Countries in other Languages

Different names of different countries

This is a list of countries whose name is very different in various languages. I find it especially interesting when a country is known by a certain name in most languages but has a completely different name in the native language of the country (the so-called endonym). I focus on European languages.

Hungary — Magyarország

Hungary has a similar name in many languages, like French Hongrie, German Ungarn, Spanish Hungría, Swedish Ungern, and even in languages that are related to Hungarian: Finnish Unkari and Estonian Ungari.

Hungarians call their own country Magyarország—completely different—stemming from Magyar, the Hungarian people. Other languages that have a name based on this are Czech and Slovakian Maďarsko, Slovene Madžárska, Serbo-Croatian Mađarska, and Turkish Macaristan.

Yet another name is used by Polish, Węgry, and Russian: Венгрия (Vengriya). This root apparently has the same etyomology as "Hungar": Proto-Slavic ǫgъrinъ (from which Russian угрин (ugrin) also came 1).

Interestingly, Ukrainian uses Угорщина (Uhorščyna), differing from Russian Vengriya. Kyrgyz uses Венгрия (Vengriya, probably from Russian?) while in closely related Kazakh the country is known as Мажарстан (Majarstan), similar to Turkish.

Finland — Suomi

Most languages know Finland as something similar to the English name: Danish/Swedish/Dutch Finland, German/Icelandic Finnland, Spanish/Italian/Polish Finlandia, Turkish Finlandiya, Czech Finsko, Russian Финляндия (Finlyandiya).

The Fins themselves call their country Suomi—and, in fact, the Finnish language doesn't even use the letter F natively. (France in Finnish is Ranska; it just skips the F). Languages related to Finnish use a similar name for Finland: Estonian Soome, Eastern Mari Суоми (Suomi), Northern Sami Suopma. Although not related, Latvian Somija and Lithuanian Suomij also follow suit. Besides other languages related to Finnish, it seems that only Abkhaz Суоми (Suomi) uses a name with this root, all others using a "Fin"-flavored name.

Georgian also doesn't have /f/ natively and calls Finland ფინეთი (pineti), substituting /f/ with /pʰ/.

Italy — Włochy — Olaszország

Some "regular" name examples for Italy (or Italian Italia) include French Italie, German/Danish/Swedish Italien, Spanish/Romanian Italia, Dutch Italië, Turkish İtalya, Greek Ιταλία (Italía), Bulgarian/Russian Италия (Italiya), Serbo-Croatian Italija. Italy in Vietnamese is simply called Ý. Slovak Taliansko stands out a little (vs. Czech Itálie).

In Polish, however, the country has a completely different name: Włochy. It comes from Proto-Slavic volxъ, which was a word to designate a Roman person, coming from Proto-Germanic *walhaz ("foreigner"). Interestingly, there are Romanian-speaking minorities who call themselves Vlachs, whose name shares the same etymology. Names Welsh, Walloon and Gaul also come from Proto-Germanic *walhaz.2 The Hungarian name for Italy, Olaszország, also stands out. Note the -ország ("country") ending which we saw in the name for Hungary in Hungarian, Magyarország. Although not apparent, the intial "olasz" part actually has the same etymology as the Polish name: it also comes from Proto-Slavic volxъ, via Serbo-Croatian Vlah.3

Wales — Cymru — Bretyn

In the section for Italy we saw that Wales comes from Proto-Germanic *walhaz. Many languages also use Wales as name, e.g. German, Czech, Hungarian, Serbo-Croatian; or Bulgarian Уeлс, Russian Уэльс, Ukrainian Уельс (all roughly "Uels"). Latvian Velsa and Lithuanian Velsas have adapted the name a little more. Special mention also for Afrikaans Wallis, which, confusingly, is the same as the German name for the canton of Valais in Switzerland.

Not evident at first glance, but Italian/French Galles, Spanish/Portuguese Gales, Turkish Galler share the same origin and were imported from Old English Wealas. (Germanic words borrowed into French often have a change from w to gu.4)

The Welsh call their country Cymru in their language. Similar names are found in Scottish Gaelic, A' Chuimrigh, and Breton Kembre. Manx Bretyn and Irish An Bhreatain Bheag remind us more of "Breton" or even "Britain", and this is not a coincidence. The Irish name literally means "Little Britain"—and Britain and Brittany share the same etymology: they come from Latin Britannia (ultimately originating from a Celtic name).

Germany — Deutschland — Allemagne — Saksa — Niemcy

Germany in German is called Deutschland, Deutsch meaning German. Note the similarity to Dutch, which has the same origin: Proto-Germanic *þiudiskaz.5 Some other languages that call Germany with a "Deutsch" root are: Afrikaans/Dutch Duitsland, Danish/Norwegian/Swedish Tyskland, Icelandic Þýskaland.

Next noticeable group is the one English belongs to: Germany, or Albanian Gjermania, Bulgarian/Russian Германия (Germaniya), Hebrew גֶּרְמַנְיָה‎ (Germanya), Italian Germania, Maltese il-Ġermanja, Romanian Germania, Greek Γερμανία (Germanía). Unsurprisingly, it's derived from the name of the Germanic people.

