Roma/Romani/Romania - origin of names?

I’m writing a not-particularly-serious book which separately mentions both Gypsies/Roma and the country Romania. I don’t need to be factually rigourous but I’d like to get the broad outlines right. I’ve read up on the history of both, and in particular the staff report on the Gypsies.

I’m having a hard time getting solid information anywhere on the origin of both the words Roma/Romani, and of Romania. It seems more than coincidence that Romania has a high population of Roma, but I can’t establish which was named after which, if at all, and when.

As best I can tell the Roma were expelled from northern India in medieval times (but not exactly when) by the Muslims/Mughals, and travelled across (or were transported across) the Byzantine Empire and expelled on the other side into the Balkans, still the area with the highest proportion of Roma in the population.

The name Romania isn’t first recorded until 1521 which could tie in with the arrival of the Roma. But the area was then of course a vast battleground between the Muslim and Christian states, so it seems unlikely they could successfully and calmly settle there with co-religionists of those who had expelled then from India, let alone have given their name to the area and had that adopted by the locals.

So can anyone help clarify both these name origins for me please? Thanks for any help anyone can offer.

Sorry, it’s a coincidence. Romania ultimately derives from the city of Rome, while the Roma (and variants Dom, Lom, etc.) derive from Proto-Indo-Aryan.

ETA: The Sanskrit etymon is doma, with a dot beneath the D that I can’t type, referring to a specific caste of musicians. The D > R is merely a sound change.

Well thank you! That’s already saved me from one embarrassing mistake. Anything further on the origin of “Romania” would be extremely welcome.

I had speculated that it was an attempt to connect themselves with the (relatively brief) period of Roman colonialism and thus to the glory of Rome, as the Holy Roman Empire and Mussolini’s New Roman Empire did. But I found nothing to validate that.

As best I can tell the Romans themselves continued to call that area Dacia after they conquered it, I had also wondered if the Romans might have named it Romania to attract more settlers (cf Greenland) but as I say above, I see no mention of the word Romania before C16.

It probably derives from the persistence of the Eastern Roman/Byzantine state, that maintained that name as a general descriptor and that was then, subsequent to its fall in the mid-15th century, gradually appropriated by the Latinate-speaking people of Moldavia, Transylvania and Wallachia as a common descriptor to distinguish themselves from surrounding Greek, Slavic and Hungarian-speaking peoples. But this really only seems to firm up definitively in the 19th century. Before that ethnic descriptors and groups could be rather amorphous.

So for example to the Hapsburg state the term"Vlachs" for people immigrating into their territory from Ottoman lands to the south, meant only that they were of the Orthodox faith and had nothing to do with whether they were from Wallachia or spoke a Latinate tongue. Many of them in fact were Slavic people who became modern Serbs. Similarily “Croat” was used as a geographic descriptor, not an ethnic one. So the monolingual Croats and Serbs in modern Croatia only became distinct as Serbs and Croats in the 19th century, when they separated into nationalities based on religious faith.

Also it is interesting to note that the whole region of southeastern Europe was “Romania” to the Ottomans as Rumelia ( or “Little Romania”, as distinct from Anatolia, that was Rum ). This was the area south of the modern boundaries of Romania ( Wallachia to the north was a separate district ).

So you’re saying it has no connection with the word “Rome” at all, but comes at a couple of removes from Rum?

No, the opposite. I’m saying it directly connects to Rome via the Eastern Roman empire, which continued to cling to the name “Roman” long after it lost direct influence over Rome itself. It was contemporary western sources that referred to them by such terms as “Empire of the Greeks.” The term “Byzantine Empire” was retroactive and didn’t appear until after the state was terminated. Until its dying day its Greek-speaking rulers and people described themselves as “Romans” - “Romania” was the ( mostly Greek-speaking ) lands of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The names Rum and Rumelia were taken by the Turks ( first Seljuqs, then Ottomans ) to describe the territories that had once belonged to that state ( i.e. Byzantium ). So the Seljuq Sultans of Rum, were sultans of “Romania”, that is the Roman empire in Anatolia they had conquered. Rumelia was “Little Romania”, i.e. European Romania, distinct from the Anatolian part of Byzantium previously conquered.

So it was only later, after the Eastern Roman state was gone, that the term gradually came to refer to Latin-speaking people in the Balkans/Carpathians and surrounding river drainages. But it hearkens back to the Eastern Roman Empire and from there to Rome. A twisty path, but a direct one.

I’m being unclear :D.

Rome>Roman Republic>Roman Empire >Eastern Roman Empire - eventually loses Rome, but clings to prestigious title of “Roman Emperor” and identity as “Romans.”

