I understand that there are occasionally one or two different origins for the same word, but for Germany there are at least six distinct roots found in languages of nearby countries. Why so for Germany but not France?

English: Germany
Spanish: Alemania
German: Deutschland
Ukrainian: Німеччина (Nimechchina)
Czech: Německo
Hungarian: Németország

I'm not sure if northern Europe is relevant in this discussion, but here are more different roots:
Finnish: Saksa
Swedish: Tyskland
Lithuanian: Vokietija


3 Answers 3


The primary reason is because there were many Germanic tribes with which the other nations came into contact with directly. This may actually be because of the position in Central Europe - i.e. the contact happened on all sides so on each side the peoples devise their own name instead of adopting a loanword from their neighbours from which they heard about the Germans.

English - Germany - refers to Germanic tribes in general

Spanish/French - Alemania/Alemagne - refers to the Germanic tribe of Alamans (southern tribe, conquered by Franks)

German/Swedish - Deutschland/Tyskland - comes from the Germanic word Teuta/people, the way they called themselves (hence also the word Dutch or Italian Tedesco for Germans; in other languages it may refer to the tribe of Teutons

Czech/Slavic languages - Německo - EDIT: following the comment above from @jknappen, this one is actually tricky. The prevalent hypothesis is that the word comes from němý, meaning "mute" or "dumb", i.e. not speaking the language of the Slavs and thus being foreign; however apparently there is another hypothesis, which seems to be more plausible, tracing the word to the Germanic tribe of Nemetes. This would be consistent with the way other languages acquired the word, furthermore I do not believe that Slavic languages have other demonyms derived in a similar way to němý > Němec. On the other hand the tribe of Nemetes resided in Palatinate, so not exactly neighbours to Slavs.

Finnish - Sakksa - comes from the Germanic tribe of Saxons (northern tribe)

  • On Czech “němý”: It might be plausible if you consider that we give names for our neighbor's languages (e.g., German) before we give them to languages of geographically distant people (e.g., Chinese). Look at neighbors of today's Czech Republic: Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Austria. Slovak is very similar to Czech (it sounds rather as a Czech dialect), Polish is less close (but still Slavonic). German is a very different language. History might have been a bit richer, but it is very likely that German used to be the most common and least understood foreign language for much time.
    – v6ak
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 18:13
  • The only other language I can think of as some hard-to-understand language of our neighbors in history might be Magyar (Maďarština), as Czech Republic and Slovakia had some noticeable common history (considering Great Moravia and Austro-Hungarian monarchy). But it likely has been much less common that German.
    – v6ak
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 18:21

We can build a model for this if we consider many words or country names specifically.

The respective names for certain concepts vary little, they spread very fast or through some bottleneck. Country names generally are clustered near the low-variance end of the spectrum, near the words for potato and internet.

In the case of Germany, the specific factors leading to slightly greater variation are:

  • Germany did not exist per se, so a smallerkingdom or tribe came to represent the later united country.

  • Germany is in the middle of Europe, so that process occurred independently in many directions.

That said, I would not discount randomness too much, and note that there are other countries, regions and cities with similarly varying names (eg Greece, the West Bank, Istanbul...), especially historically, and especially in neighbouring languages.

In fact, number of autochtonous historically neighbouring languages is essentially the factor. (Unsurprisingly, the word for "Georgia" is different in all directions.)


To the best of my knowledge the Romans named everyone in that general direction Germans, even though most were Celts (originating from Austria). In the year 9 Hermann (Arminius) delivered a devastating blow to the Roman Empire - fascinating story. He became the first Germanic king and it has been theorized that his name played a role in naming them German (via Tacitus) but I don't believe that myself. The Spanish might also be a play on Hermann/Arminius/German, don't know for sure. The English were Germans, you are reading a Germanic language now, that is why I find the language so easy. That name had already took hold by 400 AD. Hence English German. These people believed themselves to be Germanic until more recently before Deutschland became a country in 1871. That is named after the Teutonic peoples.

This shouldn't be surprising since their land is at the center of numerous peninsulas, islands etc. The only European country that borders more countries than Germany is Russia.

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