Other languages base their name for Germany on the Allemanic tribes: French Allemagne, Spanish Alemania, Portuguese Alemanha, Turkish Alemanya, Arabic أَلْمَانْيَا‎ (ʾalmānyā), Tagalog Alemanya.

A fourth group derived from yet another tribe is formed by Finnish Saksa, Estonian Saksamaa, Livonian Saksāmō and Võro S'aksamaa. This name was inspired by the Saxons.

On the other hand, some Slavic languages use something completely unrelated, namely a word that descended from Proto-Slavic *němъ, meaning mute6. Polish Niemcy, Czech Německo, Serbo-Croatian Nemačka, Slovak Nemecko, Ukrainian Німеччина (Nimeččyna) belong to this group. Also Hungarian Németország was borrowed from a Slavic language.

Finally, Lithuanian Vokietija and Latvian Vācija stand out; their origin is unknown.7

It's also worth noting that although Germany is called Germania in Italian, the German language is referred to as tedesco (from Deutsch). Likewise, Russian Германия (Germaniya) for Germany is also a contrast to немецкий (nemeckiy, "German"), which belongs to the Niemcy group discussed above.

Greece — Elláda — Yunani

Greece, in the country's language, is Ελλάδα (Elláda), thought to come from a name of peoples living in a Greek region. Norwegian Hellas, Samoan Eleni have a name based on this, as do Chinese 希臘 (in Cantonese pronunciation, hei1 laap6) and Vietnamese Hi Lạp.

Other languages have a name based on Ancient Greek Γραικός (Graikós): English Greece, French Grèce, Italian/Spanish/Romanian Grecia, Polish Grecja, Swedish Grekland, Hungarian Görögország, Russian Греция (Greciya), Serbo-Croatian Grčka. Czech Řecko also belongs to this group.

A third Greek tribe, the Ionians (Greek Ἴων, Íōn), has been used as basis for the name of the country: Arabic اَلْيُونَان (al-yūnān), Turkish Yunanistan, Indonesian Yunani, Persian یونان‎ (yunân), Hebrew יָוָן (yaván).

Georgian calls Greece ბერძენი (berʒeni), which one theory says it comes from the Georgian word "wise", ბრძენი (brʒeni), due to the advancements in philosophy achieved by the Greeks.8

Montenegro – Crna Gora – Melnkalnes

The name Montenegro may seem to be Spanish for black mountain but it actually came from Venetian. As English, other languages that have taken it over are Danish, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.

Natively, Montenegro is known as Crna Gora in Montenegrin and Serbian, a literal translation of black mountain. Other Slavic languages use the same pattern: Czech Černá Hora, Polish Czarnogóra, Belarusian Чарнагорыя (Čarnahoryja), Russian Черногория (Černogorija). In fact, I haven't found a single Slavic language that doesn't use the literal words "black mountain" for the country.

Other languages have translated "black mountain" literally for Montenegro, too: Albanian Mali i Zi, Greek Μαυροβούνιο (Mavrovoúnio), Latvian Melnkalne, Turkish Karadağ. Romanian Muntenegru seems like a slight adaption from the Montenegro exonym but actually really does mean "black mountain" in Romanian.

Albania – Shqiperia

Most other languages call Albania something like in English: Dutch Albanië, Finnish Albania, Norwegian Albania, Portuguese Albânia, and Russian Албания (Albanija) to name a few. The name "Albanian" traces back to an old Greek word, on which Turkish Arnavutluk is also ultimately based (although this is not so apparent anymore).9

In Albanian itself, the name of the country is Shqipëria.

Armenia – Hayastan – somxeti – Camuq

Armenia is called Հայաստան (Hayastan) in Armenian.

In Georgian, the name is სომხეთი (somxeti), which was borrowed into Ossetian as Сомех (Somex).

English Armenia and a similar name in many languages comes from Old Persian. Other examples include Italian and Spanish Armenia, German and Swedish Armenien, Turkish Ermenistan. Ukrainian Вірменія (Virmenija) also has the same origin but has changed a little, just like Hungarian Örményország.

Avar Цӏамухъ (C̣amuq̄) is another very distinct name for the country.


  1. Wiktionary угрин ↩︎

  2. Wiktionary Vlach ↩︎

  3. Wiktionary olasz ↩︎

  4. Etymonline gu- ↩︎

  5. Also the name of the Teutons seems similar to Deutsch and ultimately, both are supposed to come from Proto-Indo-European *tewtéh₂ over different ways. ↩︎

  6. Using the meaning of mute makes sense in that the Germans didn't speak a Slavic language. Also interesting to note that the name Slav is considered to have been derived from old Slavic "word", cf. *slověninъ↩︎

  7. Wiktionary vāci ↩︎

  8. Wikipedia Saberdzneti. See also the linked Names of the Greeks article for more historical names. ↩︎

  9. Wiktionary Arnavut, Wiktionary Αλβανία ↩︎