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List of country name etymologies

From Academic Kids

This list covers English language country names with their etymologies. Some of these include notes on native names and their etymologies. Countries in italics no longer exist as sovereign political entities.


Contents: top - 0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

  • Afghanistan: The name means "land of the Afghans", though the meaning of the word Afghan remains unknown. One explanation derives it from Apakan, an 8th or 9th century Iranian ruler. Others point out a 3rd century AD Sasanian (kings of Iran who ruled most of Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan during 241642) reference to "Abgan", the oldest known mention of a word variant of "Afghan". It also appears in the inscriptions of Shahpur I at Naksh-e-Rustam which mentions a certain Goundifer Abgan Rismaund. The sixth-century Indian Astronomer Varaha Mihira, in his Brhat Samhita ((11.61; 16.38), refers to Afghans as Avagan. The seventh-century Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang refers to a people located to the north of Sulaiman Mountains whom he calls Apokien which obviously alludes to Avagans or Afghans. The first Muslim reference to "Afghan" appeared in Hudud-al-Alam in 982 CE. The celebrated Muslim scholar Al-Biruni (973 - 1048 CE) refers to the barbaric and rebellious tribes between Kabol in the west up to valley of Sindh (Indus) in the east as "Afghans" and specifically designates them as Hindus (Sachau's Trans. of Al-Biruni's India, pp 21-22, 199, 208, 239, 317). This also shows that the Afghans had not yet adopted Islam till Al-Biruni's time. - One suggested etymology for the name "Afghan" derives it from Sanskrit upa-ganah, said to mean "allied tribes". However, according to a modern view, the name Afghan evidently derives from Sanskrit Ashvaka or Ashvakan, the Assakenoi of Arrian (J. W. McCrindle, Saan Martin etc). In Sanskrit, word ashva (Iranian aspa, Prakrit assa) means "horse", and ashvaka (Prakrit assaka) means "horseman". Pre-Christian times knew the people of eastern Afghanistan as Ashvakas (horsemen), since they raised a fine breed of horses and had a reputation for providing expert cavalrymen. The fifth-century-BCE Indian grammarian Panini calls them Ashvayana and Ashvakayana. Classical writers use the respective equivalents Aspasios (or Aspasii, Hippasii) and Assakenois (or Assaceni/Assacani, Asscenus). Apparently, the Pre-Christian term Ashvakan mutated into Avagan at some stage before Varaha Mihira's time, and underwent further changes - to Afghan - probably around the beginning of middle ages. - The terms Abgan and Apakan, if indeed they refer to "Afghan", apparently represent Iranian variants of the Sanskrit Avagan. - Further, the designation Aspasios/Aspasii (=Isapzais/Aspazais) became the modern Yusufzais only a few centuries ago (see The Pathans, by Olaf Caroe). Scholars identify these Ashvakas i.e. Assakenois and Aspasios as the clans of the Kambojas (E. Lamotte). - The Persian suffix -stan expresses the meaning "land".
  • Albania: "land of the highlanders". "Alb" from the PIE root meaning "white" or "mountain". Mountain tribes from modern Kosovo are thought to have brought their highland ethnonym to the narrow coastal plain.
    • Shqipërië (Albanian name): means "land of the eagle", the eagle having probably been a tribal totem.
    • Arnavutluk (Turkish):
    • Illyricum (former name, Latin variant): after the Illyrians.
  • Algeria: from the name of the capital city Algiers: French: "Alger", from Arabic "al-Jazā'ir" ("The Island"). Al-Jazā'ir is the local name for Algeria.
  • America: see United States of America below, and under "naming of America"
  • American Samoa (territory of the United States of America): See Samoa and United States of America below.
  • Andorra: Unknown. Pre-Roman, possibly Iberian or Basque.
  • Angola: From ngola, a title used by the monarch of the pre-colonial Kingdom of Ndongo. Portuguese named in honour to a Ngola, friend of the Portuguese.
  • Anguilla (territory of the United Kingdom): When Christopher Columbus sighted the island in 1493 he called it "Anguilla" – Spanish for "eel", due to its elongated shape.
  • 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. Alternatively, it may refer to the indigenous Indians' beards.
  • Argentina: from the Latin "Argentum", meaning "silver". Early Spanish and Portuguese traders used the region's Rio de la Plata or "Silver River" to transport silver and other treasures from upstream Peru. The land around the terminal downstream stations became known as "Argentina" – "Land of Silver".
  • Armenia: Derived from the Persian name Armanestân and Arman attested in Old Persian inscriptions. Some believe the word Armen to refers to the ancient semi-legendary figure Aram, famed for his valiant deeds. Iranians call the people "Armens" or "Armenians".
    • Hayastan (Armenian name): after Hayk, an ancient semi-legendary figure who helped found Armenia. His people called themselves the Hay after him and their country "Hayk" or "Hayastan". -Stan is a Persian suffix meaning "land".
    • Filistan (Kurdish variant):
    • Sasomheti (სასომხეთი, Georgian), Somich (Сомих, Ossetian variant):
  • Aruba (territory of Netherlands): There are two possible meanings. One is that the island was named by Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. He named it "Oro Hubo", meaning that gold was present ("Oro" is Spanish for "gold"). Another possible meaning is that it derives from the Arawak Indian word "oibubai", which means "guide".
  • Australia: from "unknown southern land" (Latin: terra australis incognita). Early European explorers, sensing that the Australian landmass far exceeded in size what they had already mapped, gave the area a generic descriptive name. Explorer Matthew Flinders (17741814), the first to sail around and chart the Australian coast, used the term "Australia" in his publication. Previously Dutch explorers referred to the continent as "Hollandia Nova" (New Holland).
  • Austria: "eastern realm", c.f. modern German Österreich. 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. Under Charlemagne and during the early middle ages, the territory was known as marchia orientalis (Eastern March), translated to Ostarrîchi in the vernacular, as it first appears in a 996 document.
  • Azerbaijan: "land of fire", native spelling Azərbaycan (from surface fires on ancient oil pools; its ancient name, (Media) Atropatene (in Greek and Latin) or Atrpatakan (in Armenian), actually referring to the present-day Azerbaijan region of Iran, became Azerbaijan in Arabic. The territory of the modern republic of Azerbaijan was known to the Persians as "Aran" and in classical times as "(Caucasian) Albania" and, in part, "(Caucasian) Iberia", although this last term corresponds mostly to the present-day republic of Georgia. (See Georgia below.) Media Atropatene was the region further to the south, located south of the River Araxes. "Aran" is thought to derive from the same root as modern "Iran", while "Albania" and "Iberia" are believed to be toponyms of Caucasus mountain derivation. The name "(Media) Atropatene" comes from Atropates ("fire protector" in Middle Persian) who was the independent Iranian satrap at the time of the Seleucids. The modern ethnonym 'Azerbaijani' has often been the subject of sharp differences of opinion between the ethnically Turkic inhabitants of the modern republic of Azerbaijan and the inhabitants of the Persian-dominated neighboring republic of Iran. Iranians consider the names "Azerbaijan" and "Atropatene" as expressions of historically Persian culture, and therefore often refer to the modern republic of Azerbaijan as "Turkish Azerbaijan", and its inhabitants as "Azerbaijani Turks". In contrast, Turkophone Azerbaijanis insist on their own place as an historically continuous presence in Azerbaijani history. -an is a Persian suffix meaning "land".

