Is France Named For The Franks, The Germanic Tribes That Invaded After The Fall Of The Romans?

(Travel & Leisure) This Is How Countries Get Their Names

PATRICIA DOHERTY NOVEMBER 16, 2017

If you tell your friends you’re planning a visit to Vitalia, they’ll probably think you’re heading to some new spa for a week of pampering. Or you might suggest going to Hellas, but you probably won’t get anyone volunteering to join you.

The ancient names of present-day countries such as Italy and Greece tell us much about their history, legends, and mythology. Many originated long ago which explains conflicting opinions about their beginnings. We explored the names we use in English, but in other languages the country names often sound quite different. Like contemporary languages, many names were based on Latin and Greek.

Italy

Italy, for example, was once called Vitalia, meaning “land of cattle,” because its southern area was rich in grazing herds.  With Greek colonization and influence, the initial letter was dropped and the area became known as Italoi. When you order vitello in an Italian restaurant, the name refers to a young calf, or veal, reminiscent of the country’s early name.

Greece

The ancient name of Greece was Hellas or Ellada, and it is still known as the Hellenic Republic. The Romans created the name Graecia, a Latin adaptation of a Greek word. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, stories of creation myths, referred to the only survivors of a flood who began repopulation by tossing stones that turned into humans. The first one became their son, Hellen, perhaps the source of the Hellenic terminology.

France

France was named for the Franks, Germanic tribes that invaded the region after the fall of the Roman Empire. Once referred to as Gaul, the area’s name became Francia, Latin for “land of the Franks.” It is also said to come from the old German word franca, meaning fierce or brave. The French people are sometimes referred to as Gallic, based on the region’s early name.

Germany

Germany was called Germania by the ancient Romans, but the origin of the word is not clear. One suggestion is that it came from the Celtic gair, meaning neighbor. Germans call their own country Deutschland, and in Spain, Germany is called Alemania.

Malta

In ancient times, the island country of Malta was known for honey and its unique species of bees. It was called Melitta or Melite by the Greeks based on their word for honey (meli). Similarly, the Latin word for honey is mel, leading to such words as mellifluous, meaning sweet flowing or honeyed, as in a pleasant voice.

India

Greek and Latin even influenced the name of India, meaning “the country of the River Indus.” The name of the river probably came from the Sanskrit word sindhu meaning “the sea.”

Portugal

Portugal got its name from the Latin portus cale or warm harbor, referring to a Roman settlement at the mouth of the River Duoro.

Albania

Other countries have also been named for their locations or terrain. Albania was named by the Albanoi tribe which took its name from the Indo-European word alb meaning mountain or hill.

Andorra

Similarly, Andorra got its name from a local Navarrene word, andurrial, which means “shrub-covered land.”

Montenegro

Montenegro literally means “black mountain,” which may refer to the dark appearance of Mt. Lovcen and its surrounding areas.

Bahrain

Bahrain, with seas on its east and west coasts, got its name from the Arabic term al-bahrayn meaning two seas.

Bahamas

The name Bahamas is believed to have come from the Spanish words baja mar, meaning “shallow sea.”

Honduras

Honduras received its name from the Spanish word hondura, “deep water,” also based on the depth of the coastal waters surrounding the islands.

Antigua

Explorers gave names to the lands they discovered, and Christopher Columbus is credited with naming quite a few. He named the island of Antigua after The Church of Santa Maria de la Antigua in Seville, Spain.

St. Kitt’s

In honor of Saint Christopher, guardian of sailors and travelers, Columbus named St. Kitts, an abbreviation for the saint’s name.

Costa Rica

Thinking he might find gold there, Columbus named Costa Rica, Spanish for “rich coast.”

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