Etymology #1: Germany and its name in different languages

By | February 26, 2023
Name of Germany in various European languages
Name of Germany in various European languages. Image: ArnoldPlaton, Germany Name European Languages, CC BY-SA 3.0

Language is a fascinating tool that connects people across borders and cultures, and one of the most interesting aspects of language is the way words and names evolve over time. In this first article of the “Etymology” series, we explore the name of Germany in various languages, tracing the roots of this word. As a German company, we are especially interested in the etymology of our own country’s name in different languages.

Germany is a country with a rich and diverse history, and this is reflected in the various names it has been given throughout the centuries. From its origins as a loose confederation of tribes to its current status as a global economic powerhouse, Germany has been known by many different names in different languages.

The different names for Germany in various languages can be attributed to the country’s long and complex history. Germany was inhabited by various tribes and ethnic groups, such as the Celts, Romans, and Germanic tribes, each with their own languages and names for the region. Additionally, Germany was not a unified country until the 19th century, and its borders and territories have shifted throughout history, leading to different names for different regions within the country. As a result, the names for Germany in different languages reflect the diverse cultural and linguistic influences that have shaped the country’s identity over time.

In English, the name “Germany” comes from the Latin word “Germania”, which was made popular by Julius Caesar to describe the region and its people. Over time, the name “Germany” became the standard way to refer to the country in English. Similarly, in Italian, the name for Germany is “Germania”. Other languages using similar names deriving from Latin are Hebrew, Romanian and Russian.

In French, the name for Germany is “Allemagne”, which is derived from the name of the Alemanni, a Germanic tribe that lived in the region in the early Middle Ages, while in Spanish it is “Alemania” and in Portuguese it is “Alemanha”. The Arabic, Persian, and Turkish names for Germany are also derived from the same root.

Another group of names for Germany can be traced back to the Old High German word “diutisc” or similar variations. In fact, the German name for their own country, “Deutschland”, shares the same root. Similarly, the Scandinavian languages use “Tyskland” (in Icelandic “Þýskaland”) to refer to Germany, which also derives from the same root.

The English adjective “Dutch” used for the Netherlands comes from the same origin. The term “Dutch” in English originally referred to all Germanic-speaking peoples, including those from what is now Germany. However, over time, the term came to be associated specifically with the people of the Netherlands, possibly due to the strong economic and cultural ties between England and the Netherlands during the 17th century. Additionally, the Netherlands had a powerful maritime empire at that time, which may have contributed to the prominence of the term “Dutch” in English, as well as the Netherlands’ reputation as a center of commerce, art, and science during the Golden Age of Dutch history.

In Slavic languages, the name for Germany is “Německo” in Czech and Slovak, “Niemcy” in Polish, and “Nemačka” in Serbian. These names all come from the Slavic word “němъ”, which means “mute” or “speechless”. This term was used by Slavic peoples to refer to the Germanic tribes who they encountered, as their language was unintelligible to them.

The word “Saksa” for Germany in Finnish and Estonian and “Saksamaa” in Estonian are derived from the Saxons. The Saxons were a Germanic tribe that inhabited the regions of what is now Germany and Denmark during the early Middle Ages.

The etymology of the names for Germany in the Baltic languages of Latvian and Lithuanian, “Vācija” and “Vokietija” respectively, is unclear.

There are several other names for Germany in lesser-known languages. “Ubudage” in Kinyarwanda and “Ubudagi” in Kirundi are commonly believed to originate from the colonial era when Germans would greet each other with the phrase ‘Guten Tag’ and were adapted to reflect the local phonetic and linguistic conventions. The Navajo name for Germany is “Béésh Bich’ahii Bikéyah”, which translates to “metal cap-wearer land”. The Navajo language often incorporates descriptive names that reflect the physical or cultural characteristics of a place or people, and this name for Germany is an example of that tradition.

We hope this brief overview has been informative and given you a sense of the rich history and diversity of the various names for Germany in different languages of the world.

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