B

  • Bahamas: from the Spanish "Baja Mar" meaning "Low (Shallow) Sea". Spanish Conquistadors thus named the islands from the waters around them.
  • Bahrain: from Arabic, 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, and some believe that the "two seas" are the waters of the bay on either side of the island. Others believe that the reference is to Bahrain's position as an island in the Persian Gulf, separated by "two seas" from the Arabian coast to the south and Iran to the north. Yet another claim is that the first sea is the one around Bahrain and the second sea is the abundant natural spring waters under the island itself.
  • Baker Island (territory of the United States of America): named after Michael Baker, of New Bedford, who claimed to have discovered it in 1832 (subsequent to its actual discovery).
  • Bangladesh: from Bengali/Sanskrit, Bangla referring to the Bengali speaking people, and Desh meaning "country", hence "Country of the Bengalis". The country previously formed part of colonial British India. Bengali culture spans a wider area, extending into present-day India (in West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Jharkand.
    • East Pakistan (former name): the name used when Pakistan comprised both modern-day Pakistan, or "West Pakistan", and modern-day Bangladesh – "East Pakistan". See Pakistan below. Note: though the name "Pakistan" comes from an acronym of the country's various regions/homelands, Bangladesh or its regions do not feature as paret of the acronym.
  • Barbados: Named by the Portuguese explorer Pedro A. Campos "Os Barbados" ("The Bearded Ones") in 1536 after the appearance of the island's fig trees, whose long roots resemble beards.
  • Bassas da India (territory of France):
  • Belarus: "White Rus'", "White Ruthenia", formerly known as Byelorussia, a literal translation from Russian, "White Russia". (See Russia below.) 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 nations. See Belarus: Name for more. The exact original meaning conveyed by the term "Bela" or 'White' is not certain. It was commonly employed by early cultures as representing the qualities of freedom, purity, or nobility. On the other hand, it may simply have originated as a totem color of convenience. It is interesting to note that part of the western territory of modern Belarus was historically known as "Chernarossija" or 'Black Rus'. The term "Black" was most commonly applied to landscapes bearing especially rich and productive soils. How this may reflect on the origination of the term 'White Rus' has not been explored. Yet another region in present-day western Ukraine was historically known as "Red Russia" or "Red Ruthenia".
  • Belgium: from the name of a Celtic tribe, the Belgae. Possibly further derived from the PIE "*bolg" meaning "bag" or "womb" indicating common descent, and if so, likely following some unknown original adjective.
  • Belize: traditionally said to derive from the Spanish pronunciation of "Wallace", the name of the pirate who set up the first settlement in Belize in 1638. Another possibility relates the name to the Maya word belix, meaning "muddy water", applied to the Belize River.
    • British Honduras (former name): after the colonial ruler (Britain). For "Honduras" see Honduras below. See also Britain below.
  • Benin: named after an old African Empire named Benin, on whose territory modern Benin does not actually lie.
    • Dahomey (former name): after the principal ethnic group of the country.
  • Bermuda (territory of the United Kingdom): gets its name from the Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermúdez who sighted the islands in 1503.
  • Bhutan: land of the Bhotia. Ethnic Tibetans or "Bhotia" migrated from Tibet to Bhutan in the 10th century. The common root is "Bod", an ancient name for Tibet.
    • Druk Yul (Bhutanese name): means "land of the thunder dragon", "land of thunder", or "land of the dragon". The name comes from the violent thunder storms that come from the Himalayas.
  • Biffeche: unchanged since at least the 17th Century; possibly a French spelling of an earlier local name; origin unknown. Arabic has the consonantal root 'BFSh'.
  • Bolivia: from Simón Bolívar 1783-1830, an anti-Spanish militant and first president of Bolivia after its independence in 1824. His surname comes from La Puebla de Bolibar, a village in Biscay, Spain
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: traditionally, the region consisted of two distinct territories; the larger northern section was named after the Bosna river. The smaller southern territory takes its name from the German noble title Herzog, meaning "Duke". The Emperor Frederick IV made the territory's ruler, the Grand Vojvoda Stjepan Vukcic, a duke in 1448.
  • Botswana: named after the country's largest ethnic group, the Tswana.
    • Bechuanaland (former name): derived from Bechuana, an alternative spelling of "Botswana".
  • Bouvet Island (territory of Norway): named after the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier who discovered the remote island in 1739.
  • Brazil: from the brazilwood tree, which in turn was named because its reddish wood was the color of red-hot embers (brasil in Portuguese).
  • Britain: from Pritani, "painted"; a reference to the original inhabitants of the islands use of body-paint and tattoos; may also derive from the Celtic goddess Brigid. See also United Kingdom below.
  • British Virgin Islands (territory of the United Kingdom): Christopher Columbus, on discovering a seemingly endless number of islands in the nort-east Caribbean in 1493, named them after St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins. See also Britain above.
  • Brunei: in its full name "Negara Brunei Darussalam", "Darussalam" means "Abode of Peace" in Arabic, while "Negara" means "State" in Malay.
  • Bulgaria: named for the Bulgars. The etymology of their tribal name, Bulgar may come from burg, which means "castle" in Germanic languages. A. D. Keramopoulos derives the name "Bulgars" from burgarii or bourgarioi meaning "those who maintain the forts" (burgi, bourgoi, purgoi) along the northern boundaries of the Balkan provinces, and elsewhere in the Roman Empire, first mentioned in Greek in an inscription dated A.D. 202, found between Philippopolis and Tatar Pazardzhik (and last published in Wilhelm Dittenberger's Sylloge inscriptionum graecarum, 3 ed., vol. II [1917], no. 880,1. 51, p. 593). The Bulgarians, previously known as Moesians, inhabited Thrace. - An alternative Turkic etymology for the name of the pre-Slavicised Central-Asian Bulgars derives from Bulgha meaning sable and has a totemistic origin. - Some associate the name Bulgar with the River Volga in present-day Russia: Bulgars lived in that region before and/or after the migration to the Balkans: see Volga Bulgaria.
  • Burkina Faso: means "land of upright people," "land of honest men" or "land of the incorruptible". The country was formerly called Upper Volta. The name was changed in 1984 by President Thomas Sankara, who had taken power in a coup the previous year. The two parts of the name are from two of the country's main languages: Moré (Burkina) and Dioula (Faso).
  • Burma: see Myanmar below.
  • Burundi: land of those speaking the Rundi language.

