We have taken time to put together this Meaning And Origin Of Names of list of every country in the world – using the list of countries as determined by the United Nation.
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, discover surprising and intriguing language facts from around the globe.
While some sources claim that Afghan may come from the Sanskrit Avagana, itself perhaps derived from the Sumerian name of the Badakshan region, Ab-bar-Gan, ‘Mountainous Country’, according to a Persian translation, Afghan means ‘wailing’ or ‘moaning’.
Just like Afghanistan, Albania is a mountainous country. It took its name from the Albanoi tribe, which in turn took it from an Indo-European word alb, meaning ‘mountain’.
Algeria is the Anglicization of the Arabic name Al Jazā᾽ir, ‘the islands’.
The name Andorra comes from a local Navarrese word, andurrial, meaning ‘shrub-covered land’. It has also been suggested that the country took its name from Arabic al-Gandura, ‘the wanton woman’, a legacy from the Moors.
The Portuguese called the Angola area after the first word of the title of the ruler of the Mbundu people in Ndongo, Ngola a kiluanje.
- Antigua and Barbuda
Christopher Columbus named Antigua after the Church of Santa Maria de la Antigua, ‘St Mary the Ancient’, in Seville, Spain. The origin of the name Barbuda is not clear, but it has been suggested that it is derived from the Spanish barbados, ‘bearded’.
The name Argentina is said to have been coined by Spanish explorers who, when they first came to the region, noticed the silver ornaments worn by the natives. Thus the word is from the Spanish argentine, ‘silvery’, and means ‘(Land of) the Silver (River)’.
The Armenians call themselves ‘the Hayk’ after Noah’s great-great-grandson from whom the Armenians claim descent. The Armenian name thus means the ‘Land of Hayk’. Armenia, however, may be a modification of Aramaean, a tribe which lived in northern Syria.
Imagining the existence of a land located in the Southern hemisphere, the Greeks came up with the name Terra Australis Incognita, meaning ‘Unknown Southern Land’.
The present name is derived from the fact that the region became a military district on the eastern border called Ostmark, ‘East Mark’, of Emperor Charlemagne’s Frankish kingdom as a buffer against the Avars; it was also referred to as the Avarian Mark.
Azerbaijan may take its name from one of Alexander III the Great’s Persian generals, Atropates, who in turn took his name from the Greek atropatan, ‘protected by fire’.
It is not entirely clear where the Bahamas got their name, but it is said to mean ‘Shallow Sea’ from the Spanish baja mar. It has also been speculated that it is derived from a much older Lucayan word.
Bahrain means ‘Two Seas’, from baḥrayn, the plural of baḥr. It is a reference to the fact that the kingdom has ‘seas’ to the east and west.
Bangladesh means ‘Land of the Bengalis’, from deś, ‘land’ or ‘country’. The Bengalis take their name from Banga, the chief of the Dravidian-speaking Bang tribe.
Barbados means meaning ‘bearded’ or ‘the bearded ones’.
Barbados is a Spanish word meaning ‘bearded’ or ‘the bearded ones’. It has been speculated that Barbuda got its name from the same root.
The present name Belarus is a shortening of Belaya Rus, meaning ‘White Ruthenia’, but was rendered as ‘White Russia’ in 1795.
The country is named after the Belgae, a confederation of tribes that lived between the Rivers Rhine and Loire in Roman times.
Named after the Belize River. The actual name Belize may be a Spanish mispronunciation of the name Wallace, a Scottish adventurer who is said to have established a settlement at the mouth of the river.
The name may be derived from the Bini, Benin’s original inhabitants. Alternatively, Benin may come from the Yoruba Ile–ibinu, ‘Land of Argument’, a possible reference to a time when the tribes were at war.
Named Dzongkha in the language of Bhutan, from Druk-Yul, ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’, often also translated as ‘Land of the Peaceful Dragon’. Bhutan itself is perhaps from Sanskrit Bhot-ant, ‘End of Tibet’, or Bhu-uttan, ‘High End’, or Bhots-than, ‘Land of the Bhutia’ (a Himalayan people originally from Tibet).
