerland) the Walser are the “mountain people” (Wälscher Tal, Walser Tal “valley of the Welsch”, formerly inhabited by a Romance people). It is interesting that a name meaning Gaulish has been taken to designate a Germanic people.

Yāwan. The ancient Hebrew name for Egypt.

The Greeks were called Yavanah in Sanskrit, Yevana by the Egyptians, Yaunā by the Persians and Yunan by the Baluchis. The Iaōnes (also Iōnos, Iaōnos, Ian) were the ancient Greek inhabitants of Attica, i.e. those near the Ionian Sea.

Yemen. A country in the Arabian peninsula.

In Arabic al-Yaman meaning “land of the south”, from yaman, yamīn “south”. The translation of al-`arabiyya al-yamaniyya into Latin Arabia Felix “happy Arabia” is due to the confusion of yaman “the south” with yamuna “to be happy”.

Yugoslavia. A former republic in the Balkans, now divided into Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Crna Gora (Montenegro), Serbia, Macedonia and Kosove. From Serbocroatian yug “south”: the Slavs of the South.

Yunnan. A Chinese province.

“The cloudy south”, from yun “cloud” and nan “South”.

Zaire. At one-time the name for the Republic of Congo.

Named after its main river, the Zaire; from nzai “river”.

Zambia. A country in eastern Africa.

Named after the river Zambezi “large river”. The element za “river” is also found in nzai Zaire (preceding name).

Zimbabwe. A country in eastern Africa.

From the Shona language zimba we bahwe “stone houses”, a reference to the stone constructions of the 9th century found there, a unique occurrence in Africa south of the Sahara.