C

  • Cambodia: from Cambu Svayambhuva, an ancient sage from whom the original kings of Cambodia claimed descent. - Alternatively, said to derive from the ancient Khmer Kingdom of Kambuja. ("Kambuja" or "Kamboja" originally designated an early north Indian tribe/state.)
    • Kampuchea (local name): possibly derived in the same fashion. It was also the English language name from 1975-1989.
  • Cameroon: also Cameroun; from Portuguese Rio de Camarões ("River of Shrimps"), the name given to the River Wouri by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century.
  • Canada: from k'anata, meaning "little settlement" or "the village" in an Algonquian language (referring to Stadacona, a settlement near present-day Quebec City)
  • Cape Verde: from the Portuguese Cabo Verde, "green cape", after a cape in Western Africa
  • Caroline Islands: after King Charles II of Spain
  • Cayman Islands (territory of the United Kingdom): Christopher Columbus discovered the islands in 1503 after winds blew him off his course from Panama to Hispaniola. He called the islands Las Tortugas, meaning "The Turtles" in Spanish, due to the large numbers of turtles on the islands. Around 1540 the islands gained the name "Caymanas", a Carib word for "marine crocodile", an animal found on the islands.
  • Central African Republic: Gets its name from its geographical position on the continent of Africa. See also Africa on the Placename etymology page.
  • Chad: locally known in French as République du Tchad. Named for Lake Chad (or Tchad) in the country's southwest. The lake in turn got its name from the Bornu word tsade, which means "lake".
  • Chile: exact meaning unknown. Possiblities include that it comes from a native Araucanian term meaning "the depths", a reference to the fact that the Andes mountain chain looms over the narrow coastal flatland. The Quechua or Mapuche Indian word "chili/chilli" or "where the land ends/where the land runs out/limit of the world" also provides a possible derivation. Another possible meaning originates with a native word tchili, meaning "snow".
  • China: after the Qin Dynasty in Sanskrit, the pronunciation "China" came to the western languages through the Persian word چین "Chin". (see also: China in world languages)
    • Zhong Guo (Chinese name): meaning "center country"
    • Names like the archaic English Cathay, Turkish Xytai and Russian Kitai derive from the Khitan people who conquered China in the 10th century.
  • Christmas Island (territory of Australia): because Captain William Mynors discovered the island on Christmas Day in 1643.
  • Clipperton Island (territory of France): named after the English mutineer and pirate John Clipperton, who made it his hideout in 1705.
  • Cocos (Keeling) Islands (territory of Australia): "Keeling" after Captain William Keeling who discovered the islands in 1609.
  • Colombia: named after the explorer Christopher Columbus, despite the fact that he never actually set foot in the country.
  • Comoros: from the Arabic "Djazair al Kamar" – "Island of the moon".
  • Congo:
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of:
  • Cook Islands (territory of New Zealand): named after Captain James Cook who sighted the islands in 1770.
  • Costa Rica: means "rich coast" in Spanish, a name given to it by Spanish explorer Gil Gonzalez Davila.
  • Côte d'Ivoire: means "Ivory Coast" in French. The French named the region in reference to the ivory traded from the area - in similar fashion, nearby stretches of the African shoreline became known as the "Grain Coast", the "Gold Coast" and as the "Slave Coast".
  • Crimea: means "moat" in Turkic languages, as a memory of the moat that formerly separated this peninsular from mainland Ukraine.
  • Croatia, Latinization of the Croatian name Hrvatska: of unknown origin, but thought to come from a Sarmatian word for "herdsman" or "cowboy".
  • Cuba: Taíno Indian, "Cubanacan" – "centre place". In Portugal, many believe that the name echoes that of the Portuguese town of Cuba, speculating that Christopher Columbus provided a link.
  • Cyprus: derived from the Greek for "copper" (in Greek "Kypros"), in reference to the copper mined on the island.
  • Czechoslovakia: roughly "land of the Czechs and Slovaks" from the two main Slavic ethnic groups in the country, with "Slovak" deriving from the Slavic for "Slavs"; and "Czech" ultimately of unknown origin.
  • Czech Republic: from Čechové (Češi, i.e. Czechs), the name of one of the Slavic tribes on the country's territory, which managed to subdue the other Slavic tribes around 900. The origin of the name of the tribe itself remains unknown. According to a legend, it comes from their leader Čech, who brought them to Bohemia. Most scholarly theories regard Čech as a sort of obscure derivative, i.e. from Četa (military unit).
    • Bohemia (Latin and traditional English variant): after a Celtic tribe Boii.

D

E

  • East Timor: From the Malay word timur meaning "east". In its official Tetun language East Timor is known as Timor Lorosae or "east Timor". But the official name of the country is "Timor-Leste", Portuguese for East Timor. To neighbouring Indonesia it is known as Timor Timur, etymologically "eastern east". But in Indonesia the name is usually shortened as Tim-Tim.
    • Portuguese Timor (former name): after the former colonial ruler (Portugal). "Timor" as above. See also Portugal below.
  • Ecuador: "equator" in Spanish, as the country lies on the Equator.
  • Egypt: from ancient Greek (attested in Mycenean) Αίγυπτος, or Aígyptos, which according to Strabo, derived from "Αιγαίου υπτίως" (Aegeou yptios - the land below the Aegean sea). This becomes more apparent in the variation Aegyptos [1] (http://www.unrv.com/provinces/aegyptus.php). Alternatively, from the Egyptian name of Memphis, meaning "temple of the soul of Ptah".
    • Mişr (Arabic name, pronounced Maşr in Egyptian Arabic): a widespread Semitic word, first used to mean "Egypt" in Akkadian, and meaning "city". The Turkish name Mısır derives from the Arabic one.
    • Kimi (Coptic name): simply means "black" (ancient Egyptian kmt), as opposed to the desert, called "red".
    • Kemt (i.e. ancient Egyptian kmt, see above): the land of the "black" (mud of the Nile, or [as some have argued] people).
  • El Salvador: "the saviour" in Spanish, named after Jesus.
  • England: derived from the Old English name Englaland. The literatal translation of this is: the land of the Angles.
  • Equatorial Guinea: "Equatorial" from the word "equator", despite the fact that the country doesn't actually lie on the Equator (though it's very close). "Guinea" perhaps from the Berber term "aguinaoui", which means "black".
    • Spanish Guinea (former name): after the former colonial ruler (Spain). "Guinea" as above. See also Spain below.
  • Eritrea: named by Italian colonizers, from the Latin name for the Red Sea "Mare Erythraeum" which in turn was partially derived from the ancient Greek name for the Red Sea "Erythrea Thalassa".
  • Estonia: from the Germanic "eastern way", which substituted the earlier German spelling Estland. Scholars almost invariably derive these forms from the Aestia of the ancient Greek writings, Aestia actually referring to modern Masuria, in Poland, probably derived from a Baltic root meaning "speckled", and referred to the land "speckled" with lakes.
    • Chud (Old East Slavic): derived from the Gothic for "people" (see "Deutschland" under the heading "Germany"). Modern Estonians consider the term "Chud" offensive, as folk etymology derives it from the Slavic root for weird. Lake Peipus still bears the name of "Chudskoe Lake" in Slavic languages.
    • Igaunija (Latvian): named after Ugaunian tribe in Souther Estonia which in turn possibly derives from the Slavic yug (South).
    • Viro (Finnish variant): from the Vironian tribe in eastern Estonia.
  • Ethiopia: from the Latin "Aethiopia", meaning "land of the blacks" or more specifically "Land of Burned-Faces", its roots reflecting the Greek αἴθειν aíthein "to burn" and ὤψ ṓps "face".
    • Abyssinia (former name): derives from the Arabic habesh or 'mixed', a reflection of the many ethnic groups inhabiting the country. The term often appears incorrectly cited as cognate to the Latinate/Greek term "abyss".
  • Europa Island (territory of France):

