This is a list of English Language country names with appendant etymologies. Native names with etymological derivations may be presented secondarily.

Table of contents
1 A
2 B
3 C
4 D
5 E
6 F
7 G
8 H
9 I
10 J
11 K
12 L
13 M
14 N
15 O
16 P
17 Q
18 R
19 S
20 T
21 U
22 V
23 W
24 X
25 Y
26 Z
27 See also
28 External link


  • Afghanistan - Possibly from the Sanskrit 'Upa-Ghana-Stan', "land of the allied tribes"
  • 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 Shqipëria means "land of the eagle", the eagle having probably been a tribal totem.
  • Algeria - from the name of the capital city Algiers - French: Alger, from Arabic: Al Jazair ("The Island").
  • America - see United States of America below, and under "naming of America"
  • Andorra - Unknown. Pre-Roman, possibly Iberian or Basque.
  • Angola - From ngola, a title used by the monarch of the pre-colonial Kingdom of Ndongo.
  • 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 Flinders (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 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. Carl the Great dubbed the region "Ostmark" 'Eastern border territory'. In the 11th century the term Ostarrichi first appeared.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bangladesh - from Bengali/Sanskrit, Bangla referring to the Bengali speaking people, and Desh meaning "country", hence "Country of the Bengalis". The country was previously part of India and Bengali culture spans a wider area over India (in the state of West Bengal) and Bangladesh.
  • 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.
  • Belgium - from the name of a Celtic tribe, the Belgae. Possibly further derived from the PIE "Bolg" meaning 'bag' or 'womb' indicating common descent.
  • 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.
  • 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 - land of the thunder dragon, land of thunder, or land of the dragon.
  • 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 - "painted"; a reference to the original inhabitants of the islands use of body paint and tattoos; may also derive from the Celtic goddess Brigid
  • 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 Frederick IV.
  • Botswana - named for the country's largest ethnic group, the Tswana. The former name Bechuanaland was derived from Bechuana: an alternative spelling of Botswana.
  • Brazil - from the tree "pau-brasil", very common in this country when it was discovered, about 1500.
  • 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.
  • Burundi - land of those speaking the Rundi language.


  • Cameroon - from Portuguese Rio de Camarões ("River of Shrimps"), the name given to the River Wouri by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century.
  • Canada - "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", named by Portuguese sailors who had been sailing along the Sahara desert before sighting the relatively verdant islands.
  • 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 languages)
  • 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.


  • Ecuador - "equator" in Spanish
  • Egypt - "temple of the soul of Ptah"
  • El Salvador - "the saviour" in Spanish, named for Jesus Christ.
  • 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 Celtic tribe.


  • Gabon from the Portuguese name for the River Mbe: "Gabao" (a type of hooded overcoat) from the shape of the river estuary.
  • Germany - "land of the spear men" from the germanic "gar" or 'spear' and the latin and germanic "man", in latin "Germania".
    • Allemagne - "land of all the men" i.e. "our many tribes"
    • Deutschland - "land of the people"
    • Nemetsy (Polish: Niemcy; Romanian: Nemţi; Czech: Nemecko; Hungarian: Német(ország)) - "land of the mute" (where "mute" is a metaphor for "those who do not speak our language"). The Hungarian word is a Slavic loan word.
  • Ghana - after the ancient West African kingdom of the same name. The modern territory of Ghana was however never part of the previous polity.
  • Greece - from the Latin Græcus (Greek Γραικοί, claimed by Aristotle to refer to the name of the original people of Epirus, and Hellas "land of light" (a dubious claim, given that this resembles no Greek words for "land" or "light").
  • Grenada - after the southern Spanish city of the same name.
  • Guyana - possibly from the local "Guainazes", "people worthy of honors".


  • 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 ten tribes".


  • Iceland - "land of ice" (Ísland in Icelandic). So named to dissuade outsiders from attempting to settle on what was actually fertile land.
  • India - After the river Indus (in Hindi).
    • Bharat - 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, Bharata, the son of the legendary king Dushyanta.
  • 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 (Proto Indo-European), and generally carrying the meaning of 'noble' or 'free', cognate with the Greek-derived word "aristocrat".
    • Persia - (former name for Iran): 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".
  • Iraq - from the ancient Semitic "Uruk" meaning "between the rivers", a reference to the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates.
  • Ireland - after Eire from proto-Celtic *Īweriū "the fertile place" or "Place of Eire (Eriu)" a Celtic 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 tip of modern Italy.


  • Jamaica Taino Indian "Hamaica", land of wood and water, or perhaps "Land of Springs".
  • Japan - "ribenguo" 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, from the Kikuyu name Kere-Nyaga ("Mountain of Whiteness").
  • Kiribati - an adaption of "Gilbert", from the European name "the Gilbert Islands".
  • 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 - from the Semitic "White 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.
  • 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.
  • 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' Sultan.
  • 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 a mine.
  • 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".


