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List of country name etymologies
This is a list of countries with their name origins.
See also: List of subnational name etymologies, Placename etymology,
political entities named after people
* Afghanistan - Possibly from the Sanskrit 'Upa-Ghana-Stan', "land of the
* 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.
The native name Shqip‘ria means "land of the eagle", the eagle having
probably been a tribal totem.
* America - see United States of America below, and under "naming of America"
* Argentina - from the Latin "Argentum" meaning 'silver'. Early 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'.
* Australia - from "unknown southern land" (Latin - terra australis
incognita). The territory was named by early European explorers who
were conscious of the fact that the Australian landmass was far larger
than they had yet investigated. Explorer Matthew finders (1774-1814),
the first to sail around and chart the Australian coast, used the term
"Australia" in his publication.
* Austria - "eastern kingdom", c.f. modern German …sterreich. 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
* Azerbaijan - "land of fire" (from surface fires on ancient oil pools;
its ancient name Atropatene became Azerbaijan in Arabic)
* Bahamas - from the Spanish Baja Mar meaning 'Low (Shallow) Sea'.
Spanish Conquistadors thus named the islands for the waters around them.
* Barbados - Named by the Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos "Los
Barbados" 'The Bearded Ones' after the appearance of the island's fig trees.
* Belarus - "White Ruthenia", formerly Byelorussiya, "White Russia". See
below, Russia. 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 - from a Spanish mispronunciation of the name "Peter Wallece",
the pirate who created the first settlement in Belize in 1638.
* Benin - named after an old African Empire named Benin, on whose
territory modern Benin does not actually lie. What is now Benin was
previously known as Dahomey, after its principal ethnic group.
* Belgium - from the name of a Celtic tribe, the Belgae.
* 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.
* Brazil - from the type of wood, and the Gaelic myth of the magical
island of Hy Brasil
* Britain - "painted"; a reference to the original inhabitants of the
islands use of body paint and tattoos; may also derive from the Celtic
* Bolivia - from Simon Bolivar 1783-1830, an anti-Spanish militant and
first president of Bolivia after its independence in 1824.
* 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 rank was conferred upon
the territory's ruler Grand Waywode in 1448 Stephan Vikcic by Emperor
* Botswana - named for the country's largest ethnic group, the Tswana.
* Bulgaria - "land of the tribe formed of many tribes", "Bulg" from a
Turkic root meaning "mixed"
* Burkina Faso - "land of upright people" or "land of honest men" or
"land of the incorruptible". Previously the country was named "Upper
Volta", after the Volta's two main tributary rivers, both originating
in Burkina Faso.
* Cameroon - from Portuguese for "prawns" or "shrimp"
* Canada - "little settlement" or "the village" in Algonquian
* Chile - Unknown. Possibly from a native Aracaunian term meaning "the
depths", a reference to the fact that the Andes mountain chain looms
over the narrow coastal flatland. The Qechua word 'chili' or 'limit of
the world' is also a possible derivation.
* China - after the Qin Dynasty in Sanskrit (see also: China in world
* Colombia - after "Christopher Columbus"
* Comoros - from the Arabic "Djazair al Kamar" 'Island of the moon'.
* Costa Rica - "rich coast" in Spanish
* Croatia - *unknown, but thought to be Sarmatian in origin
* Cuba - Taino Indian, "Cubanacan" 'center place'
* Cyprus - Named for its copper mines.
* Denmark - from PIE *dhen "low" or 'flat' and Germanic "mark" - "border
land" and/or "border forest". Name used by the ancient Goths to
describe the Forest separating Gothland from (then Danish) Scania.
* Djibouti, 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.
* Dominica - From the Latin "Dies Dominica" meaning "Sunday", the day of
the week Christopher Columbus first landed on the island.
* Druk Yul (Bhutan) land of the thunder dragon, land of thunder, or land
of the dragon.