F

G

H

  • Haiti: Taíno/Arawak Indian, "Hayiti/Hayti" meaning "mountainous land", the island it lies on is "Hispaniola" roughly, "little Spain", but was also originally known also as Hayiti.
  • Honduras: Christopher Columbus named the country "Honduras", Spanish for "depths", a reference to the deep waters off the northern coast.
  • Hong Kong (territory of China): Cantonese "Heung Gong", meaning "fragrant harbour" or "spice harbour", presumably from the fact that Hong Kong was a major trading port for spices.
  • Howland Island (territory of the United States of America): Captain George E. Netcher named the island after the lookout who sighted it from his ship the Isabella on 9 September, 1842.
  • Hungary: Turkic on-ogur, "(people of the) ten spears". In other words, "alliance of the ten tribes". Named after the seven Magyar tribes and three Khazar tribes who settled in the region. The ethnonym Hunni (referring to the Huns) has influenced the Latin (and English) spelling.
    • Uhorščyna (Угорщина, Ukrainian), Vuhorščyna (Вугоршчына, Belarusian) and Ugre in Old Russian: from the Turkic "on-ogur", see above. The same root emerges in the ethnonym Yugra, people living in Siberia and distantly related to Hungarians. As a matter of trivia, the first letter (transliterated as the two letters YU) in the name of the Russian oil-company Yukos represents an abbreviation of Yugra.
    • Magyarország (native name - land of the Magyars): According to a Hungarian legend, the Hungarians descended from Magor, the son of Nimrod of the Hebrew Bible. (Other sources call the father "Menrót" (Persian); and many ancient kings had the name "Nimrod", so any of them could serve.)
    • Wędżierskô (Kashubian):

I

  • Iceland: "land of ice" (Ísland in Icelandic). Popularly (but falsely) attributed to an attempt to dissuade outsiders from attempting to settle on the land. In fact the early settler/explorer Flóki Vilgerðarson coined the name after he spotted "a firth full of drift ice" to the north. This occurred during spring after an especially harsh winter during which all his lifestock had died and he had started debating whether to leave.
  • India: Derived from the original name Sindhu of the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan, which gave its name to the land of Sind. Derivations of the Persian form of this name, Hind, were then applied to all of modern Pakistan and India. Main article: Origin of India's name
    • Bharat (Hindi name): "Bharat" is often said to derive from the name of any of two ancient kings named Bharata.
    • rGya.gar (Dzongkha), rGya.gar.yal (Tibetan variant):
  • Indonesia: "Indies Islands" from the Greek νῆσος nēsos "island", added to the country name India. (Indonesia was previously known as the "East Indies").
  • Iran: "land of the Aryans" or "land of the free". The term "Arya" derived from the PIE (Proto Indo-European), and generally carrying the meaning of "noble" or "free", cognate with the Greek-derived word "aristocrat".
    • Persia: (former name): from Latin, via Greek "Persais", from Old Persian "Paarsa", a placename of a central district within the region, modern Fars. A common Hellenistic folk-etymology derives "Persia" from "Land of Perseus".
    • Uajemi (Swahili variant): from the word 'Ajam which was used by Arabs for naming Persians. The Arabic word 'Ajam means "the ones whose language we don't understand".
  • Iraq: from the city of Erech/Uruk (also known as "Warka") near the river Euphrates. It is believed to be the first major Sumerian city (and therefore the world's first as well). Another theory suggests that it derives from Irak which in older Iranian languages meant the Lesser Iran. Note that the natives of the western part of today's Iran also called their area "the Persian Iraq" for many centuries.
    • Mesopotamia (ancient name and Greek variant): From the ancient Semitic Beth-Nahrin, "Between the Rivers", a reference to the Tigris and Euphrates.
  • Ireland: after Éire from proto-Celtic *Īweriū "the fertile place" or "Place of Éire (Eriu)" a Celtic fertility goddess. Often mistakenly derived as "Land of Iron"
    • Hibernia (ancient name and Latin variant): apparently assimilated to Latin hibernus (wintry).
  • Israel: The Bible says that after 40 years in the desert, Moses led his followers to the Land of Israel, land promised by God to the descendants of the patriarchs, Jacob, Abraham and Isaac. Israel also served as an alternative name for Jacob, literally meaning "struggled with God/he struggles with God", after the story in Genesis in which Jacob wrestled with a man at Peniel.
  • Italy: From Latin Italia, the name having entered Latin from a non-Latin source. The etymology of Italia probably directly relates to an ancient Greek word italos (bull), from PIE *wet; the Greek word follows the sound-changes from Proto-Indo-European to Greek, but the Latin equivalent vitulus (young bull) from this root, does not. Speakers of ancient Oscan called Italy Viteliu, also from PIE *wet. Varro wrote that the region got its name from the excellence and abundance of its cattle (italos', "bull" hence italia). Some disagree with this etymology. Compare Italus.
    • Friagi or Friaz' in Old Russian: from the Byzantine appelation for the medieval Franks.
    • Valland (variant in Icelandic): land of "valer", (an Old Norse name for Welsh, later for all Celtic, peoples).
    • Włochy (Polish) and Olaszország (Hungarian): the same root as in Valland, see details under "Wallachia" below.
  • Ivory Coast: see Côte d'Ivoire above

J

K

L

  • Laos: from French "Laos", derived from Laotian "lao" meaning "a laotian" or "laotian", possibly originally from an ancient Indian word lava. "Lava" names one of the twin sons of the god Rama. Formerly known as "Lan Xang" or "Land of A Million Elephants".
  • Latvia: derived from the regional name "Latgale", itself a hydronym, most likely of Germanic origin. See also the discussion of the name "Lithuania".
  • Lebanon: from the Semitic "Laban", "white", referring to the snow on Lebanon's mountains
  • Lesotho: after the Sotho people.
  • Liberia: from the Latin liber, "free", so named because the nation was created as a homeland for freed American slaves.
  • Libya: after an ancient Berber tribe called Libyans by the Greeks and Rbw by the Egyptians. Up to and until the country's independence, the term "Libya" was largely restricted in meaning to the vast desert interposed between Tripolitanian Lowland and Fazzan plateau to the west and Egypt's Nile river valley to the west. With "Tripoli" the name of new country's capital and the old northeastern regional name 'Cyrenaica' having passed into obsolescence, "Libya" became the convenient name for the country, despite the fact that much of the Libyan desert is actually located in Egypt.
  • Liechtenstein: "light stone" ("light" in weight rather than in brightness). The country was named after the Liechtenstein dynasty 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.
  • Lithuania (Lietuva): Modern scholars tend to connect this name with the Latin "litus" (see littoral), but no proof exists of any similar regional hydronym. "Livtve", a Latin variant of the toponym, appears in a 1009 chronicle describing an archbishop "struck over the head by pagans in Lituae". A 16th-century scholar associated the word with the Latin word "litus", or tubes — a possible reference to wooden trumpets played by Lithuanian tribesmen. The country name "Latvia" and its region "Latgalia" may share the etymology of "Lithuania".
  • Luxembourg: from Celtic Lucilem "small" and Germanic burg "castle", thus lucilemburrugh "little castle".