  • Namibia - from the coastal Namib Desert. Namib means "area where there is nothing" in the Nama language.
  • 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 Betuwe as opposed to -the regional name "Veluwe" meaning 'fallow' or 'waste' 'land'
  • New Zealand - after the province of Zeeland in 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 Kingdom".


  • Oman - disputed origin. Some sources claim that the name derives from an Arabic term for "settled" (as opposed to nomadic), or from other Arabic words meaning peace or trust. Others claim that it was named after a person, possibly Oman bin Ibrahim al-Khalil, Oman bin Siba' bin Yaghthan bin Ibrahim, Oman bin Qahtan, or Oman bin Loot (the Arabic name for the biblical figure Lot). The name has been in existence for some time, having been mentioned by the geographer Ptolemy ( 85 AD - 165 AD).


  • Pakistan - an acronym (Punjab, Afghan frontier, Kashmir, Indus Valley) plus -stan; also happens to form the word land of the pure, "pak" meaning "pure".
  • Palestine - from the Roman name for the country, literally "land of the Philistines" ("Philistines" itself is from the Semitic root P.L.Sh., meaning "invader")
  • 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 Monarch).
  • Poland - From the Germanic polen, "fields".
  • Portugal - From the Latin portus, "port" and the name of the Roman port of Gaya, which later became Cale. The junction name cames after the name of the Portus Cale (adding Portus to the old name), modern Oporto.



  • Romania - "Roman Realm" - as the local Romanized population designate themselves as Rumâni or Români.
  • 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.
  • São Tomé and Príncipe - Portuguese: Saint Thomas and Prince (Islands).
  • Serbia and Montenegro
    • 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. As amatter of trivia, it is considered likely that a former sovereign State, the principality of Anhalt-Zerbst, in deriving its name from the German town of Zerbst also carried the Serbian ethnomyn.
    • 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 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").
  • Singapore - the city was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 and he adopted the name Singapore from the Malay Sinhapura which was the earlier name of the island. Sinhapura in turn has come from the Sanskrit Simhapura or "Lion City".
  • Slovakia - from the Slavic "glory" or "the word"
  • Slovenia - from the Slavic "glory" or "the word"
  • Spain - Phoenician 'Rabbit coast'
  • Sri Lanka - "Resplendent Land" in Sanskrit.
    • 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), Cilan (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'
  • Suriname - after the Surinen people, native American inhabitants of the region.
  • Sweden - "Svea people". The exact development of the ethnonym is uncertain, but is at least known to derive from the Old Norse "Svithjoth", "Svi" of unknown etymology, "thjoth" from Germanic "thjod" or 'people'. The terms 'Svithjoth' and 'Svithjoth the Great' were originally used to denote various land areas figuring in Norse mythological and legendary tales, including areas in Scadinavia and/or modern Russia. The vague manner in which the toponym was applied suggests that is was used for areas generally unknown but definitely beyond and to the north or west of what its most frequent users, the ethnic Goths, considered the area of civilization. The derivative term "Svea-rike" 'Svear Kingdom' appears to have emerged after the (returning) nordic Heruli were expelled from Gothland (Gautaland) in southern Scandinavia. It was natural that the Heruli, having been pushed beyond the northern limit of the Gothic Kingdom, might take the traditional name of 'Svea'. Eventually the Svear conquered the Goths and it from this point that modern academics speak of the existence of "Sweden" rather than one of its component territories "Svealand".
  • 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 Taiwanese landscape.
  • 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.
  • Thailand - from the native Thai "Land of the free". Previously the country had been known as:
    • Siam - The name was given to the ancient Thai people by their neighbors 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.
  • 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 'eastern east'.
  • 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 Cook.
  • 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 - from the Slavic "border territory" etymologically identical to kraijina in Serbo-Croat
  • United States of America - from the explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci, who added his own name prominently 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 the diminutive form of "Venezia". European explorers, impressed by the native stilt-houses built on Lake Maracaibo, decided to name the region after Venice.
  • Vietnam - "Southern land", The original core of Vietnamese civilization having been farther north.




  • Yemen - disputed meaning. Some sources claim it is from the Arabic yamin, meaning "right-hand side" (a referrence to Yemen's position relative to an observer looking inland from Mecca), while other sources claim that it is from yumn, meaning happiness or blessings. The name (to the classical world "Arabia Felix") originally referred to the entire southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.


  • Zambia - after the River Zambezi.
  • Zimbabwe - "stone houses" in Shona, referring to the stone-built capital city of the ancient trading empire of Great Zimbabwe.

See also

External link