Bolivia takes its name from Simón Bolívar, a national hero who led the revolutions against Spanish rule in South America.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia is named after the River Bosna, while the name Herzegovina comes from the Old Serbian Herceg, ‘duke’, ov, to make the genitive case of herceg in order to indicate possession, and ina, ‘property’. It thus means ‘Property of a Duke’, or simply ‘Duchy’.
Named after the indigenous people, the Tswana or baTswana. Their name apparently means ‘those who went away’ or ‘the separators’.
Brazil takes its name from the pau-brasil tree from which a valuable red dye is extracted.
The name Brunei is perhaps derived from the Sanskrit bhūmi, ‘land’.
Possibly from the Turkic bulga, ‘mixed’, Bulgaria is named after the Bulgars, a mix of Turkic and Slav tribes.
- Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso translates to ‘Land of Honest Men’, from Mandekan Burkina, ‘honest’ or ‘upright’, and faso, ‘fatherland’.
The name comes either from Kirundi, a Bantu language spoken in Burundi, with Bu, a prefix indicating the country, or from the name of the Rundi people.
Cambodia is the Latinized form of the Sanskrit Kambuja, which in turn is derived from Sanskrit nagara, ‘city’.
Cameroon is the Anglicized form of the Portuguese Camarões. The area was named Rio dos Camarões, ‘River of Prawns’, by Portuguese explorers.
Canada’s is perhaps derived from Huron-Iroquois kanata, meaning ‘village’ or ‘settlement’.
Canada’s name is perhaps derived from the Huron-Iroquois word kanata, meaning ‘village’ or ‘settlement’.
- Cape Verde
Named by the Portuguese, Cape Verde translates to ‘Green Cape’.
- Central African Republic
The country’s name is a reference to the fact that it lies at the centre of Africa. Its previous name, Oubangui-Chari, comes from the Bantu ou, ‘land’, and bangi, ‘rapid’, and from a reference to the river Chari.
The name is taken from the Lake Chad, which in turn takes its name from the Bornu tsade, ‘lake’, itself from the Arabic tŝād, ‘large lake’.
It is not known how the country got its name, but it may be derived from an Araucanian word for a type of bird. Another theory suggests that it may be a local word meaning ‘where the land ends’.
China takes its English name from the state of Quin, a western Chinese kingdom during the Zhou dynasty.
Previously called New Granada after the Granada in Spain, Colombia’s present name was adapted in 1863 in honour of Christopher Columbus.
The name of Comoros is adapted from the Arabic qamr, ‘moon’.
- Congo, Democratic Republic of the
The Congo got its name from the river Kongo, which is named after the Kongo people who founded the Kongo kingdom. Kong or kongo is a Bantu word for ‘mountains’.
- Congo, Republic of the
See Congo, Democratic Republic of the.
- Costa Rica
Costa Rica means ‘rich coast’. The name was chosen by Christopher Columbus, who may have believed that gold would be found there.
- Cote d’Ivoire
The Cote d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast in English, is so called because the French and Portuguese confined themselves to the coast to trade in ivory in pre-colonial times.
Named after the Croats. Their name is either derived from the Persian choroatos, ‘nomads’, from the Caucasus, or from the Serbo-Croat hrbat, ‘mountain ridge’, a reference to the mountains along the Adriatic coast.
Cuba, which is located roughly in the centre of the Caribbean, may have adapted its name from the Taino word Cubanacan, ‘centre place’.
It is believed that the island’s abundant deposits of copper led to the Greeks naming it Kypros. According to another theory, however, the name Cyprus may be taken from the son or daughter of Kinyras, mentioned by Homer as King of Cyprus.
- Czech Republic
Named after the Češi, a Slav tribe which came from the east. The name may derive from the Slavonic četa, ‘company’ or ‘group of warriors’, or from Čech, a legendary Slav chieftain. In 2016, the country announced its plan to have its English name Czech Republic shortened to Czechia.
