Why did we anglicise the names of other countries?

Like Sweden is Sev-something and Denmark is Danske. Was it just Anglo-arrogance or was there a reason.

Can I add a poll to this thread? If so, what is you country called in your country’s language (roman alphabet, please) and in English?

My country of birth has many names. The official one is United Kindgom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

My country of residence is neither a country nor part of a country. It’s name in it’s own language is Ellan Vannin.
My guess as to why some countries are given different names is that the original meaning of the country’s name uses language words. And that in another country those words are different. ‘Vannin’ in English I think means ‘Man’ and ‘Ellan’ I assume is ‘Isle’ so ‘Ellan Vannin’ becomes ‘Isle of Man’. I am guessing it is the same for the countries such as Germany (Deutschland) but I could quite easily be wrong.

From the Natural Resources Canada:

Why do you think this is something only English speakers do? All languages make such modifications. In French, the United States are “les Etats Unis”, and Mexico is “Mexique”.


England - L’Angleterre

Great Britain - La Grande-Bretagne

Germany - L’Allemagne

The practice goes all the way back to the ancient world. The Romans, for example, didn’t bother to take a poll to see what the proper name of a region was before marking it down on a map. Instead, they called a whole region after some single tribe of locals. To illustrate: nobody who lived in Greece ever thought of themselves as having “Greek” nationality. If they did refer to the entire region, or of the collective body of speakers of their language, the name used was Hellas / Hellenes. The Romans, however, named the whole region after one single tribe, the Graeci. Thus, to this day, most of the world knows the cradle of democracy as some variation on the word Graeci, rather than as Hellas, the name the inhabitants themselves chose.

In Mexico, the U.S. is called Los Estados Unidos. It’s abbreviated E.U. (I think- I’ve seen E.E.U.U somewhere) instead of U.S.

But that’s just a straight translation, not a Mexicanization or whatever.


Sweden = Sverige
Denmark = Danmark
Norway = Norge

But there is a diffence between “language-izing” and translating.

For example, Estados Unidos is translated into Spanish, not “spanish-ized”. Spain is aglicized, not translated from Espana (sorry, I don’t know how to do the tilde).

Does Sverige mean the same thing as Sweden (etc.)?

OP Answer: In some cases, because it’s bloody difficult for the Average English-speaker to say “Hrvätska” so “Croatia” it is – not only in English but in virtually every other western language, according to their respective rules of pronunciation (“Croacia”-Spanish). Naming of foreign lands is a historic process. The nation the entire world knows as “China” is not called that in its official language; India is Bharat; Egypt is Al-Misr. But having called them by one form or another of the Latin variant for 2K+ years we’re not about to change it. Nor do they seem to mind. OTOH, Burma/Myanmar, Upper Volta/Burkina Fasso, Ceylon/Sri Lanka have been accommodated

In some cases the effect is minimal: Denmark is close enough to Danmark, Russia to Rossiya (itself derivative from just plain Rus), Netherlands to Nederland; Brazil in English is pronounced closer to how they pronounce Brasil in Portugese than if they kept the “s”.

Actually, “Spain” and “España” are both an anglification/hispanization of the Latin Hispania. :wink:

The French “Angleterre” is actually less devolved than “England” if you’re describing the Land of the Angles.

And “Mexique” is still a Frenchification of a Hispanization of a Nahuátl word.

So it’s a common practice.


Previous threads:

Country names, their origins, and a minor UN question
Names of Countries, but in other languages.
A question about the word “Germany”
The Dutch Netherlands
What do Chinese people call China?
Why do Germans call their country Deutschland?
Why do we translate countries names
Names of foreign places


No. The Arabic name for Egypt is just Misr, without the al-.

Misr is standard Arabic, but in dialect you can hear them call it Masr.

The song “Misirlou” is how a Greek songwriter wrote down the Turkish word that means “Egyptian.”

Our word “Egypt”, from Greek Aiguptos, was originally an epithet for the sacred Old Kingdom city of Memphis: Hi-Ku-Ptah (House of the Greatness of Ptah).