M

  • Macedonia: After the ancient people named Macedonians, whose status as a Hellenic people remains disputed among scholars. Hesiod said the name derived from Makedon, the royal founder of the land, a son of Zeus and a grandson of Deucalion, first cousin to Aeolus, Dorus, and Xuthus. Though named after ancient Macedon, most of the territory of the modern Republic of Macedonia formed part of the kingdom of Paionia (inhabited by the ancient Paeonians), before Macedon and later still Rome conquered the area, which became part of the Roman province of Macedonia Salutaris or Macedonia Secunda. The legal name of the modern country remains currently a matter of dispute between the inhabitants of Greece (who claim the name "Macedonia" as their own cultural patrimony) and the Slavic inhabitants of the "Macedonian" republic (who claim the right to use such a term).
  • Madagascar: from the name of the island in Malagasy language: Madagasikara, itself derived from the proto-Malay "End of the Earth", a reference to the island's long distance by sea from an earlier (South East Asian) homeland.
  • Malawi: from the native word meaning "Flaming Water", believed to have derived from the sun's dazzling reflections on Lake Malawi.
    • Nyasaland (former name): "Nyasa" literally means "lake" in the local indigenous languages. The name applied to Lake Malawi (formerly Lake Nyasa, or "Niassa").
  • Malaysia: land of the Malay people. The country bore the name "Malaya" until the accession of Singapore (now seceeded), of Sabah and of Sarawak in Borneo, whence it changed its name. The change reflected the expansion of the state's boundaries beyond peninsular Malacca.
  • Maldives: From the Sanskrit mahal ("palace") (some sources say Tamil malai or Malayalam mala "mountain(s)"), and Sanskrit diva, "island", thus "palace island". The main island, Malé, held the palace of the islands' Sultan.
    • Dhivehi Raajje (Maldivian name):
  • Mali: after the ancient West African kingdom of the same name, upon which a large part of the modern state lies. The word "Mali" came in turn from the Malinke people.
  • Malta: from the Phoenician root MLT meaning "refuge". The term may have survived due to the existence of the Greek and Latin word melitta or "honey", the name of the island in classical times, and also the major export from the island during those centuries. The modern name comes from Maltese, previously from Arabic ملطة Malṭah, previously of the same Phoenician origin.
  • Marshall Islands: named after British Captain John Marshall, who first documented the existence of the islands in 1788.
  • Martinique (territory of France): When Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1502 (he had sailed past it in 1493 but neglected to land) he named it in honour of St. Martin.
  • Mauritania: misnamed after the classical Mauretania in northern Morocco, itself named after the Berber Mauri tribe.
  • Mauritius: named after the Dutch Stadtholder, Prince Maurice of Orange (1567 - 1625).
  • Mayotte (territory of France):
  • Mexico: after the Mexica branch of the Aztecs. The origin of the term "Mexxica" remains uncertain. Some take it as the old Nahuatl word for the sun. Others say it derived from the name of the leader Mexitli. Yet others simply ascribe it to a type of weed that grows in Lake Texcoco. Leon Portilla suggests that it means "navel of the moon" from Nahuatl metztli (moon) and xictli (navel). Alternatively, it could mean "navel of the maguey" (Nahuatl metl).
  • Micronesia: from the Greek words "mikros" (small) and "nesos" (islands) – "small islands".
  • Midway Islands (territory of the United States of America): named after their geographic location midway in the Pacific ocean. Originally named the Middlebrook Islands, after their discoverer Captain N.C. Middlebrooks ("Captain Brooks").
  • Moldova: from the river "Moldova" in Romania.
  • Monaco: "himself alone", a reference to the Greek demigod Hercules, once worshipped at a shrine on the territory. Alternatively, Monaco derives its name from the nearby Greek colony Monoikos founded in the 6th century B.C. by Phoceans. The Phoceans constructed a temple there, the temple of Hercules Monoikos (Μόνοικος means "single house" or "single temple").
  • Mongolia: from Mongol, which probably means "brave" or "fearless".
  • Montserrat (territory of the United Kingdom: Christopher Columbus named the island "Santa Maria de Montserrate" while sailing past it in 1493 because it reminded him of the Blessed Virgin of the Monastery of Montserrate in Spain.
  • Morocco from Marruecos, the Spanish pronunciation of the name of the city of "Marrakesh", believed to derive from the Berber roots tamart "land" + akush "God".
    • Al Maghrib (Moroccan name):means "the Farthest West".
  • Mozambique: from Moçambique Island (Portuguese: ilha de Moçambique), that in turn probably comes from the name of a previous Arab ruler, the sheik Mussa Ben Mbiki, that in spoken Portuguese sounds like Moçambique, when the word is used frequently.
  • Myanmar (formerly Burma). One explanation sees the name as a derivative of the Burmese short-form name Myanma Naingngandaw; an alternative etymology suggests that myan means "quick/fast" and mar means "hard/tough/strong". The renaming of the country has aroused political controversy; as certain minority groups and activist communities charge the symbolism of the move intended to strengthen the position of hard-line political elements inside the country. Correspondingly, such groups continue to refer to Myanmar as "Burma". The name Burma apparently derives from the Sanskrit name for the region: "Brahmadesh", land of (the deity) Brahma.

N

  • Namibia: from the coastal Namib Desert. "Namib" means "area where there is nothing" in the Nama language.
  • Nauru:
  • Navassa Island (territory of the United States of America):
  • Nepal: "wool market"
  • Netherlands: Germanic "low lands"
    • Holland (part of the Netherlands; the term is often used to refer to the country as a whole): Germanic "holt (i.e. wooded) land" (often incorrectly regarded as meaning "hollow [i.e. marsh] land")
    • Batavia (Germanic): "arable land" (derived from the regional name "Betuwe", as opposed to the other regional name "Veluwe" meaning "fallow" or "waste" land)
  • Netherlands Antilles: (territory of Netherlands):
  • New Caledonia (territory of France): Captain James Cook named the islands in 1774 in reference to Scotland. The mountains he saw reminded him of those in Scotland ("Caledonia" being Latin for "Scotland").
  • New Zealand: after the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands, which means "Sealand" in reference to the large number of islands it contains. New Zealand was originally named "Nieuw-Zeeland" by the Dutch, meaning "New Sealand". It is believed that the "Z" was retained to preserve the original Dutch pronunciation. The most common name for the country in indigenous Maori language is Aotearoa, meaning Land Of The Long White Cloud.
  • Nicaragua: named after Nicarao, a leader of an indigenous community inhabiting the shores of Lake Nicaragua, subsequently the ethnonym of that native community.
  • Niger: named after the Niger River, from a native term "Ni Gir" or 'River Gir'. The term is inevitably wrongly described as deriving from the Latin niger meaning 'black', a reference to the dark complexions of the country's inhabitants.
  • Nigeria: after the Niger river that flows through the western areas of the country and out into the ocean. See above "Niger".
  • Niue (territory of New Zealand): Niu means "coconut," and "é" means "behold." According to legend, the Polynesian explorers who first settled the island knew they were close to land when they saw a coconut floating in the water.
  • Norfolk Island (territory of Australia): named in 1774 by Captain James Cook. The beauty of the island so struck Cook that he named it in honour of the wife of Edward Howard, 9th Duke of Norfolk, a noble peer and benefactor.
  • Northern Mariana Islands (territory of the United States of America): Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan (he first European to sight the islands in 1521) named them Islas de los Ladrones (Islands of Thieves). In 1668 the name was changed to Las Marianas in honour of Mariana of Austria, widow of Spanish king Philip IV.
  • North Korea: see Korea above.
  • Norway: from the old Norse norðr and veg "northern way". The Norwegian name Norge is from the roots norðr and rike, "Northern Kingdom". 'Norðrveg' is a reference to long coastal passage from the western tip of Norway to its northernmost lands in the Arctic.
    • Urmane, or Murmane in Old Russian: from the Norse pronunciation of the word Normans. As a matter of trivia, this word survives in the name of the Russian city Murmansk.

