Have you ever wondered where the name of your country came from or what it means? There are some very interesting tales of how countries names came to be. In this blog, we uncover what the literal translated meanings of our favourite country names are.
The origin of words – Etymology – is a subject that fascinates many. It can be used geographically to understand the meaning of many things, including names, resulting in some very interesting, but sometimes very weird translations. But can also reveal a lot surrounding the history of a land, its people and its journey to that name.
One of the most surprising things about our research for this blog, is that most country names came to be what they are due to mistakes made when interpreting, poor translation or bad communication between locals and visitors. So, let’s begin…
How did China get its name? Well many believe the word ‘China’ is derived from the Qin State which existed on the furthest western point of China since the 9th century BC, which ultimately unified China to form the Qin Dynasty. This unification brought about the phrase ‘Center Kingdom’ which people believed to be the true translation of China.
Burma (or Myanmar) has a quite interesting translation story; Swift and Strong is how it literally translates. This is due to the adaptation from Portuguese and various Indian words. The old Burmese word Mranma which then became Myanmar is what ‘Swift’ and ‘Strong’ translate to, ‘Myan’ meaning swift and ‘mar’ strong.
Africa is one of the more interesting and fascinating continents to look at due to it’s vast diversity of names. The name Africa is taken from the Egyptian word ‘Afru-ika’ which means ‘Motherland’. Other countries within the continent have some really great translations; Botswana or ‘Those Who Went Away’ is one of the more random translations we uncovered. Land of Flames is what we all now know as Malawi. This translation derives from the ancient local ritual of burning dead grass away to prepare the land for cultivation. Senegal, otherwise known as ‘Our Canoe’ is perhaps a culture driven translation deriving from a miscommunication between sailors from Portugal listening to local fishermen talking about ‘sunu gaal’, local Wolof dialect for ‘our canoe’.
Europe is a continent with so many mixed cultural influences, however it was the Greeks who dictated the naming of this land taking the words ‘Eurys’ which means broad and combining it with ‘ope’ which translates to face.
‘The land of the Franks’ given to France by the Germans, was taken from the old German word ‘franka’ which means fierce. The Germans saw France as the land of the fierce, a reputation they upheld with their armies and thirst for occupying other countries.
When we think of Italy we conjure up images of fine food and amazing style, however we are not so sure the phrase ‘Land of Young Cattle’ quite suits when describing such a beautiful and mesmerizing country. But this is the translation the great ancient Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro coined when he wrote that the region is famed for it’s abundance of cattle.
Its is said that America got its name from Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer who first set about the idea of exploring the land, which Christopher Columbus later famously completed. Heading south and we hit South America, a continent which has the equator running through three of it’s countries. Funnily enough only one of these countries adopted a name with any resemblance to that fact, that being Ecuador which is literally named after the equator. One other country in South America that is as fiery and passionate as it’s meaning is Brazil, translated its name means, Red Like an Ember, most likely deriving from the Portuguese Terra do Brazil which refers to brazilwood or redwood.
So next time you are planning your holiday, or discussing where you’d like to visit, maybe it’s Hippopotamus (Mali) or Land of the Many Rabbits (Spain) why not take a little look at the very weird and wonderful translated version some of these great nations hold!
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