Denmark took its name from the Danes, possibly meaning ‘warrior’. Another theory suggests that it is derived from Old High German tanar, ‘sandbank’, a reference to the number of islands belonging to the country.
The name probably comes from an Afar word, gabouri, ‘plate’. It may refer to the fact that the city is on the coastal plain and surrounded by flat desert.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus and named after the ‘Lord’s Day’, Dies Dominica, or ‘Sunday’, in Latin.
- Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic was previously called Santo Domingo, ‘Holy Sunday’, a reference to the fact that it was discovered on a Sunday.
- East Timor
Timor comes from the Malay timur, ‘east’, East Timor, also known as ‘Timor-Leste’, takes Timor from the Malay timur, ‘east’ – thus East Timor means ‘East East’.
The name means ‘Equator’ in Spanish, a reference to the equator running through the northern part of the country.
The ancient Greek and Roman names Aiguptos and Ægyptus are derived from the Egyptian hūt-kā-ptah, ‘Temple of the Soul of Ptah’, from hūt, ‘temple’, and kā, ‘soul’, and the god Ptah. The Latin name Ægyptus is said to mean ‘The Land below the Aegean Sea’, from aigaiou hyptios.
- El Salvador
Meaning ‘The Saviour’, the country takes its name from a Spanish fort located on the present site of the capital San Salvador.
- Equatorial Guinea
Eritrea was named by the Italians, from the Italianized version of the Latin Mare Erythraeum, ‘Red Sea’, from the ancient Greek erythros, ‘red’.
The country is named after its inhabitants, the Eesti. It is unclear where the word eesti comes from.
The Greeks named the country Aithiops, ‘(Land of) Burnt Faces’, from aithō, ‘I burn’, and opsis, ‘appearance’.
The meaning of Fiji is not known, but it takes its name from its largest island, Viti Levu, meaning ‘Great Fiji’.
Finland is perhaps derived from the Germanic finna, ‘fish scale’
The English name, meaning ‘Land of the Finns’, is perhaps derived from the Germanic (or Teutonic Scandinavian) finna, ‘fish scale’. It may be a reference to the type of clothing worn by the primitive Finnish tribes.
The country takes its name from a coalition of Germanic tribes, the Franks, who conquered Gaul (the ancient region of Europe, corresponding to modern France, Belgium, the south Netherlands, SW Germany, and northern Italy) after the fall of the Roman Empire. The name Frank either comes from the Old German word franka, meaning ‘fierce’ or ‘brave’, or from a personal name.
The country adopted the name from the Portuguese, who came up with the name Gabão, ‘hooded cloak’, for the Gabon Estuary, so called because of its shape.
The country takes its name from the Gambia River, itself named by the Portuguese after the local name, Ba-Dimma, ‘The River’. It has also been suggested that the name comes from the Portuguese câmbio, ‘exchange’, in reference to the trade carried out along the river.
The name is derived from the Arabic and Persian words kurj and gurj, both meaning ‘country’ or ‘land’.
The English name for Germany comes from the Roman Germania. Its origin is unclear, but it has been suggested that it is derived from the Germanic gari, ‘lance’, and man, ‘people’. Another theory connects it with the Celtic gair, meaning ‘neighbour’.
Ghana perhaps means ‘king’ or ‘sovereign’ and may be derived from the title assumed by the tribal chieftain of the old Ghanaian empire that was located to the north of modern Ghana.
In English, named after the Graeci people, who may have taken their name from Graecus, a personal name. The Romans used the name Graecia for the country, from which the modern name is derived.
Named Grenada by Spanish sailors because the landscape reminded them of the region around Granada in Spain.
The origin of the name Guatemala is not entirely clear, but it has been suggested that it comes from an Aztec word, Quauhtemallan, meaning ‘Land of Many Trees’ or ‘Land of the Eagle’. It is also possible that the country takes its name from the word Guhatezmalha, ‘Mountain of Gushing Water’, after the volcano of Agua.