O

P

  • Pakistan: The Cambridge student and Muslim nationalist Choudhary Rahmat Ali coined this name. He devised the word and first published it on 28 January 1933 in the pamphlet "Now or Never". He made the name an acronym of the different states/homelands/regions, which broke down into: P=Punjab, A=Afghania (Ali's preferred name for the North West Frontier Province), K=Kashmir, S=Sindh and the suffix -stan from BalochiSTAN, thus forming "Pakstan". An "i"-sound later intruded to ease pronunciation, producing "Pakistan". Rahmat Ali later expanded upon this in his 1947 book Pakistan: the Fatherland of the Pak Nation. In that book he explains the acronym as follows: P=Punjab, A=Afghania, K=Kashmir, I=Iran, S=Sindh, T=Turkharistan (roughly the modern central Asian states), A=Afghanistan and N=BalochistaN. Another shade of meaning is added with the Persian word پاک Pāk, which means "pure"; the full name therefore meaning "land of the pure". Use of the name gradually became widespread during the campaign for the setting up of a Muslim state in what was then British India. Note too the Persian suffix -stan meaning "land".
  • Palau:
  • Palestine: named after the ancient Philistines of the area around Gaza. The Greeks adopted the name to refer to the broader area, as Palaistinê, but Herodotus and others considered this as one part of Syria. The Roman Empire later adopted this concept in the form Syria Palaestina, as a new name for the province (formerly known as Judaea) after the defeat of Bar Kochba in AD 135.
  • Palmyra Atoll (territory of the United States of America): named after the boat Palmyra, which belonged to the American Captain Sawle. He sought shelter on the atoll on 7 November, 1802, and became the first person to land on it.
  • Panama: after a former village near the modern capital. From the Cueva Indian language meaning "place of abundance of fish/place of many fish", possibly from the Caribe "abundance of butterflies", or possibly from another native term referring to the Panama tree.
  • Papua New Guinea: "Papua" meaning "Land of the people with the frizzy hair", named by the neighbouring Malays (who generally have straight hair), or possibly the Portuguese explorer Jorge de Meneses. "New Guinea" comes from the Spanish explorer Inigo Ortiz de Retes, who thought that the people looked similar to those of Guinea in Africa.
  • Paraguay: the exact meaning of the word "Paraguay" remains unknown, though it seems to derive from the river of the same name. One of the most common meanings attributed to it is that it means "water of the Payagua", the Payagua being a native tribe. Another meaning is that it comes from the native words "paragua" and "i" meaning "crowned river".
  • Peru: the exact meaning behind the word "Peru" remains obscure: the most popular theory derives it from the native word biru meaning "river" (compare the River Biru in modern Ecuador). Another explanation claims that it comes from the name of the Indian chieftan Beru. Spanish explorers asked him the name of the land, but not understanding their language, he assumed they wanted his own name, which he gave them. Another possibility explanation traces the name to pelu, presumptively an old native name of the region.
  • Philippines: "lands of King Philip" (Philip II of Spain, reigned 1556 - 1598) - the "-in-" element at the end of the name functions adjectivally. A recent very romantic descriptive name, "Pearl of the Orient Seas" derives from the poem, "Mi Ultimo Adios" written by Philippine nationalist hero José Rizal.
  • Pitcairn Islands (overseas territory of the United Kingdom): a member of the English Captain Philip Carteret's crew in his boat HMS Swallow first sighted the remote islands in July 1767. Carteret named the main island "Pitcairn's Island" after the man who first saw land: the son of Major Pitcairn of the marines.
  • Poland: "land of Polans", the territory of the tribe of Polans (Polanie). When, in 10th century, the Polans formed a united Poland, this name also came into use for the whole Polish state. The name "Poland" (Polska) expressed both meanings, until, in 13th/14th century, the original territory of Polans became known as Greater Poland (Wielkopolska), instead. The name of the tribe comes probably from Polish "pole" ("field"), and means "people of the field".
    • Lengyelország (Hungarian), Lenkija (Lithuanian), Lahestân (Persian) all derive from Old East Slavic or Old Polish ethnonym lech, thought to be a dimunitive of ledenin ("man ploughing virgin soil").
  • Portugal: From the Latin portus, "port" and the name of the Roman port of Cale (modern Porto), on the site of the earlier Greek colony of Calle (beautiful in Greek). The compound name Portugal comes from the name of the Portus Cale (adding Portus to the old name), modern Porto. Thus, "Portugal", as a joint Greek and Latin word, means "Beautiful Port"
    • Lusitania (ancient name and Latin variant): after the Lusitani, probably of Celtic origin, as Lus and Tanus, "tribe of Lusus".
    • Ureno (Swahili):
  • Puerto Rico (territory of the United States of America): Christopher Columbus named the island "San Juan" in honour of Saint John in 1493. A capital city was set up called "Puerto Rico", meaning "rich port". For still unknown reasons the island and capital city changed names in the early 1500s.

Q

  • Qatar: derives from "Qatara", believed to refer to the Qatari town of Zubara, an important trading port and town in the region in ancient times. The word "Qatara" first appeared on Ptolemy's map of the Arab world. In the early 2000s the English pronunciation of the term has often been "Kutter",which is truer to the native pronunciation. However, more often than not, the traditional English pronunciation "Kuh-tahr" has prevailed.

