Germany is called with different names in different languages, as a result of the different tribes who populated it through time, who originated the names. A comprehensive reference for this is in the German stack:


I was wondering whether are there other countries with a similar feature, namely countries which are called in different ways depending on the language.

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    Related: linguistics.stackexchange.com/q/3027/1055
    – acattle
    Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 3:41
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    Yes, thanks, it's related indeed and I had seen it before posting. But I want to know two slightly different things: 1. I refer to countries called with different names in different languages, more that a different country name/inhabitants name 2. I'm not focused on the "why" historical reason, but rather on a collection of countries for which this phenomenon happens, if any (except the obvious case of Germany). Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 8:10
  • Of the top of my head: Armenia, Austria, China, Croatia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Russia ... Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 11:31
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    Just watch the next Olympics, and listen to the announcer announce each country in English, Greek, and the host country's language. It's incredibly rare that even two of them match, never mind all three.
    – Ryno
    Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 18:37
  • Pretty much every country!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 0:38

5 Answers 5


Of course that depends mainly on which country and which language is meant. Some names carry on the ancient names of countries and/or tribes, other ethnonyms convey the history of a long-period quarrels (settled by time or not).

That is to say, the Japanese and/or Chinese names of countries are fabulous, but there are also some more examples from IE languages in Europe.

To start with, there is a language with no names for lands like Checkia, Hungary, Germany and Italy, and that language is Polish. The literal meaning of the country names would be the Checks (Czechy), the Hungarians (Węgry), the Speechless ones (Niemcy) and the Italians (or Włochy, as named by the Speechless ones, and please don't ask me how it comes to be) respectively. The names of Lithuania and Latvia in Polish also mean 'a group or a tribe' with collective sufixes: Litwa and Łotwa.

Speaking on which, and moving along the European map, we meet some more examples of exotic names. Lithuanian, this ancient language of Baltic states, offers such a collection of ancient onomastic survirvors as Lenkija (Poland), Suomija (Finland), Vokietija (Germany; not a big surprise), and Latvian offers the hidden treasures of ages passed like Igaunija (Estonia), Somija (Finland again), Vācija (Germans seem to lose their perfect Clear toponym wherever they get into), the almost irrecognisable name of Sweden masked as Zviedrija and - surprise again! - the powerful Eastern neighbour Krievija a.k.a. Russia (although I used to think, up to this post, that Lithuanian shares this exotic variety of view on its occidental neighbour with Lithuanian).

The Swedish has nothing to surprise a linguist with, perhaps with the exception of Ungern (Hungary).

Estonia itself is a good example of being both Eesti and Viro in Finnish, which also keeps the old traditions of near-neolythic naming of now-extinct tribe names in such words like Venäjä (Russia), Ruotsi (Sweden), Puola (Poland), and calqued Belorussia (Valko-Venäjä), Itävalta (Austria, a.k.a. Eastern State) and Alankomaat *(Nederlands, or Neath-Lands)*. I am not mentioning Tanska here, for its original mode of Danmark is quite recognisable.

The Estonian names often rhynme with Finnish patterns, e.g. Rootsi (Sweden), Venemaa (Venäjä), and even if the Netherlands are Holland, being occasionally Madalmaad (Lowlands), the Danmark is still Taani, and the Norway is Norra.

Of other Finno-Ugric languages I am familiar with, Komi mostly copies the Russian names, with the exception of Russia (Rochmu), and Hungarian claims Italy to be Olaszország, otherwise adding the ország *(-land)* part to the rest of most other country names: Spanyolország (Spain), Németország (Germany), Lengyelország (Poland) and masked mysterious Magyarország (Hungary), not mentioning Észtország (Estonia), Lettország *(Latvia)* or Oroszország (Russia) together with Írország (Ireland). They are strange, but mostly regular.

What is not so regular, is the Ghaelic orthography, and here are some interesting Irish examples; An Eilbheis (Swissland), An t-Seic (Check Republic), Innis Tìle (Iceland), An Eadailt (Italy), and almost any other country the name of which is made irrecognisible by a magic spell casted with Irish orthography: A' Bhealaruis (Belorussia), Moldàibhia (Moldova) or An Laitbhe (Latvia). The Ireland itself becomes Poblachd na h-Èireann, the English is Beurla and England is Sasainn, but I think there is nothing outstanding about these facts.

Trivia: the Irish name for Englishmen would make most of Russians laugh, since Sasanach in Irish is pronounced almost like 'wtf' in Russian.

The Basque language shows a certain modesty in exoticism as compared to this Indo-European feast of onomastics; Errumania, Errusia, Eslovakia and Eslovenia are just Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia; Txekia is Checkia and Herbehereak are Neath-Lands again, but why Serbia, Suedia, Suitxa (Swiss) and San Marino have no initial *E*s? This is just unfair.

PS Of course, I am not referring here to Erresuma Batua, since the United Kingdom is a strange pair of words when translated into any other language; nor speaking I about Montenegro, which is sometimes translated into other languages as Black+Mountain, and sometimes, not.

