What’s that Central European Country Called Again?

On our honeymoon, Kari and I spent a couple days in Germany.  The cities of Deutschland are beautiful.  We enjoyed the great beer and food they make in Alemania.  Some day I hope to return to Tyskland.  But before I do, I want to figure out why there are so many names for the same country.

Every language has its own way of saying the name of a given country, but most countries in Europe are pronounced similarly across European languages.  England is pretty universally known as some variation of England/Angleland.  Spain is something like Spain/España.  Italy is a variation of Italia.  But Germany is a weird exception.  The chart below shows the difference pretty clearly:

English England France Spain Italy Denmark Germany Finland Poland
French Angleterre France Espagne Italie Danemark Allemagne Finlande Pologne
Spanish Inglaterra Francia España Italia Dinamarca Alemania Finlandia Polonia
Italian Inghilterra Francia Spagna Italia Danimarca Germania Finlandia Polonia
Danish England Frankrig Spanien Italien Danmark Tyskland Finland Polen
German England Frankreich Spanien Italien Dänemark Deutschland Finnland Polen
Finnish Englanti Ranska Espanja Italia Tanska Saksa Suomi Puola
Polish Anglia Francja Hiszpania Włochy Dania Niemcy Finlandia Polska

There are some interesting differences here and there, but for the most part there’s a clear agreement on what these countries are called except for Germany.  Wikipedia has a pretty in-depth article and map specifically about this topic, but to summarize it’s because of the country’s non-unified history.  Before 1871, the region that we call Germany today existed as several distinct countries and the various names for the modern nation of Germany reflect that history.

  • Germany and Germania come from the Roman’s name for the region, Germania.
  • Allemagne and Alemania come from the Alemanni tribe, who lived along the border of modern France.
  • Deutschland and Tyskland come from an Old High German word for “of the people”.
  • Saksa is named for the Saxons, from northern Germany.
  • Niemcy comes from a Proto-Slavic word meaning “the mutes”.  Basically Niemcy means “the people who can’t talk (like us)”.

So there it is – now that I know why Germany has so many different names, all I need to do is plan my next trip back.

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