Guinea was given its name by the Portuguese after a Berber word, aguinaw, meaning ‘black man’, or akal n-iguinamen, meaning ‘Land of the Black Men’.
The second part of the country’s name, Bissau, comes from its capital. It is taken from the indigenous Bijagó people from the offshore islands.
Its swampy coastline and many rivers probably gave Guyana its name meaning ‘Land of Waters’ after an Arawak or Carib word.
Haiti took its name from the Arawak name of Ayti, the original name for the island now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Ayti means ‘Land of Mountains’.
The name means ‘Deep Water’ from the Spanish hondura, a possible reference to the depth of the coastal waters.
Hungary’s name comes from On Ogur, ‘Ten Arrows’
Hungary’s present name comes from On Ogur, ‘Ten Arrows’, the name of a group of tribes (seven Magyar and three Kavar) living along the north shore of the Black Sea before they moved to modern Hungary during the 9th century.
Originally called Snæland, ‘Snow Land’, Iceland’s present name comes from the Norse settlers who renamed it with the intention to deter visitors from coming to the island.
India is a Greek and Latin term for ‘the country of the River Indus’, with Indus probably coming from the Sanskrit word sindhu, ‘the sea’.
The name means ‘Indian Islands’, from Greek Indos Nesos.
The name of Iran is derived from the Old Persian aryānam, the genitive plural of arya, ‘noble’ in the sense of ‘high-born’. It means ‘(Land of) the Aryans’.
Iraq’s name is a reference to its location astride the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. It comes from the Arabic al-‘irāq, ‘the (river) bank’ or ‘beside the water’.
The name is a form of Iar-en-land, ‘Land in the West’ from the Gaelic iar, ‘west’.
Israel takes its name from the ancient land of Israel which itself comes from Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel because he was ‘one that prevailed with God’ (Genesis 32: 28).
The name is believed to come from the Vitali tribe whose name may be connected to Latin vitulus, ‘calf’, or witaloi, ‘sons of the bull’. Another theory is that the name is derived from diovi-telia, ‘Land of the Day’ or ‘Land of the Light’.
From the Arawak name of Xaymaca or Yamaya meaning ‘Land of Wood and Water’.
The name means ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ and is a reference to Japan’s location east of China. It comes from the Chinese pronunciation of ‘Jipen’, from the Chinese characters rì, ‘sun’, and bĕn, ‘origin’.
Named after the River Jordan, from the Hebrew root yrd, ‘descend (into the Dead Sea)’. The river’s name, however, could mean ‘River of Dan’, with Dan being one of the sons of Jacob.
Kazakhstan means ‘Land of the Kazakhs’, from stan and the Turkic kazak (qazaq or quzzaq), ‘Horsemen’ or ‘Riders of the Steppe’. However, kazak is more commonly translated as ‘adventurer’, ‘outlaw’, ‘raider’, or ‘free, or independent, man’.
Kenya is a shortened version of the Kikuyu name, Kirinyaga, a corruption of the Swahili kere nyaga, ‘Mountain of Whiteness’.
Previously called Gilbert Islands, ‘Kiribati’ is the native pronunciation of Gilbert and is pronounced ‘Kir-a-bas’.
- Korea, North
Korea is the Western name for the Koryŏ dynasty (918–1392). It can be translated as ‘high and beautiful’.
- Korea, South
See Korea, North.
Kuwait takes its name from a small fortress. It is a diminutive of the Arabic kūt, meaning ‘fort’.
The name means ‘Land of the Kyrgyz’ and comes from the Turkic kir, ‘steppe’, and gizmek, ‘to wander’.
Known as ‘Pathét Lao’ (‘Lao state’) in the Lao language, Laos was the name given to unite the three Lao kingdoms in 1893.
The name Latvia is derived from what the Latvians call themselves, Latvis; this means ‘forest clearer’.
Lebanon comes from the Semitic word lavan meaning ‘white’ or ‘whitish’.
Lebanon comes from the Semitic word lavan meaning ‘white’ or ‘whitish’, probably referring to the snowy peaks of Mount Lebanon.