R

  • Réunion (territory of France):
  • Romania: "Roman Realm": the Roman Empire conquered a large part of the territory of the country, and the inhabitants became Romanized (Romanians). Older variants of the name include "Rumania" and (in a French-influenced spelling) "Roumania"
    • Dacia, older name and Latin variant: named after the ancient people the Dacians
    • Wallachia, Slavic name of the country, from the Gothic word for 'stranger' (Walhs). This Germanic form may derive from a Celtic root, also present in the name of Wales.
  • Russia: from a Varangian group known as the Rus' and from the state of Kievan Rus' they contributed to founding. Soviet scholars disliked attributing the foundation of the Old East Slavic state to Scandinavian dynasts rather than to Slavic cultural groups, and therefore often insisted that the term "Rossija" derived from the name of the river Ros near Kiev. See Etymology of Rus and derivatives for details of this discussion. See also Ruotsi under "Sweden" below.
  • Rwanda: from the name of the people Vanyaruanda, a word of unknown origin, but obviously cognate to the name of the neighboring state of Burundi. Also known fondly as "Land of a Thousand Hills" (Pays des milles collines)

S

  • Saint Helena (territory of the United Kingdom): The Portuguese navigator Juan da Nova discovered the island on 21 May 1502, Saint Helena's Day, and named it for Saint Helena (mother of the Roman emperor Constantine)
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis: St. Kitts was named in honour of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelling. Christopher Columbus probably gave it this name, though this is not certain. British sailors later shortened the name to St. Kitts. "Nevis" derives from the Spanish phrase "Nuestro Senora del las Nieves", which means "Our Lady of the Snows", after the permanent halo of white clouds that surrounded mountains on the island.
  • Saint Lucia: according to tradition, named after Saint Lucy by French sailors shipwrecked on the island on 13 December 1502 – the feast day of Saint Lucy.
  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon (territory of France):
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: named after the Spanish Saint Vincent by Christopher Columbus on 22 January 1498, the day of the Feast of Saint Vincent.
  • Samoa:
  • San Marino: takes its name from Marinus, a (possibly legendary) Christian Stonemason who fled the island of Arbe (in modern day Croatia) to escape the anti-Christian Romans. He made his refuge on Mount Titano with his Christian followers in AD 301/AD 305 in the area that would be named San – Italian for "Saint" – Marino.
  • São Tomé and Príncipe: Portuguese: Saint Thomas and Prince (Islands).
  • Saudi Arabia: "Saudi" after the al-Saud family, who founded the country and who still rule it. The dynasty is named after its ancestor, "Sa`ûd", whose name means "very happy".
  • Senegal: after a Portuguese spelling of the Zenaga (Arabic Senhaja) tribe which dominated much of the area.
  • Serbia and Montenegro
    • Serbia: probably from the Slavic word for ally; the name of the Sorbs in present-day Germany has the same origin, the Serbs having migrated into the Balkan area from the region in Germany known as Lusatia, where the Sorbs currently live. As a matter of trivia, the former sovereign State, the principality of Anhalt-Zerbst, in deriving its name from the German town of Zerbst, may also have commemorated the Serbian/Sorbian ethnonym. - Some modern scholars postulate that "Serbia" represents just another pronunciation of the same Iranian root as "Croatia".
    • Montenegro: Named by Venetian conquerors montenegro, "black mountain", after the appearance of Mount Lovćen or most likely its dark coniferous forests. Crna Gora, the modern native name for the country, literally translates "Montenegro". The country previously had the names Zeta, Dioclea and Doclea (Duklja). "Doclea", the name of the region during the early period of the Roman Empire, reflected the name of an early Illyrian tribe. In later centuries, Romans "hyper-corrected" to "Dioclea", wrongly guessing that an "I" had disappeared due to vulgar speech patterns. The earliest Slavic name, "Zeta", derives from the name of a river in Montenegro which itself derives from an early root meaning "harvest" or "grain". (Contrary to popular belief, "Montenegro" is not a standard modern Italian name, as "black mountain" in Italian translates as monte nero without the "g".)
  • Seychelles: named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Finance Minister to King Louis XV of France.
  • Sierra Leone: adapted from the Spanish version: Sierra León -- of the Portuguese Serra-Leõa ("lion mountains"). Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra named the country after the striking mountains that he saw in 1462 while sailing the West African coast. It remains unclear what exactly about the mountains made them like lions. Three main explanations exist: the mountains resembled the teeth of a lion; the mountains looked like sleeping lions; or thunder that broke out around the mountains sounded like a lion's roar.
  • Singapore: the city was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 who adapted the name Singapore from the Malay Singapura, the earlier name of the island. Singapura in turn derives from the Sanskrit Simhapura (or Singhapura), which means the "Lion City". Another name of the island was Tumasik from the Malay or Javanese root tasik meaning sea.
  • Slovakia: from the Slavic "Slavs", which in turn is probably derived from the Slavic "glory" or "the word" or "people from the water" (disputed)
  • Slovenia: from the Slavic "Slavs", which in turn is probably derived from the Slavic "glory" or "the word" or "people from the water" (disputed).
  • Solomon Islands: the islands were 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.
  • Somalia:
  • South Africa: also called Suid Afrika in Afrikaans; takes its name (in English and Afrikaans) from its geographical position on the continent of Africa. See also Africa on the Placename etymology page. Occasionally referred to as Azania.
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (territory of the United Kingdom: On 17 January 1775 the British Captain James Cook landed on the main island and named it the "Isle of Georgia" in honour of King George III of the United Kingdom. He named the South Sandwich Islands after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who served as the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time and who had helped fund Cook's explorations.
  • South Korea: see Korea above
  • Soviet Union: see Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
  • Spain: Phoenician/Punic אי שפנים ʾÎ-šəpānîm "isle of hyraxes". The Phoenician settlers found hares in abundance, and mistook them for hyraxes of Africa; 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.
  • Sri Lanka: "Resplendent Lanka" in Sanskrit. The name "Lanka" is sometimes translated as island.
    • Serendip: ancient name derived from the Sanskrit "Sinhala-dweepa", meaning either "land of lions" or "land of the Sinhala people"; sinha being lion in Sanskrit, and the Sinhalas being the early Aryan inhabitants of the region.
    • Ceylon (English), Ceilão (Portuguese), Seilan: former names of the country from the Pali Sinhalana meaning "land of the lions".
  • Sudan: from the Arabic Bilad as-Sudan, "Land of the blacks". Originally referred to most of the Sahel region.
  • Suriname: after the Surinen people, the earliest known native American inhabitants of the region.
  • Svalbard (territory of Norway): name from Norse roots meaning "cold edge".
  • Swaziland: 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.
  • Sweden: an old English plural form of Swede. The exact development of the ethnonym remains uncertain, but it certainly derives from the Old Norse Sviþjoð. The etymology of the first element, Svi, links to the PIE *suos (one's own, of one's own kin). The last element, þjoð, means "people", cognate with Deut in Deutsch and Teut in Teutons. - The modern Swedish name of Sweden, Sverige, derives from the phrase Svia Rike, meaning "the realm of the Swedes" (probably through Danish, even though we know that a similar linguistic evolution happened within Swedish: mik->mig).
  • Switzerland: from the canton of Schwyz, possibly derived further from the OMH German Schweitz, meaning "swamp".
  • Syria: from the ancient Greek name for the ancient state of Assyria, although the original heartland of ancient Assyria is actually located in modern Iraq. Before the Greeks, the area of the modern state of Syria was known as Aram, after which the Aramaic language, a former lingua franca of the Middle East still spoken in a few villages there today, is named.