> Turkish Rumelia, conquered from the European rump of the Eastern Roman Empire and its former dependecies in the area. Name lasts until after the creation of this new Romania to the north - this can be considered parallel to the below, not necessarily a precursor.

> Latinate-speaking people in the general region adopt previously general name of “Romanian”, meaning “citizen of Eastern Roman Empire”, to mean specifically themselves as Latinate-speaking ( recognizing the connection to the old Latin-speaking Roman Empire ) people in the former region encompassing or adjoining the old Eastern Roman Empire - nobody objects because in the wake of the dead Roman state they are now Greek or Bulgarian citizens of Ottoman Rumelia or what have you - these people are originally scattered all over, including in modern Greece ( Thessaly was also called Great Vlachia in the 11th century ), Bulgaria, etc… Just as, or probably rather more frequently frequently referred to by other names such as Vlachs.

Or maybe they just keep the old name “Romanian” and everybody else abandons it. It seems a bit obscure.

>Under the impetus of 19th century nationalism, the areas that now have Romanian-speaking majorities ( the former Ottoman dependencies of Wallachia and Moldavia and later Transylvania, carved out of Hungary ) adopt the name “Romania”, thus creating the geographic entity in its modern form.

When are you saying this is? Constantinople falls in 1453, but we don’t see the name Romania appear in any text (so far as I know) until 1521. Not that surviving documentation is likely to be comprehensive, I know.

But I think I get what you are saying in general. The peoples on the western side of the Latin/Greek dividing line, when the eastern Roman Empire/Byzantium falls, adopt or retain the badge “Romanian” as a link with the pride and heritage they still feel for the original (Latin-speaking) western Roman Empire. By whatever process this tag ends up being applied to one specific region of that area and others get called Bulgaria, Moldavia etc by similar processes.

Yeah, it’s obscure. Here’s a wikipage on the topic, which you no doubt have already perused. Thus, Tranquillo Andronico writes in 1534 that Romanians (Valachi) “now call themselves Romans”. In 1532, Francesco della Valle accompanying Governor Aloisio Gritti to Transylvania, Walachia and Moldavia notes that Romanians preserved the name of the Romans (Romani) and “they call themselves in their language Romanians (Romei)”.

Comments like that are highly suggestive of the process, but don’t make it too clear exactly how it all came down. I’d imagine it was a proto-nationalist response to Ottoman ( and perhaps from the other direction and for awhile, Hungarian ) pressure. As Orthodox Christians and Latin-speakers, pushing their connection to “Rome” ( both Latin Rome and the Orthodox “Rome” of Constantinople ) may have been an attempt at creating a unifying mythology. Just speculation on my part.

This actually is clearer. The idea of Romania as a geographic construction combining Wallachia and Moldavia seems to have originated by early Romanian nationalists in exile in Paris in the 19th century. To this was eventually added Transylvania as spoils of WW I ( despite still having a large Hungarian presence in eastern Transylvania in particular).

Thank you very much, that’s excellent!

I came to contribute to the discussion but Tamerlane has done a superb job.
Well done sir.

How about the linguistic connection? What I have seen of Romanian appears closer to Latin than even Spanish, and my wife, who speaks Spanish, claims to be able to converse wit speakers of Romanian, if both sides keep it simple and slow.

Anecdote alert!

From what I understand of Romanian - which comes from talking to Romania and Moldova Peace Corps Volunteers - it is easier to learn if you have a background in a Romance language, but it has stuff that Spanish and French don’t, like cases. (In theory, Peace Corps Volunteers are supposed to attain a certain level of language fluency before being released into the wild - the level Romania Volunteers are supposed to get to is a level higher than we Bulgaria Volunteers, or those who learned Russian in Moldova, because it should be easier to learn a Romance language than a Slavic language.) It also has a plethora of borrowed Slavic words - ie, the word for “yes” is da. OTOH, I studied Spanish in high school and found it fairly easy to communicate using those skills when I was in Italy, but I couldn’t understand anything when I was in Romania.

Correct me if I’m wrong on this: Moldovan, the ‘national language’ of Moldova, is actually “just” a Moldavian dialect of Romanian elevated to ‘national language’ status – they’re actually more or less the same language.

The first edition of the American Heritage Dictionary printed more adventurous etymologies than you can find in the current (4th) edition. The latter only says “[Romany romani, feminine of romano, gypsy, from rom, man, from Prakrit ḍoma, man of a low caste, of Dravidian origin.]” While the Online Etymology Dictionary uses a slightly different spelling of the source word: "from rom, the Gypsy word for “man, husband, male, Gypsy” (pl. roma), from Skt. domba-s “male member of a low caste of musicians.”