  • Great! Just out of curiosity: what does the prefix Olasz in Olaszország refer to? Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 20:05
  • That's Hungarian word for Italian. I think it follows regular patterns of loanwords in Hungarian.
    – Manjusri
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 6:32
  • PPS Sorry, not for Italian, but for Latin.
    – Manjusri
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 10:20
  • and where does this word come from? I can't recognize any borrowed root. Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 13:06
  • O was added before a sonorant (like in Orosz), and sz (pronounced [s]) followed the pattern t => ð/θ => s.
    – Manjusri
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 4:17

Short answer: yes.

First example that comes to mind is Japan, or 日本 (nihon; nippon) in Japanese. In Chinese the reading for the characters 日本 is Rìběn.

Similarly, China /'tʃaɪnə/ is 中国 (Zhōngguó) in Mandarin and Chine /'ʃin/ in French.

As @Sjiveru mentions, there's also the example of Hungary, which is more like your German example, since the difference in naming has to do with different groups occupying the territory historically. @Sjiveru mentions that: "Hungary [is]...Magyarórszág in Hungarian...[and is called Hungary] because that's where the Huns settled in the 400s AD -- the modern-day 'Hungarian' people (Magyars) didn't end up there until the 800s or so." Also mentioned is Finland, which is Suomi in Finnish.

I also think that a fuller answer will depend on how different a name has to be to count as "different" in your book, though we could potentially define different as "originating from a different source". In that case, the Japan example falls apart, since it seems that folks believe the name "Japan" to be based on the Portuguese pronunciation of the Japanese or Chinese name for the country.

  • I was already thinking about Asia. I can tell that in Chinese China is "zhongguo" (中国) and it means "central country", but this is peculiar to Chinese itself. Is China a word used everywhere else, for example? I mean, we should restrict to languages which had had a common ancestor some time in their history. Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 19:57
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    A couple of examples from Europe where a nation's endonym is different from its common exonyms might be Finland (Suomi in Finnish) and Hungary (Magyarórszág in Hungarian). I don't know about the etymology of Finland, but I know that Hungary is called Hungary because that's where the Huns settled in the 400s AD - the modern-day 'Hungarian' people (Magyars) didn't end up there until the 800s or so.
    – Sjiveru
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 21:40
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    Many (I would say most, but I don't have the data) languages have special words for countries, nationalities, areas, and cities, worldwide, and also for people who live there. There is a long list of such in Spanish, for instance, and anyone learning Spanish has to understand that those are the words to be used; it's not an optional list.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 22:18
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    @martina The Korean word for "China", 중국, is derived from 中國 and thus also means "Middle/Central Country/Land/Kingdom"
    – acattle
    Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 5:23
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    A few more examples from Hebrew: France is the biblical word צרפת (tsorfat), Spain is the biblical word ספרד (sfarad)
    – vera46
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 0:26

The linguistic feature you're talk about is the difference between an endonym and an exonym. An endonym is the name that an ethnic group gives to their own topographic space, while an exonym is that given to the group by an external group. These terms can also extend to the name of the cultural group, or the name of their language.

It's pretty common around the world as you can see from all the examples above, given that groups generally have a different perspective on themselves than others external to them do.

  • In Irish Gaelic: Wales is called "An Bhreatain Bheag" (The Little Britain) and Brittany is called "An Bhriotáin". England is called "Sasana" (Land of Saxons). Ireland is "Éire". Scotland is "Albain". The USA is called SAM (Stáit Aontaithe Mheiriceá). Sweden is called "An tSualainn". Norway is called "An Iorua". Italy is "An Iodáil". The Netherlands are called "An Ísiltír" (The low country). Cornwall is "Corn na Breataine" (Britain's horn).


  • In Scottish Gaelic: Unlike Irish, Wales is called "Bretyn" and Brittany "A' Bhreatain Bheag" (The Little Britain). England is Sasainn. Ireland is Èirinn. Scotland is Alba. Cornwall is "A’ Chòrn" (The horn).

  • In Manx Gaelic: Wales is called "Bretyn" and Brittany is called "Yn Vritaan". England is "Sostyn". Ireland is Nerin. Scotland is Nalbin.

  • In Welsh: Ireland is called "Iwerddon" and Scotland "Yr Alban". England is called "Lloegr" (the British name for the south east of Britain).

So England is "Land of Angles" in English, "Land of Saxons" in Gaelic and a part of ancient Britain, called Lloegr, in Welsh.

The word "Ireland", "Irland" or "Irlanda" stem from Éire, its Gaelic name.

Scotland is "Alba" in Gaelic, which was historically applied to all of Britain, if I'm not mistaken. And "Scot" was a Roman word used with respect to the Irish. Later, with the gaelification of Scotland, the term became associated with the modern day Scots.

Wales is referred to as "The Little Britain" in Scots Gaelic since the Welsh are descendants of the native British, with Wales representing a smaller version of the original Britain. In Irish "The Little Britain" is associated instead with Brittany since this country was originally a colony created by native Britons fleeing the Germanic invasion of Britain.


An example I know of is that in Hebrew, Egypt (at least biblically; I couldn't say for sure about modern Hebrew but I believe so) is referred to as mitsrayyim. I believe the etymology is something like "from two rivers."

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