Today, it’s Part II of our look at countries and territories where the English name for the territory has little to nothing to do within the indigenous name (Part I can be found here).
English name (exonym): Greece
Etymology: From the Latin Graecus, in turn derived from the Ancient Greek Γραικός (Graikos). The meaning of the latter is unknown but appears as Γραικοί in Aristotle’s Meteorology in the 4thcentury BC as the former name of a people inhabiting Epirus in northwestern Greece near the Ionian coast known in his day as the Hellenes (see below). It’s likely that the proximity of the Graikos (Graeci) to the peoples of the Italian Peninsula meant that the name came into use on the other side of the sea as a catch-all term for all Hellenic peoples.
Indigenous name (endonym): Ellada (Ελλάδα)
Etymology: From the Ancient Greek Hellan (Ελλην) via the Classical Greek Hellas (Ελλάς). The original meaning remains unknown.
English name (exonym): Greenland
Etymology: From the Old Norse Grønland (‘green land’). It is believed that Eirīkr Þōrvaldsson (better known to as Erik Thorvaldsson or, most commonly, Erik the Red) deliberately gave the infamously ice-covered land mass a misnomer (or actually landed on a well-grassed portion of the island) in order to lure colonists to his new home after having been expelled from Iceland for murder. Another theory posits that grøn is merely a mistranslation of grunt (‘ground’).
Indigenous name (endonym): Kalaallit Nunaat
Etymology: Literally ‘Land of the Kalaallit’ in Greenlandic. The Kalaallitare the indigenous Inuit people of Greenland.
English name (exonym): Hungary
Etymology: Westerners originally misidentified the westward moving Huns as being of Turkic origin rather than Ugric. The Turkic phrase on-ogurmeans ‘ten arrows’, referring to the alliance of the ten Bulgar-Turkish tribes that formed a state surrounding the Sea of Azov between in the 5thand 8th centuries in what is now Ukraine. It is likely that the Hungarians were part of this alliance as it moved westward toward the area of modern Hungary.
Indigenous name (endonym): Magyarország
Etymology: Literally ‘land of the Magyars’ in Hungarian. The term Magyar is derived from an old name of the Ugric Mansipeople, Mëgyër. Distantly related to modern Hungarians, the Mansi are based in western Siberia.
English name (exonym): India
Etymology: From the Sanskrit Sindhu (सनध), meaning river but also used specifically as the original name of the Indus River. The region and modern Pakistani province of Sindh also gained its name from this word.
Indigenous name (endonym): Bharat (and associated derivatives)
Etymology: From the name shared by two legendary emperors of India, Bharata.
English name (exonym): Japan
Etymology: From Geppun, Marco Polo’s interpretation of the Shanghai-area pronunciation of the two Chinese characters (日本) that produce the term ‘sun origin’ (as in ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, Japan lying to the east of China).
Indigenous name (endonym): Nihon/Nippon (日本)
Etymology: The vastly different Japanese pronunciation of the same two characters. The meaning is also the same.
English name (exonym): Korea
Etymology: From the early 1st-millennium kingdom of Goguryeo, succeeded in the 10th century by the derivatively-named Goryeo period. Goryeo was the first Korean dynasty visited by Persian merchants, who introduced the name to the west.
Indigenous name (endonym): North Korea: Joseon (조선); South Korea: Hanguk (한국)
Etymology: There may be no greater symbol of the ideological battle between North and South Korea than the fact that the two sides can’t even agree on name for Korea itself. The North calls Korea Joseon (Choson) after the Joseon (Choson) dynastythat ruled the peninsula from 1392 until 1897, when the Korean Empire was declared. South Korea, on the other, uses the name Hanguk, introduced by the Korean Empire in 1897 as a callback to the Samhan confederacy that ruled the peninsula around the turn of the 1st millennium AD.
English name (exonym): Maldives
Etymology: Likely from the Arabic phrase Dhibat-al-Mahal (القصرالجزر, ‘palace islands’; a reference to the main island, Male,
Indigenous name (endonym): Dhivehi Raajje (ދވހރއޖ)
Etymology: Literally ‘Kingdom of Maldivians’ in Dhivehi.
English name (exonym): Montenegro
Etymology: The Venetian term for ‘black mountain’, referring to Mount Lovćen on the southwest coast.
Indigenous name (endonym): Crna Gora (Црна Гора)
Etymology: While Crna Gora also translates to ‘black mountain’ in Montenegrin, the etymology is completely different (Slavic versus Latin). Admittedly, it’s a stretch to include it on this list.
Mount Lovćen with the mausoleum of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš on top.
English name (exonym): Morocco
Etymology: Ultimately a corruption of the Berber name for Marrakesh, Mərrakəš (in turn a corruption of mur (n) akush, meaning ‘Land of God’). Marrakesh was the capital of the Berber Almoravid state during mediaeval times beginning in 1062. The name carried through French and Spanish versions (Maroc, Marruecos) before ending up in English as Morocco.
Indigenous name (endonym): al-Maghrib (المغرب)
Etymology: Arabic for ‘the west’, a reference to the country’s position in North Africa. This is a short form of the original al-Maghrib-al-Aqca (المغرب القصى), meaning ‘the furthest west’ (the territories of what are now Algeria and Tunisia were named ‘the middle west’ and ‘the nearest west’, respectively).
English name (exonym): New Zealand
Etymology: Named by Dutch cartographers for the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands. Not to be confused with the Danish island of Zealand (Sjælland) on which Copenhagen lies.
Indigenous name (endonym): Aotearoa
Etymology: This Maori word consists of three root words that can each be interpreted differently: ao (cloud, dawn, daytime, world), tea (white, clear, bright) and roa (long). The three together are usually translated as (‘land of the long white cloud’). The name may have only originally applied to the North Island.
English name (exonym): South Ossetia
Etymology: From the Georgian Osi, referring to the ancient Alans who are the ancestors of the modern Ossetians (likely taken in turn from the Alanic self-designation As). The breakaway Caucasian republic is backed by Russia and recognised by Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru but considered by most countries to belong to Georgia.
Indigenous name (endonym): Khussar Iryston (Хуссар Ирыстон)
Etymology: Iryston, much like Iran, is derived from Aryan (the Aryans settled to the south of the Caucasus on the Iranian Plateau around 1500 BC).
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BiographyBase (n.d.). Erik the Red Biography. Available at http://www.biographybase.com/biography/Erik_the_Red.html. Accessed 21 December 2012.
Encyclopædia Britannica (2012). Almoravids. Available at http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/16858/Almoravids. Accessed 22 December 2012.
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Makkai, L. (1990). The Hungarians’ Prehistory, Their Conquest of Hungary and Their Raids to the West to 955. In P.F. Sugar (ed.), A History of Hungary, 8-14. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Permanent Committee on Geographic Names (2007). Georgia: a toponymic note concerning South Ossetia. Available at http://www.pcgn.org.uk/Georgia%20-%20South%20Ossetia-Jan07.pdf. Accessed 24 December 2012.
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