But the 1st ed. AHD takes that a step further back: “from Sanskrit ḍoma, ḍomba, man of a low caste of musicians, from Dravidian, akin to Telegu [sic] ṭamaṭama, drum.” (Note that the misspelling “Telegu” is now obsolete, the language’s name is actually Telugu.)

I suppose that the onomatopoeia of ṭamaṭama meaning ‘drum’ is self-evident. So nothing to do with Rome at all. The change of /d/ > /r/ is a sound shift that happens a lot in historical linguistics.

The Romany name from Devanagari Sanskrit रोमानी meaning “Man or Husband”
This name was adopted in 1971 officially by the World Romani Congress.
The name is not to be confused with the unrelated Prakrit doma, which unfortunately another misnomer such as Egyptian for gypsies etc. The origins of the Roma are in north India of Khishatrya, Rajput, and Jatts, which were a warrior class. There are many scholarly and reputable sources that can be consulted other than poorly edited dictionaries and hearsay. Romania, the country was actually Dacia, and not connected to the term “Rom” which is Indo-European in origin. Although many Roma may live in Romania, they are originally from India.
So Doma does not equal Rom and Rom does not equal Romania! :slight_smile:

:dubious: “Devanagari” is the name of a script, not a language. I have not been able to find in my Sanskrit dictionary any Sanskrit word resembling रोमानी (“romaanii”, and by the way stems with that long-“ii” ending are typically feminine) that could possibly mean “man” or “husband”.

रोम (“roma”) is known in Classical Sanskrit as a loan-word meaning “Rome”, and there’s an unrelated consonant-stem word “roman” meaning body hair, but nothing like the word you allege.

“ḍoma”, on the other hand, is clearly attested in Sanskrit in the meaning of “low-caste musician” mentioned by other posters.

This is, at best, debated. Most scholarly sources on the history of the Romani (“gypsies”) connect them with the “Dom” or “Domba” castes of India (the “ḍoma” mentioned above), who are now a scheduled caste (low-status in the traditional caste hierarchy). While the Domba castes may have had a somewhat higher status in medieval times than today, it’s doubtful that they were Ksatriyas (members of the second or royal/warrior division of traditional Hindu society). According to this article, there’s no genetic evidence specially linking the Ksatriya Jats of northwest India with Romani peoples.

Indeed there are, but I don’t see you citing any of them. Your assertions need supporting evidence in order to be persuasive.

Hello Kimstu,

Thank you for participating and responding to my discussion. Thank you, I am
aware of Deva-nagari being a script of the Sanskrit language, I apologize if my wording was unclear to you. The Indo-aryan word Rama does mean husband,
this was taken from “We are the Romani people” by Ian Hancock, which has numerous references and documented research. You may consult sources from W.R. Rishi, noted Indian scholar, as well for insights. His research into customs and words pointed to the castes of NW India. Modern scientific journals have cited this anthropological and cultural research pointing to Roma having similar culture as Jatt in their introduction section before their molecular analyses, such as Origin and Divergence of Roma by Gresham.

“Doma” is from Fonseca’s research, this was based more on trades and poor status in society than customs, as well as Grellman’s research from the 1800’s. This work has been critiqued since then, and has been re-examined. Many words for houselhold items, homes, and weapons were similar in Romani language and the language of the N Indian castes. The DOM theory was refuted in 1992 based on serological evidence of Blood grouping of Romani. This work stated that Doms and Koli’s are Proto-Australoid and were not reflected in E. European Rom. The distance analysis placed them in line with Jat, Sikhs, Punjabs, Rajputs, a later 2001 study using similar methods confirmed this.

Now on to genetics:
I looked over the article, which was based on a male line Y DNA using Analysis of Molecular Variance and a limited population sample. this was a whopping big one study against, and at the very least not proving a shared ancestry with Dom. So A recent study in 2009 pointed to a mutation specific to Romanies and Jatt causing glaucoma. Hmm…

Here is a link to: which was a 2001 study
with more subjects, mTDNA analysis AMOVA, as well, and pointed to at least well, Asian (E. Indian) ancestry. A multilocus analysis of genetic data by Kalaydjieva Crahell, Gresham, pointed to NW India Rajput and Punjab for a wide number of
Pan-European Rom populations. There is certainly need for more research into this area, much work could be done, on linguistic, cultural, as well as molecular genetics.

