Germany, Deutschland, Alemania: Which?
I’m sure everyone knows of Germany, if you don’t please come out from under that rock; but have you heard of Alemania? Well, that’s Germany too, only it’s what the Spanish call it, and Deutschland is what the Germans call Germany. What is this all about? Why call a country such different names? If it’s Deutschland in Germany, being that it is their country and all, why do we not all call it as such?
There are these things called endonyms, they are the names given to the country by those that reside in said country; then there are these other things called exonyms, which are the names given to certain countries by those that reside outside said countries.
Let’s look at this as if the exonyms are nicknames; by this I mean that you have a name, most of your friends and family might call you by that, or they might use a nickname. There are plenty of examples of good nicknames, “Penny” Hardaway, “Big Baby” Davis, The Human Highlight Real, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain…Yes they are all basketball players, but they have awesome names, names given to them by others, and as such it resembles the idea of these exonyms.
Some of this is understandable, giving another country a name that is easier to write and pronounce in the given language seems reasonable. There are however some other ideas. China for instance. To the Chinese it is known as Zhōng-guó, which translates as central-kingdom. The Europeans were not so happy to simply translate this and leave it how it was, so they devised the name ‘China.’
So just how many possible names are there for each country? Evidently there are a lot, and Germany is a great example…In Norwegian it is ‘Tyskland,’ in Frisian ‘Dútslân,’ in Maori ‘Tiamana,’ in Swahili ‘Ujerumani,’ in Finnish it’s ‘Saksa,’ and in Polish it’s ‘Niemcy,’ and that’s not even half of it…seriously, not even close. While not as diverse as Germany, Australia has a few of its own: in Czech it’s ‘Austrálie,’ in Turkish it’s ‘Avustralya,’ in Maltese ‘Awstralja,’ in Hebrew it’s ‘Ostraliya,’ in Japanese it’s ‘Ōsutoraria,’ and in Vietnamese it’s ‘Úc.’
So we’ve looked at what some other countries are called in different languages, but how about what some countries call themselves; as you now know, the Germans call their land ‘Deutschland,’ Egypt is ‘Misr’ or ‘Masr,’ Finland is ‘Suomi,’ Greece is ‘Hellas,’ Japan is ‘Nihon,’ Montenegro is ‘Crna Gora,’ and Poland is ‘Polska.’ A quick Google search reveals several of these nifty little endonym maps, like the one pictured here:
As you can see each country has the name it is known as by the locals, and I’m sure there are some that you could not even begin to know how to pronounce. So it’s good then, for you and me, that we have these exonyms to help us label the many countries of the word in a way we can understand.
Have you been to a country where the name was not what you thought it was? Do you think we should attempt to learn each countries’ endonym, or stick with the exonyms?