* Ecuador - "equator" in Spanish
* El Salvador - "the saviour" in Spanish, named for Jesus Christ.
* Egypt - "temple of the soul of Ptah"
* Equatorial Guinea - from the word 'equator' for that country's
geographical location, and perhaps from the Berber term "aguinaoui",
which means "black".
* Eritrea - named by Italian colonizers, from the ancient Greek name for
the Red Sea "Erythrea Thalassa".
* Estonia - from the Germanic "eastern way". Usually wrongly derived from
Aestia of the ancient Greek writings, Aestia actually being modern
Masuria in Poland, and probably derived from a Baltic root meaning
"speckled", the land being 'speckled' with lakes.
* Ethiopia - from the Latin "Aethiopia", meaning "land of the blacks",
its roots the Greek aithein "to burn" and ops "face". The old name
"Abyssinia" is derived from the Arabic "mixed", a reflection of the
many ethnic groups inhabiting the country.
* Fiji - from the Tonganese name for the islands 'Viti'.
* Finland - from the Germanic Fennland, probably from a root meaning
"wanderers". Suomi the name the natives use, may derive from the Baltic
root for "land".
* France - "land of the Franks", literally "land of the free men". The
region had earlier been known as Gallia (Gaul), from the name of a
* Gabon from the Portuguese pronunciation of the river name Mbe. "Gabao"
in Portuguese is a type of hooded overcoat.
o Germany - "land of the spear men" from the Germanic "Gar" "spear".
o Allemagne - "land of all the men" i.e. "our many tribes"
o Deutschland - "land of the people"
o Nemetsy (Polish:Niemcy; Romanian: Nem?i; Czech: Nemecko) - "land
of the mute" (where "mute" is a metaphor for "those who do not
speak our language"). Some Eastern Europeans use this word to
* Ghana - after the ancient West African kingdom of the same name. The
modern territory of Ghana was however never part of the previous
* Greece - from the name of a certain region, and Hellas "land of light"
* Grenada - after the southern Spanish city of the same name.
* Guyana - possibly from the local "Guainazes", "people worthy of
* Haiti - Taino Indian, "Hayiti' "Tall Mountain", the island it lies on
is 'Hispaniola' roughly, 'little Spain', but was also originally known
also as Hayiti.
* Honduras - from the Spanish "depths", a reference to the deep waters
off the northern coast.
* Hungary - "people of the 10 spears." In other words, "alliance of the
* Iceland - "land of ice"
* India - After the river Indus (in Hindi). The native name "Bharat" is
often said to derive from the name of an ancient king "Jada Bharatha",
but it could possibly also derive from a different king, Bharat, the
son of the legendary king Dushyanta. A third possibility is that it
derives from the name of the god "Bharat", brother of the famous god
* Indonesia - "Indian Islands" from the Greek root nesos, island, added
to the country name India.
* Iran - "land of the Aryans" or "land of the free". The term "Arya"
derived from the PIE, and generally carrying the meaning of 'noble' or
'free', cognate with the Greek-derived word "aristocrat".
* Iraq - from the ancient Semitic "Uruk" meaning "between the rivers", a
reference to the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates.
* Ireland - after Eire or Eriu, an ancient fertility goddess. Often
mistakenly derived as "Land of Iron"
* Israel - an alternative name for the biblical patriarch Jacob,
literally "struggled with God."
* Italy - "son of the bull god" or "calf god", the term originally
referring only to a small region at the southern end of modern Italy.
* Jamaica Taino Indian "Hamaica", land of wood and water, or perhaps
"Land of Springs".
* Japan - "nzyet-pwun kwuk" in Chinese or "sun origin country" or "land
of the rising sun", indicating Japan as lying to the east of China
(where the sun rises). Japanese scholars borrowed the term, simplifying
it from Nippon-gu to Nihon-gu, currently simply Nihon or Nippon,
"Origin of the sun."
* Kenya - after Mount Kenya.