*This is more anecdotal, but genetic geneaology is an emerging science: my autosomal DNA analysis pointed to NW India and Pakistan, as well as some European admixture. So as far as I am concerned, I am right! :slight_smile: LOL

I’m having a discussion, not a dissertation! Hit the books, hit the GOOGLE and Pubmed search engine, there is much evidence pointing towards it seems, or at least definite discussion into the matter! Who can you trust researchers and experts, or random people on a forum repeating the same outdated twiddle-twaddle?


The Sanskrit word “rama” (रम) can indeed mean “husband” or “lover”, but it is not related to Sanskrit “roma” (रोम). You have still provided no reliable evidence that the name “Rom” or “Romani” is derived from any Sanskrit word other than ḍoma/ḍomba.

Is this the “introduction section” of the Gresham et al. article you’re referring to?

If so, then I see where you got mixed up. You confused the word jatis, meaning hereditary professional/sociocultural groupings often referred to as “castes”, with the name “Jats”, referring to a specific ethnic group in northwest India.

So this introduction doesn’t say what you think it says. It doesn’t claim that the Romani “have similar culture as Jatt”. Rather, it says that their social organization resembles the general jati or caste structure of Indian kin-groups.

It’s not at all in dispute that the Romani are of Indian (i.e., South Asian) ancestry; that has been widely accepted for a long time. Moreover, nobody disputes that the Romani are linked to ethnic groups in western and northwest India, including Rajasthan and the Punjab. What is still disputed or unknown is which South Asian ethnic group(s) the Romani are most closely related to. There is AFAICT no reason to rule out a genetic connection with members of the Dom/Domba castes, who are found in NW India as well as elsewhere in the subcontinent.

Which studies are these? Do you have cites or links to them? In any case, the research that you did cite argues against a definite identification with any single Indian ethnic group. As the above-linked Gresham article you cited says:

In other words, it’s agreed (and has been accepted for a long time) that Romani people are genetically and linguistically linked to Indian ancestry, specifically to the northern and western regions of India. But the little we now know about the specifics of their ancestry indicates a possible mixed heritage of low-status and high-status groups.

As far as your fellow posters here are concerned, you are just another random person on a forum who could be just repeating twiddle-twaddle. That’s why we ask to see cites of reputable sources to back up assertions that claim to contradict or disprove generally accepted hypotheses.

Your assertions appear to be attempting to discredit theories of Romani descent from “untouchable” groups such as the Dom/Domba, and focus instead on ancestral connections to the more “glamorous” warrior castes of Rajputana and the Punjab. But you seem to be somewhat overstating your case. Though there may well be some Rajput ancestry among modern Romani, there’s no reason to rule out connections with lower-status groups. Nor have you shown so far any persuasive rationale for deriving the name “Rom” or “Romani” from any Sanskrit word other than ḍoma.

In short, you seem to be a bit over-eager to demote the hypotheses of earlier researchers to the status of “outdated twiddle-twaddle”, and you certainly haven’t provided any convincing arguments for discarding them.

Dear Kimstu,

Since you did not have the time to read the books and hastily replied: I will hand deliver 1 news article to you. You bit the bait! :wink: Now I have your attention.” This article is from 2009 so it is fairly recent, yes?

The findings point that primary congenital glaucoma PCG, which occurs in 1 in 1000
Romany population, is caused by the same mutation that is found in Jatt communities of Pakistan. This research is from Dr. M. Ali who identified the gene. If you wish to review the science journal article, do so from your local university subscription, or purchase a copy online from the science journal that published it!
BTW: (The 1992 study was by Bhalla which ruled out a Domba connection and pointed to the Jatts, Punjabs, etc. ) However, this is one such study.
A 1979 study by Bartsocas studied pointed to Punjab region. "Clin Genet. 1979 Jan;15(1):5-10. “Genetic structure of the Greek gypsies.”

If you are truly interested in this topic, then you may read the books by the authors I have named previously, and then report your personal opinion.
Or if you wish Role of the Romanies by Saul, We are the Romany people by Hancock, Gypsy Identities by Mayall which provide adequate discussion in to the matter. (And from there you may read the books and studies cited.)

There are a consensus of everyday people on the internet that do not know the origins of Roma, and are passing along their misconceptions. I have provided you with sources of books to read, as I said feel free to purchase or check out a copy if you feel so inclined.

Past research on Roma heavily borrowed from George Borrow’s folksy anecdotes and other antiquated and misinformed researchers. As I have stated before
more research is needed, especially when it leads to helping others, ie medical screenings and treatments. Enjoy your search and studies!