Hebrew for Egypt is Mitsrayim, which is essentially the same as the Arabic name except that it has the dual ending (literally ‘the two Egypts’). Philologists think this probably refers to the two original kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt. What other countries had their names dualized? In the Middle Ages Iraq when joined with a neighboring part of Iran was called al-‘Iraqayn, the two Iraqs. (As if one wasn’t enough already). There was also the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which was Sicily plus Southern Italy. I never figured out why Southern Italy was called another “Sicily.” That doesn’t add up.

Which Arabic country names start with the definite article al- and which don’t?

al-Imarat al-‘Arabiyah al-Muttahidah (United Arab Emirates)
al-Jaza’ir (Algeria)
al-Maghrib (Morocco)
al-Mamlakah al-‘Arabiyah al-Sa‘udiyah (Saudi Arabia)
al-Sham (historical Syria)
al-Urdun (Jordan)
al-Yaman (Yemen)

Filastin (Palestine)
Lubnan (Lebanon)
Misr (Egypt)
Suriyah (Syria)
Tunis (Tunisia)
‘Uman (Oman)

The United States of America in Arabic is an al- name: al-Wilayat al-Muttahidah al-Amrikiyah. However, literally translated this means ‘the American United States.’ To say exactly the United States of America, you would have to say Wilayat Amrika al-Muttahidah. This could also be translated as ‘the States of United America’. So it’s probably less confusing to reconfigure the name the way they did.

minor nitpick:

Actually, it’s “Mannin” that means "Man (the isle). “Vannin” is the same word in the genitive case, with the initial Gaelic mutation (Manx doesn’t really slenderize final consonants like Irish does). If it were written in Irish, it would probably look like “Mhannain”.
(yay! this is the first practical use ever of my knowledge of Manx).

(my first reply to this got eaten by the hamsters)
So I covered myself well with ‘think’ and ‘assume’ :slight_smile:

I am having difficulty understanding what you say. What would be the literal manx of ‘Isle of Man’? And what would be the literal English of ‘Ellan Vannin’?
And, I am curious, Are you manx?

What else would it mean? It’s

swe - Sverige
dan - Sverige
nor - Sverige
ice - Sviþjoð
ger - Schweden
dut - Zweden
eng - Sweden
fre - Suède
ita - Svezia
spa - Suecia
fin - Ruotsi
est - Rootsi

to name but a few. The same country, just different names in diferent languages.

And to mention a curiosity: Ruotsi and Rootsi have the same root as Russia. Ultimately it goes back to Roslagen, the coastal area North of Stockholm. In the case of Finnish (and Estonian) it’s because it’s the area closest to Finland and Russia is called so because the country was founded by vikings from there.

Yes. I think some of the confusion in the OP comes from these words:

Svensk -> Swedish
Dansk -> Danish
Norsk -> Norwegian

In their respective languages. Most linguist would classify these 3 languages as one language if the countries were unified politically. Good example of the fine line between dialect and language, and how that line is sometimes drawn arbitrarily, or in recognition of political (rather than true linguistic) boundaries.

Why did we anglicise the names of other countries?

One question though, how did Nippon/Nihon become Japan? My wife thought it came to Europeans via Chinese, Japang being some mythical place at the eastern edge of the world, so upon contact the Portugese assumed it was this place from earlier stories. Can’t vouche for the veracity, anyone more informed correct me?(Sorry for the slight hijack beefy bloke )

boofy bloke :wally ,excuse me.

“Isle of Man” would translate to “Ellan Vannin” and vice-versa. You would never have “Vannin” by itself, though, as it means “of Mannin.” In the Celtic languages, to show various grammatical functions, you do various things to the first consonant. In Manx, for the genitive of proper nouns (and vocative, and using the definite article with a feminine noun, and a few other functions), you have lenition (what used to be called aspiration). Irish and Scots Gaelic would put an “h” after the consonant, whereas Manx changes the letter according to its own weird orthography: “b” and “m” become “v”, “d” and “g” become “gh”, “f” disappears, “c” and “k” become “ch” (not to be confused with “çh”), “p” becomes “ph”, and “s” and “t” become “h”. The other consonants don’t change.