T

  • Taiwan (de facto independent; claimed by China): the Han characters used today mean "Terraced Bay" in Chinese. (Terraced rice fields are typical of Taiwanese landscape.) However, older characters (e.g. 台員) have entirely different meanings. Moreover, some scholars believe the characters are merely convenient phonetic vehicles for writing down an older Austronesian name. It was believed that in the early 17th century, when the Dutch East India Company came to build a commercial post at today's Tainan (Chinese meaning "south of Taiwan"), they adopted the name of an aboriginal tribe transliterated as "Tayouan" or "Teyowan" in their records. This very name was also adopted by Chinese merchants and later by officials, although different transliteration into Han characters tended to obscure the real etymology by sound, and often evoked varying myths and imaginings. An old-fashioned story traced "Taiwan" to a Minnan phrase (埋冤) with the same pronunciation, meaning "burying the unjustly dead," suggesting how risky the sea journey to Taiwan was. But this kind of story has given way to more persuasive evidence from ethnological and colonial sources.
    • Formosa (former name): Portuguese for beautiful, supposedly because of the beauty of the island.
  • Tajikistan or "Tajikstan": the name means "land of the Tajiks", though the meaning of the word "Tajik" remains unclear. Three main explanations exist. Popularly, the ethnonym derives from the Persian words "taj" meaning "crown" and "ik" meaning "head" i.e. "person wearing (or 'with') a crown on their head". The Tajik flag features a crown symbol on it in support of this explanation. Alternatively, "Tajik" may derive from a Turkic root "tasi" meaning "Muslim". In third possible explanation, the name derives from the Sanskrit word tajika meaning "Persian" (the Tajiks have close kin-ties to the Iranians (Persians). The Tibetans call Persia "sTag.Dzig" (Pronounced "Tajik") but in Tibetan this means "tiger-leopard". This could explain why so many Tibetan legends about their western neighbours feature tiger/leopard combinations. The word "Tajik" in the Iranian world simply means the Persian. The suffix -stan, from Persian, means "land".
  • Tanzania: a combination of the names of two states that merged to form this country, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar.
  • Thailand: from the native Thai thai, meaning free + land; hence "land of the free".
    • Siam (former name): The name was given to the ancient Thai people by their neighbours the Burmese, and probably derives from the Pali toponym Suvarnabhuma "Land of Gold", the ultimate root the Pali root "sama", which variously denoted different shades of color, most often brown or yellow, but sometimes green or black.
  • Togo: from the settlement Togo, currently Togoville. In Ewe, to is "water" and go "shore".
    • French Togoland (former name): See Togo above and France above
  • Tokelau (territory of New Zealand): from the native "North" or "Northern", describing the islands' location relative to Samoa. Samoa is the place from which Tokelau is believed to have been settled.
  • Tonga: from the native "South" or "southern".
  • Trinidad and Tobago: "Trinidad" was named by Christopher Columbus in 1498, so called because of the Trinity Hills/Three Sisters mountains on the island and the Christian trinity (trinidad is Spanish for trinity or trio). "Tobago" is a corruption of "tobacco" (in Spanish: "Tobaco"), which was grown and smoked by the natives.
  • Tromelin Island (territory of France):
  • Tunisia: after its capital Tunis, whose name possibly derives from a Berber word signifying a small cape[2] (http://www.mondeberbere.com/culture/chafik/maghreb/substratberbere.htm).
  • Turkey: Türkiye can be divided into two words "Türk" which refers to "strong" in Turkish and usually signifies the habitants of Turkey or a member of Turkish nation; and Arabic suffix "iye" which means "owner" or "related to". The root is commonly cited among early Altaic tribal ethnonyms, and is shared by the modern inhabitants of Turkmenistan.
  • Turkmenistan from Turkmen and -stan. -Stan is a Persian suffix meaning "land". "land of the Turkmen people. See Turkey, above.
  • Turks and Caicos Islands (territory of the United Kingdom): "Turks" after the indigenous Turk's Head "fez" cactus and "Caicos" from the indigenous Lucayan term "caya hico", meaning "string of islands".
  • Tuvalu: from the native "eight islands" or "eight standing with each other" (Tuvalu actually consists of nine isands in Tuvalu - only eight of them traditionally inhabited). An earlier name, Niulakita, the name of the first atoll settled in 1949, became suppressed.
    • Ellice Islands (former name): named after Edward Ellice, a British politician and merchant, by Captain Arent de Peyster who sighted the islands in 1819 in the ship Rebecca. Ellice owned the cargo of the ship. The Ellice Islands received the name Tuvalu following a vote for secession from the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) in 1975/1976.

U

  • Uganda: from the earlier "Buganda", "land of men", the ethnonym of the region's dominant group.
  • Ukraine: from the Slavic "border territory" etymologically identical to the word "krajina"
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: also called the Soviet Union for short. Self-explanatory, but for the word "Soviet" which means "Council", but also became an adjective denoting persons from the country.
  • United Arab Emirates: self-explanatory; an emirate is a territory ruled by an emir.
  • United Kingdom: full name is "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland": self-explanatory; "Kingdom" in reference to the monarchy. see also "Britain" above and List of subnational name etymologies.
  • United States of America: The origin of the word "America" is in some doubt, but one popular theory is that it is derived from the name of explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci (see the article on the naming of America.) "United States" comes from the end of the Declaration of Independence, "WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS, Assembled..." and was reiterated in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, "We the People of the United States..." (The phrase "united states" was probably used in place of a list of colonies/states because the authors of the documents couldn't be certain which colonies/states would sign off on the sentiments therein.)
  • Uruguay: the name comes from the River Uruguay, (indeed its official name Republica Oriental del Uruguay – "oriental" meaning "east" – references its position east of the river). The word "Uruguay" itself may derive from the Guaraní Indian word "urugua" which means "river of shellfish". Another possible explanation holds that the name "Uruguay" divides into three component Guaraní words: uru (a kind of bird that lived near the river); gua ("to proceed from"); and y ("water").
  • U.S. Virgin Islands (territory of the United States of America): Christopher Columbus named the islands in 1493 after St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins, as he gained the impression of a seemingly endless number of islands. See also United States of America above.
    • Danish West Indies (former name): after the former colonial ruler (Denmark).
  • Uzbekistan: means "land of the Uzbeks". The Uzbek people adopted the word "Uzbek" as a tribal name around the mid-1400s: it means "master/lord of oneself". Uz in Turkic means "self" and Bek, of Iranian (Sogdian) origin, means "master". The Persian suffix -stan means "land".

V

W

X

There are no countries that begin with this letter.

Y

  • Yemen: from the Arabic root ymn, whose basic meaning is "right"; however, its exact meaning is disputed. Some sources claim it is from the form yamîn, meaning "right-hand side" and by extension "south" (many Semitic languages, including Arabic and Hebrew, show traces of a system in which south = right while north = left), while other sources claim that it is from the form yumn, meaning "happiness" or "blessings" (arising from the widespread idea that right = good.) The name (to the classical world "Arabia Felix") originally referred to the entire southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Yugoslavia (former name): from "Jugoslavija" that means "Land of the South Slavs" (South Slavic jug = English south).

Z

See also

External link

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