* Korea - after the Koryu Goryeo Dynasty, the first Korean dynasty
visited by westerners. The native name is Hangeuk. The ancient Choson
meant "land of morning calm".
* Kuwait - from the Arabic "Kut" meaning 'Fort'
* Lebanon - fromt the Semitic "White Mountains"
* Liberia - from the Latin liber, 'free', so named because the nation was
created as a homeland for freed American slaves.
* 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
* Luxembourg - (Celtic 'Lucilem' "small" and Germanic 'burg' "castle",
lucilemburrugh) 'little castle'
* Malawi - from the native "Flaming Water", perhaps after the reflections
on lake Malawi.
* Malaysia - land of the Malay people
* Maldives - From the Sanskrit mahal, 'palace', diva, 'island', thus
"palace island". The main island, Male, held the palace of the islands'
* Malta - from the Phoenician MLT meaning "refuge". The term may have
been kept long in currency by 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.
* Marshall Islands named after British Captain John Marshall, who was the
first to document the existence of the island in 1788.
* Mauritius - named after Dutch Staatholder, Prince Maurice of Orange
* Mexico - after the Mexica branch of the Aztecs
* Micronesia - from the Greek for "small islands".
* Moldova - from the river "Moldova" in Romania, itself named for the
open pit mining its waters assisted. Molde is the German term for such
* Monaco - "himself alone" a reference to the Greek demigod Hercules
* Morocco from the city "Marakesh". The native name "Al Maghreb al Aqsa",
means "the Farthest West".
* Nepal - "wool market"
o Netherlands - Germanic 'low lands'
o Holland (often used to refer to the Netherlands) - Germanic 'holt
(i.e. wooded) land' (often incorrectly regarded as meaning 'hollow
[i.e. marsh] land')
o Batavia (Germanic) - 'arable land' (derived from Betuwe as opposed
to -the regional name "Veluwe" meaning 'fallow' or 'waste' 'land'
* New Zealand - after Zealand ['Sj¾lland'] Denmark or "Zealand" province
of the the Netherlands.
* Nigeria - from a local African language "Ni Gir", "river Gir"
* Norway - from the old Norse northr and veg "northern way". The
Norwegian name Norge is from the roots northr and rike, "Northern
* Pakistan - an acronym (Punjab, Afghan frontier, Kashmir, Indus Valley)
plus -stan; also happens to form the word land of the pure
* Palestine - from the Roman name for the country, literally "land of the
Philistines" ("Philistines" itself is from the Semitic root P.L.Sh.,
* Panama - after a former village near the modern capital. From the Cueva
Indian language meaning "place of abundance of fish", possibly from the
Caribe "abundance of butterflies", or possible from another native term
refering to the Panama tree.
* Papua - "Papua" meaning "Land of the people with the frizzy hair",
named by the neighboring Malays (who generally have straight hair).
* Peru - possibly after the River Biru in modern Ecuador.
* Philippines - "lands of King Philip" (the 16th century Spanish
* Poland - From the Germanic polen, "fields".
* Portugal - From the Latin portus cale, after the name of the Roman port
of Gaya, modern Oporto.
* Romania -"Roman Realm" A neologism coined after the 19th century
unification of Moldavia and Wallachia. A reminder that the local
romanized population, the Rum‰ni or Rom‰ni believed themselves to be
the descendants of the ancient Roman legions, as their speech descended
from the Latin.
* Russia - from an old Viking group known as the Rus, and from the
kingdom they founded in present-day Ukraine.
* Samoa - "Sacred Moa Preserve", after the Moa, a native hen-like fowl.
In legend a sacred hen enclosure "Sa-moa" was created by King Lu. After
battles to protect it, he had a son he named "Samoa" who became the
progenitor of the Moa clan, who came to dominate the island of Manu'a
and the whole Samoan area.
* San Marino - after Saint Marinus of Rimini who is said to have founded
San Marino in 301 AD.
