#This is the second part of this article, the first part is available here.
When we set out to discover a country, we do not always realize the history and meaning behind its name. We even find the name of some countries funny (such as Turkey where, believe it or not, the animal does not really have a prominent place in society!) and we think we can guess its origin. But as we will discover next, good surprises may be found hidden behind some country names!
At least since the 14th century, the word Nahuatl “Mexico” means “place of the Mexicas” (the ancient name of the Aztec people), but the origin of the ethnonym “Mexicatl” is unknown, several theories existing about it.
One such theory is that the name may come from the word “mexixin” (an edible herb from the marshes of Lake Texcoco), another hypothesis suggests that “Mēxihco” means “place in the center of the Moon” (from the junction of the words Nahuatl to the moon “mētztli “and navel “xīctli“), referring to the position of Tenochtitlan (the ancient name of the Aztec capital) in the middle of Lake Texcoco.
Some legends also suggest that the name may derive from “Mectli” (the goddess of the plant known as agave or aloe American) or “Mexitl” (the secret name of the god of war and patron of the Mexicas Huitzilopochtli).
The name means “Land of the Mongols” in Latin. The origin of the name “mongol” is uncertain, as it may be the name of a mountain or river, a derivation of “Mugulu” (the founder of Khaganate Rouran state in the 4th century) or inspired by the name “mong” (meaning brave or unbeaten).
The earliest documents, dating from the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century, attest to the existence of tribes in the north known as “Mungu” or “Mungku“, now known as “Mongol Khamag” (literally “whole Mongolia”).
Although this practice has now fallen into disuse, for some time the name “Mongoloid” was used for people with mental disabilities, notably those suffering from Down syndrome. This use is due to the English doctor himself who, in the middle of the 19th century, found a similarity in the face of his patients with those of the Mongol race. The term gained a pejorative connotation from the 1920s and was officially abandoned in 1965 by the World Health Organization.
The base of the English name of Morocco is Marrakesh, its capital under the Almoravid dynasty and the Almohad caliphate. In its turn, the origin of the name “Marrakesh” is disputed, but probably comes from the Berber words “amur (n) akush” (Land of God). In Turkish, Morocco is still known as “Fas“, name derived from its old capital Fes.
The full Arabic name “al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah” means “Kingdom of the West,” though “the West” in Arabic is “Al-Gharb“. For historical references, medieval Arab historians and geographers sometimes referred to Morocco as “al-Maghrib al-Aqṣá” (“the farthest West”) to distinguish it from neighboring historical regions called “al-Maghrib al-Awsaṭ” (the Middle West) and “al-Maghrib al-Adna” (the Near West).
Myanmar” was adopted as the official name of the country in 1989 as a way to get rid of the colonial legacy associated with the former name “Burma“, initially used by the Portuguese discoverers and then adopted during the English domain. Still, both remain in use nowadays.
As in other Southeast Asian languages, Burmese may have very different registers between the literary and the spoken form. Thus “Myanma” is the written literary name of the country, adapted from the ancient forms “Mranma” or “Mirma” and which according to local folklore means “fast” and “strong.” Already the name Burma is a correction of the names used in the 18th century by the indigenous peoples “Bermah” and “Birma“.
Ultimately both names derive from the endonym of the largest ethnic group in Burma, the Bamar people, so some groups (ethnic minorities in particular) do not consider any of these names to be inclusive or representative of the totality of their population.
The country’s name derives from “Nepa“, which literally means “those who domesticate the cattle”, in Tibeto-Burmese languages.
A Sanskrit inscription containing the phrase “greetings to the Nepalese” proves that already well before the 6th century this is the name by which the local population (also known as Nepar, Newar, Newa and Newal) is known, still inhabiting the area of the Kathmandu valley and its surroundings as of today.
Alternative theories say that the name derives from the Sanskrit word “nīpālaya” (“dwelling at the foot of the mountain”, referring to its proximity to the Himalayas – such as the name “Piemonte”) or the Tibetan “niyampal” “). There are still those who attribute the meanings “beginning of a new age”, “home of wool”, “holy place”, “fly down” and “house”.
The exact meaning behind the word “Peru” is obscure. The most popular theory argues that the name derives from the native word “biru“, which means river.
Another hypothesis suggests that this was the name of the indigenous chief Beru. Upon their arrival in the 16th century, the Spanish explorers would have asked the chief what the name of that place was but, not understanding a word of Spanish, he assumed that they wanted to know his own name, that being his answer.
The name of Russia originates in the Byzantine Greek “Rossωσσία” (“Rossia“), referring to the “Land of the Rus” (in Russian “Русская Земля“, or “russkaja zemlja“), a medieval state inhabited mainly by eastern Slavic peoples. It has been suggested that this name can originate in the Finnish word for the Swedes “Ruotsi“, meaning “Swedish vikings”.
Interestingly, there are two Russian words commonly used to designate Russians as a people: one is “русские” (“russkiye“), which most often means “ethnic Russians”; the other is “россияне” (“rossiyane“), which means “citizens of Russia regardless of ethnicity”. Often translations into other languages do not distinguish these two groups.
The name of the country is derived from the name of its inhabitants: the Uzbeks – a generic name for the Turkish-speaking peoples of the region.
The origin of this name is disputed. One theory points to the joining of the Turkish terms “uz” (“own”), “bek” (“master”) and “san” (“land of”, from Persian), meaning “lord of oneself”, and denoting their freedom and independence. Another theory argues that the name derives from the semi-mythological leader of the Turks Oghuz Khagan (also known as Oghuz Beg).
The name “Việt Nam” is a variation of “Nam Việt” (literally the “South Việt”), a name which dates back to the Triệu dynasty of the 2nd century BC, and which was found in official documents dating from the 16th century.
The word “Việt” originated as an abbreviated form of “Bách Việt”, a group of people who lived in southern China and Vietnam. The term “Nam” was added to distinguish this kingdom from other Viet, (or Yue) kingdoms.
Coming into the 20th century, the country was generally referred to as “Annam” (“pacified south”), but the name Vietnam was reclaimed by the Viet Quoc nationalist party, in protest of French colonial authority. In 1945, the name Vietnam was officially adopted by the government.
Now that you know the etymology of a few countries, come visit them with The Wanderlust.