This thread, on the origin of the name Cuba, linked to this about.com page where an “expert” gave origins of all the country names. On the whole, she got most of them right. But there were several errors and omissions. Please allow me to set the record straight.
Actually, al-jazâ’ir is the plural form for three or more islands. The dual, ‘two islands’, would be al-jazîrân.
In Turkish, bulmak means ‘to mix’; the Bulgars were named that for being a mixed people.
Yes, Zhongguo means ‘middle kingdom’, but the English name China came from the Qin dynasty that ruled China about 2000 years ago.
The Arabic for ‘moon’ is qamar. The Comoros flag has the moon on it. The Mountains of the Moon were according to ancient legend in East Africa.
Columbus noted in his journal that while sailing the coast of Cuba they saw “a mosque” (una mezquita). It was some kind of dome-shaped structure that reminded Columbus of a mosque. The Arabic word for ‘dome’ is qubbah.
Egypt (<Greek Aiguptos) is named for the Copts, the indigenous people.
The name comes from the Aestii, the Baltic tribes who once inhabited that region.
It has nothing to do with the Greek word for earth cultivation, nor is it from Arabic. The Persian name for Georgia, gurgan, means ‘wolves’ but it’s derived from a tribal totem in eastern Georgia. Kurj is the Arabic corruption of the Persian name owing to the lack of the letter g in Arabic.
¡No way, José! Hungary comes either from the Ugre tribes, or from the name of the tribal confederation On Ogur ‘ten arrows’ in Turkish, an alliance of ten tribes on the steppes, some of them were Turkish and some were Magyar.
In Arabic, ‘irâq is related to the same root as the words ‘arîq, ‘deep-rooted’ and ‘arâqah, ‘deep-rootedness’, referring to the antiquity of Mesopotamian civilization. It’s an old Arabic name that the British spy Gertrude Bell revived when she concocted the Kingdom of Iraq after the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
There’s nothing “probably” about it, it definitely comes from the Jordan River. In Hebrew, yordan means ‘going down’, from the verb yarad ‘to go down’ referring to the river’s descent from the mountains all the way down to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. The Arabic cognate warada means specifically ‘to go down to the water’ since water is always found at the bottom of a declivity.
The Malays immigrated from nearby parts of Indonesia. The name may derive from Tamil malai meaning ‘mountain’, referring to the mountainous parts of Sumatra where the Malays came from.
It’s from Sanskrit mala dvipa ‘garland of islands’, an apt description for the Maldives island chain.
From Koine Greek melita, ‘honey’. St. Paul called it that when he was shipwrecked there. Didn’t you read Acts 28:1? Malta was famous as a producer of honey in ancient times.
From the river Moldova in Romania.
In Arabic, maghrib means both ‘sunset’ and ‘the place of sunset’, i.e. west. al-Maghrib al-aqsá means ‘the farthest west’, but in Arabic the country is simply called “al-Maghrib.” This is the usual theory for the origin of the name. But the more likely explanation is that it comes from Marrakesh, its capital city in the Middle Ages. It is an old Arabic custom to call a country and its capital city by the same name.
Niger actually derives from the Tamashek (Berber language of the Tuareg) gher n-gheren ‘river among rivers’.
The language it comes from is not a Papuan “native language,” but Malay, where the word pepua means ‘curly-haired’. The Malays have straight hair.
The city of Oporto (‘the port’) gave its name to the country, but the -cale or -gal part is from Arabic qal‘ah, ‘fortress’.
The Hebrew name for Yemen is actually Timon. The Arabic name al-Yaman does refer to its being on the right hand yamîn), which is south if you’re oriented facing east; the related word yumn meaning ‘good fortune’ is associated with the idea of the right hand. The Arabic name for Syria, al-Shâm, comes from a word for ‘left hand’, since it’s to the north of Arabia.