* Serbia and Montenegro
o Serbia - unknown, possibly Sarmatian in origin; name of Sorbs in
present day Germany is of same origin, the Serbs having migrated
into the Balkan area from the region in Germany known as Lusatia,
where the Sorbs are currently found.
o Montenegro - Named by Venetian conquerors montenegro, "black
mountain", after the appearance of Mount Lovcen or most likely its
dark coniferous forests. Crna Gora, the modern native name for the
country, is a literal translation of "Montenegro". The country had
previously been known as "Zeta", Dioclea (Serbo-Croat Duklia) and
Doclea. "Doclea" the name of the region during the early period of
the Roman Empire, was termed for an early Illyrian tribe. In later
centuries, Romans "hyper-corrected" to "Dioclea" wrongly guessing
that an I had been lost 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 Italian, as "black mountain" in Italian is monte nero without
* Sierra Leone - the name means lion mountains in Spanish.
* Singapore - from the Sanskrit "Simhapura", "Lion City"
* Slovakia - from the Slavic "glory" or "the word"
* Slovenia - from the Slavic "glory" or "the word"
* Spain - Phoenician 'Rabbit coast'
* Sudan - from the Arabic Bilad as-Sudan, 'Land of the blacks'
* Sweden - "land of the Svear". The development of the ethnonym is
uncertain, but derives from the Old Norse "Svithjoth", Svithjoth and
Svithjoth the Great used to denote various land areas figuring in Norse
mythological and legendary tales, including areas in Scadinavia and
modern Russia. The term Svear may have come into use primarily as a
means of distinguishing the ancient culture of what is now central
Sweden from that of the ethnic Goths, who were located to its south.
Thus one region would be the 'Svealand' and the other 'Gothland' or
* Switzerland - from the canton of Schwyz, possibly derived further from
the OMH German "Schweitz", meaning Swamp.
* Taiwan - "Terraced bay" in Chinese. Terraced rice fields are typical of
* Tajikistan - from a Turkic root tasi meaning 'Muslim'.
* Tanzania - a combination of the names of two states that merged to form
this country, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar.
* Timor From the Malay word timur meaning "east". In its official Tetun
language East Timor is known as Timor Lorosae or 'east Timor'. To
neighboring Indonesia it is known as Timor Timur, etymologically
* Thailand - from the native Thai "Land of the free". Previously the
country had been as:
o Siam - The name was given to the ancient Thai people by their
neighbors Burmese, and probably derives from the Pali toponym
"Suvarnabhuma" 'Land of Gold', the ultimare 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'.
* Tonga - from the native 'South' or 'southern'. In the 19th century, the
territory was known as "Friendship Islands", so named by Captain James
* Trinidad and Tobago - "Trinidad" after the 3 prominent mountain peaks
on the island and the Christian trinity (trinidad is Spanish for
trinity or trio), "Tobago", after "tobacco", smoked by the natives.
* Tuvalu - from the native "eight islands" or "eight standing with each
other". An earlier name, Niulakita, was suppressed ; it was the name of
the first atoll settled in 1949.
* Uganda - from the earlier "Buganda", "land of men", the ethnomym of the
region's dominant group.
* Ukraine - "border territory" etymologically identical to kraijina in
* United States of America - from the explorer and cartographer "Amerigo
Vespucci", who added his own surname prominantly on the maps he sold of
the new world, consumers confusedly believing the name to be the name
of the new land.
* Vanuatu - From the Bislama "Forever on our Land". The territory was
known earlier as the New Hebrides, after the islands in Scotland.
* Vatican City '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.
* Venezuela - "Little Venice", from "Venizia" and the diminutive "ela".
European explorers having were impressed by the native stilt-houses
built on Lake Maracaibo and decided to name the region after Venice.
* Vietnam - "Southern land", The original core of Vietnamese civilization
having been farther north.
* Zambia - after the River Zambezi