The origins or etymology of country names is a fascinating one. The reasons why many countries have a specific name is often unknown even by many of its own people. What follows are four countries that have interesting name origins.
Before it was called “France”, the area was referred to by the Romans as “Gaul” which described the land that was occupied by several tribes. After the fall of the Roman Empire, one of the tribes known as the Franks took over much of the land. Hence the name “France” as describing the area in which the Franks ruled, which started with the reign of Clovis I, Charles Martel, and arguably most famously Charlemagne.
The word “France” is Germanic in origin and once described much of what Germany today occupies. The term “Gaul” is now used for historic purposes, although it occasionally pops up in the modern context.
Officially known as the Republic of India, the name itself is derived from the Sindhu or Indus River in which much of its people originated and flourished. The derivation of “India” comes from Herodotus, a 4th century BCE Greek historian who referred to the country as “India”.
The name faded from history for many centuries until it was revived in the 9th century AD in Old English and later in the 17th century in Modern English. The name “India” was engrained when Great Britain took control of the country by the 19th century.
The exact origin of the name “Japan” is believed to have come from the Chinese word which means “Land of the Rising Sun”. The Chinese use ideograms and the pronunciations of the same ideograms are different depending on regions. Japan sounds quite like the pronunciation of the ideogram for the country of Japan in ancient Southern China which means the land of the rising sun. This makes sense given that Japan is east of China. The use of Japan has been traced to Marco Polo, who was told by the Chinese about this mysterious country and brought the name “Japan” back to the Western world.
The country itself was called by its own people “Yamato” until around the seventh century AD when the term “Nippon” was used. Nippon is still the official name, although when represented on the international stage, Japan is the name that is mostly used.
United States of America
The term “United States” has the obvious origin of describing the collection of states that make up the USA. The colonists began calling their country the “United States” even before the Revolutionary War of 1776 which freed them from British rule.
But the term “America” goes back much further. The name “America” comes form the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who stated that the country Christopher Columbus reached in 1492 was not part of Asia as originally believed, but a separate continent. By 1507, Martin Waldseemuller created a map that depicted the new continent and used the name “America”, which is a Latinized version of the Italian name, Amerigo.
The etymology of China is the ancient dynasty called “Qin” which unified the vast region of China for the first time in Chinese history. The name “Qin” was first introduced to India and then to Europe. Qin is pronounced “Chin”. It is apparent that the English word, China stemmed from the name of the Qin Dynasty.
These are just a few countries that have interesting origins to their names. Such names are quite often derived from languages that either no longer exist or were given by people who spoke another language.
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