As a native speaker, I am amazed that in Romanian the name of Wales, when it was introduced, very probably in the 19th century, was translated as Ţara Galilor, literally "Country of the Gauls", unlike in any other European country — where, instead, we find either

  • the English form "Wales" (Slavic and German languages, Hungarian, Baltic, Albanian), or

  • a Latinized version of the name similar to the French Galles (Pays de Galles, where Galles is not a plural, like in Romanian, but the transposition of the term Wales, I think; see this answer on how Wales/Welsh have evolved in English).

I have initially asked a related question on the history site which then was moved here: Excepting Romanian, was "Wales" ever translated in modern times outside English with the same term as that meaning "Gaul" or "Gauls"?.

The term Ţara Galilor is also odd in that it has a rather archaic form, without many precedents. It follows the old structure of the Romanian endonym of Wallachia, Ţara Romanească (literally "Romanian Country"), applied in the past to other countries, but which is not applied now to any modern name of a country or state, except Wales: it survives only in the archaic/poetic naming of old regions of Romania, especially from Transilvania, like Ţara Lăpuşului, Ţara Oaşului (for Lăpuş/Oaş regions), in the historical name of The Lower Countries (Ţările de jos) and in the name of the Tierra del Fuego (Ţara de Foc)

Repeating from my other post:

My scenario about what happened is that at a stage when the common knowledge on the Great Britain was somewhat fuzzy, Romanian journalists translated Pays de Galles as Ţara Galilor; at that time there was no word for Welsh in Romanian, but there was already one for Gaul, which had been constructed directly from Latin, in the form gal. But when the same type of people were looking for a Romanian translation for Wales/Welsh they could not use Latin and so used French, where the term for Welsh is gallois, while for Gaul it is gaulois; but they neglected the 1-letter difference and considered those terms as identical. As Gaul already existed in Romanian as gal, they simply transposed into Romanian the false identity between gallois and gaulois. This was not done because they were aware of or interested in the common origin of those two terms, but because their French was not perfect. The erroneous translation entered the common use and even dictionaries: but the only dictionary that I could find where "gal"/"gali", meaning Gaul/Gauls, is used for "modern inhabitants of Wales" (with an example for the Prince of Wales as "principele Galilor", that is "the Prince of the Gauls") dates from 1923. As far as I know, in later dictionaries the error was partially corrected: Welsh became galez/galezi - fem. galeză/galeze (similar to other Romance languages), but the name of the country still reflects the old mishap.

Other hypotheses can be imagined:

  • a cross-contamination from Greek and French into Romanian: in Greek, where the name of Gaul is Γαλατία, the name of Wales is Ουαλία, which might have seemed close to the Latin Gallia, and thus encourage a confusion between Welsh and Gauls.

  • an ignorant reader of the French terms "Prince de Galles" or "Pays de Galles" who barely understood French but knew the recent Romanian word gal for Gaul, could have translated "de Galles" as "of the Gauls".

  • the influence of the (somewhat dubious) theory of "Popular Wallachias" (or "Romanias"): Romanian Wikipedia page here, in French here, while the English linked page doesn't follow the same content. The theory is a bit more complex, but basically it tries to name "Wallachia" (or more or less vaguely relate to that) any region which at some time or other was called with a term based on the German root walaz meaning non-German, then Celtic, Roman, neo-Latin, Italian, Romanian. As on the odd map of those half-imaginary entities Wales is also mentioned (because its name is based on that same root), while Gaul is named Walha, and given that the form Ţara... is also traditionally used for Romanian old regions, some of which are identified in this "theory" with one "Wallachia" or other, a such influence could have contributed to the creation or at least to the conservation of the form Ţara Galilor, as it encourages both the use of the old/odd form Ţara... and the identification between Wales and Gaul/"Walha".

  • in the context of any of the above, the common origin of all the terms involved here - the old German root naming foreigners (the fact that Galles/Wales, Welsh, Gallois, Gaulois, Waloon, Wallachian, etc have the same root) could have acted as a facilitator, although obviously the common origin doesn't change their very different meaning.

My idea is that this error was made rather recently, sometime between 1830 and 1890. But I do not know exactly when.

  • 1
    Considering down-voting: please leave a comment (I am a new contributor): let me know what's wrong, whether the question is off-topic, etc.
    – cipricus
    Nov 19, 2019 at 22:52
  • 1
    The question is precise. It's well written, and the lack of own research might be excusable, if finding references proofs exceptionally difficult. The rules prohibit language specific "grammar and usage" questions, to which onomastics is counted by some. But you didn't move the Q here (judges should feel bound by jurisprudent referals). It's not language specific, if your hypothesis is in question with regards to methodology. There's a comparative element, and this could go a long way.
    – vectory
    Nov 20, 2019 at 20:28
  • 1
    it would rumanian.SE, which does not exist I don't think
    – vectory
    Nov 21, 2019 at 17:45
  • 1
    @curiousdannii - I have to agree. But I had to try because I cannot find a good place where to ask this question for the moment. A SE for Romanian language is absent.
    – cipricus
    Nov 26, 2019 at 22:46
  • 2
    g/w alternation in Romance/Germanic is not "transliteration", it's a regular sound change. you see it in guerra vs. werra/war, guilherme/wilheim, guarda/warden, and many others. Gaul, Galles, Wales are all the same word, namely Germanic *walhaz, subjected to various local sound changes. This has nothing to do with writing, inscriptions, or scribes; it’s a normal phenomenon of language change, done in speech, just like e.g. Romance /p/ corresponds to Germanic /f/. There is nothing special at all in the Romanian name of Wales; everybody calls them *walhaz, subject to local sound changes. Nov 28, 2019 at 9:33

1 Answer 1


Your theory can well explain why the name stuck, but assumption of an ignorant scribe would need more evidence to be convincing. It's not very likely in matters of hegemony. The assumption of public indifference can explain why the name stuck, at last.

The possibility that the name were inhereted of old can't be discounted either. Late attestation usually counts in favor of a recent coinage. But Rumanian is "rather poorly attested" overall. One has to wonder by what other names the country had been called in Rumanian, or why not. If the construction, "tara ..." had seemed familiar, wonder whether it hadn't been used elsewhere; Latin "tera ..." is a frequent metonym, I think. The focus is not on tara, though.

In sum, the importance that onomastics has for tribal movements and history in general makes it well worth to backproject the name speculatively.

Asking for a first never makes sense. You mean at the latest.

For some speculation, consider that the Polish L with a strike through is close to /w/ (which if rounded is close to /u/, hence double-u; Italic L is also close to V and C in shape, with different orientation), but ignorantly transliterated as L often enough. So, maybe you are actually looking at gawilor! Polish is far from the Balkans, but there's a Pomak minority, for one. And Kiew and Prag had been powerhouses before (but I know nothing about their ells and ues). Otherwise, consider Latin transcription Guilhelm for Willhelm and the like. But French writes gui for /gi/ today, to disambiguae gi /ji/, though strictly ga /ga/, ja /.../. Youknow.

This is a non- answer, I'm aware. My answer is: It was first mentioned in speech, long before it was written down, but there is no way to know. I'm aware that's not satisfying.

  • You mean at the latest. - What I mean is when the term was first attested in Romanian but I would be amazed if it were before modern 19th century journalism. There was no direct contact with the British before that. - I have asked here because I haven't found a Romanian language site where I could hope for an answer (until this), but anyway anywhere chances for an answer are slim. I was about to delete the Q but I had the bounty. Thanks for your interest! :)
    – cipricus
    Nov 28, 2019 at 8:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.