Do you ever wonder why Norway is called Norway and France is called France? Do you know how our country got its name?

It is interesting to know how countries got their names and how some of these names have evolved over the years.

While a lot of thought went into naming of some countries, sometimes many lands and countries were given random names after travellers, mostly by sea, discovered unknown pieces of land they arrived at. In some cases, the natives of a country named their land.

Let’s find out how the following countries were named:


Beginning with our own country, the name Pakistan is actually a combination of two Persian words: “Pak” which means pure and “istan”, which means place. Choudhry Rahmat Ali is credited with coining this name in 1933.


This country was called Southern Land or Terra Australis Incognita (Latin) or ‘unknown southern land’. The name was coined when the British explorer Matthew Flinders arrived there in 1814 and decided that it was a country in the Southern part of the world.

Interestingly, New Holland was the name initially given to Australia by Dutchman Abel Tasman, the discoverer of Tasmania. The name remained semi-official until the mid-1800s when the British rulers changed it to Australia.


According to historians, the word America is derived from the name of an Italian traveller, Amerigo Vespucci, who arrived in present-day US during 1499 and 1502.

During his expeditions, he explored the coasts of South America too.


The land of Bolivar and later Bolivia was the name given to this country after Simon Bolivar, the military and political leader who changed the course of colonial South America.

Costa Rica

Researchers and historians suggest that Christopher Columbus first arrived in this land in 1502 and named it as “rich coast” for the abundance of valuable metals and minerals, and over time it became known as Costa Rica.


There are a number of versions of how Djibouti got its name. In the Afar language, spoken in Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia, this word was ‘yibuti’, while in Arabic it was ‘jibuti’, and in Somali it was pronounced ‘jabuuti’.

Another version is that the Afar word ‘gabouti’ or ‘plateau’ was the origin for the word Djibouti.


In Greek, this land was first known as Aigyptos and in Latin as the “Home of the Ka and Ptah” who were earlier Egyptian gods. Moreover, in some Greek scriptures, this land is also named as Aigaiou hyptios, translating to ‘Land below the Aegean Sea’.


France got its name from Francia from Latin, translating to ‘Land of Franks’. Franks were a group of Germanic tribes living on the East bank of River Rhine.

Interestingly, the word ferocious or fierce, is derived from ferocia, the name given to the Frank warriors.


The names Grecas and Crecas from Old English and Graecia from Latin combined to form Greece. Other observations are that geras (gift of honour) from the Indo-European language formed the name Greece.


In the Turkic language, on-ogur refers to the ‘People of the ten arrows’, which is derived from the Alliance of the Ten Tribes. Although Hungary had no association with Turkic language, the Byzantine chronicles show origins of this name based on the Turkic-nomadic customs of the time.


This name also has Greek origins from the words indos and nesos, meaning islands. The word Indonesia was coined centuries before the formation of an independent Indonesia.

In 1850, an English ethnologist, George Windsor Earl proposed the name of ‘Indu-nesian’ for the people residing in the Indian Archipelago, that later became Indonesia.


When the Italian explorer Marco Polo arrived where Japan is located today, he referred to these islands as Geppun, which loosely translates to Jitpun from the Shanghainese language meaning “Land of the rising sun”.

Previously, in the Sino-Japanese language, Japan was also referred to as Nihon or Nippon, meaning “Empire of the sun”.


The name Kuwait is derived from the Arabic ‘akwaat’, the plural of ‘kut’, meaning a fortress built near water.

Interestingly, the Portuguese built a fortress in Kuwait in the 16th century.


The name of Mount Lebanon originates from the Phoenician root ‘lbn’ meaning ‘white’, apparently from its snow-capped peaks.


Researchers believe that the Sanskrit word of ‘maladvipa, which means ‘Garland of islands’, is the origin for the name Maldives. Furthermore, ‘maalaa’ in Sanskrit means islands or small islands.


According to the ancient maps of South Asia, Nepal was referred to as Nepa, which meant ‘people who domesticate cattle’. The people of this area are called Nepa, Nepar or Newal, who still reside in and around Kathmandu.

Moreover, in Sanskrit, ‘Nipalaya’ means ‘abode at the foot of the mountains’ which refers to the natives of Nepal who live near the mountain regions of the Himalaya.


It is believed that the name ‘Omana’ was given to this area by Pliny the Elder, a Roman author. Another version says that the Arabs called this area as ‘Aamen’ or ‘Amoun’, which means ‘natives or settlers of an area’.


Portugal comes from the Roman-Celtic ‘Portus Cale’ or the Port of Cale. The word ‘cale’ or cailleach refers to a Celtic deity. The early settlement that resided in Douro River, north of present-day Portugal, was also called ‘Cailleach’.


The country was apparently named after a renowned and powerful Khariji commander named Qatari ibn al-Fuja’a.


The modern name of Russia, which came into use in the 15th century, is derived from an early Greek name for the people of Rus, which is an old Norse word for ‘people who row’.

Saudi Arabia

The Al-Saud dynasty gave its family name to the Gulf Arab monarchy of Saudi Arabia, ruled by the sons of founder Abdul Aziz bin Saud.


The name of Turkey is the anglicised version of the Turkish name “Türkiye”, which represented the land of the Turks, back then ruled by the House of Osman, which gave the word Ottoman, which was how Turkish people were used to be called back then until the collapse of their empire and the foundation of the modern country of Turkey.


There are several theories about the origin of the name Ukraine. According to one theory, the name originates from the general Slavic word for borderland, which primarily referred to Kievan Rus border territories. Later on ‘Ukraina’ referred to borderlands within the Polish kingdom.


In 1499, an expedition arrived near the Venezuelan coast. When the expedition’s leader saw houses built near a lake, it reminded him of Venice and he named this area as Veneziola, a Spanish word translating to Little Venice. Veneziola later became Venezuela.


The words Wales and Welsh originate from the Old English ‘Wealh’ and ‘Wealas’, who were described as descendants to Walhaz, of German origin. In some scriptures, the ancestors of the Welsh are said to have a Roman descent, called ‘Volcae’.


In ancient times, Yemen was known as Arabia Felix, Latin for ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate’. It acquired the name because its high mountains attracted rain, making it more fertile than most of the Arabian peninsula


One historical record states that the name Zimbabwe was derived from the Shona language, where ‘dzimba-dza-mabwe’ translated to ‘houses of stone’ or ‘house made of stone’.

Published in Dawn, Young World, October 5th, 2019



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