almond furnace

Names of Germany

Because of Germany's geographic position in the centre of Europe and its long history as a disunited region of distinct tribes and states, there are many widely-varying names of Germany in different languages, perhaps more than for any other European nation: for example, in German the country is known as Deutschland, in French as Allemagne, and in Polish as Niemcy.

List of names divided into groups

In general, the names for Germany can be arranged in six groups according to their origin:

1. From Old High German diutisc or similar, from Proto-Germanic *Þeudiskaz, meaning "of the people", "of the folk":

2. From the Latin Germania:

3. From the name of the Alamanni tribe:

4. From the name of the Saxon tribe:

5. From the Old Slavic word for "mute":

6. Possibly from the Germanic word "folk":

Also worth mentioning:

Names from diutisc

The name Deutschland and the other similar-sounding names above are derived from the Old High German diutisc, or similar variants from Proto-Germanic *Þeudiskaz, which originally meant "of the people". This in turn comes from a Germanic word meaning "folk" (leading to Old High German diot, Middle High German diet), and was used to differentiate between the speakers of Germanic languages and those who spoke Celtic or Romance languages. These words come from *teuta, the Proto-Indo-European word for "people" (Lithuanian tauto, Old Irish tuath, Old English þeod).

Also the Italian for "German", tedesco (variants: todesco, tudesco, todisco) comes from the same Old High German root, although not the name for "Germany" (Germania).

The opposite of diutisc was Old High German wal(a)hisc or walesc, meaning foreign, from the Celtic tribe of the Volcae. In German, welsch is still used to mean foreign, and in particular of Southern origin; in English the word was used to describe the "Welsh" and the name stuck. (It is also used in several other European regions where Germanic peoples came into contact with non-Germanic cultures, including Wallonia (Belgium), Valais (Switzerland), and Wallachia (Romania), as well as the "-wall" of Cornwall.)

The Germanic language which diutisc most likely comes from is West Frankish, a language which died out a long time ago and which there is hardly any written evidence for today. This was the Germanic dialect used in the early Middle Ages, spoken by the Franks in Western Francia, i.e. in the region which is now France. The word is only known from the Latin form theodiscus. Until the 8th century the Franks called their language frengisk; however, when the Franks moved their political and cultural centre to the area where France now is, the term frengisk became ambiguous, as in the West Francian territory some Franks spoke Latin, some vulgar Latin and some theodisc. For this reason a new word was needed to help differentiate between them. Thus the word theodisc evolved from the Germanic word theoda (the people) with the Latin suffix -iscus, to mean "belonging to the people", i.e. the people's language.

In Eastern Francia, roughly the area where Germany now is, it seems that the new word was taken on by the people only slowly, over the centuries: in central Eastern Francia the word frengisk was used for a lot longer, as there was no need for people to distinguish themselves from the distant Franks. The word diutsch and other variants were only used by people to describe themselves, at first as an alternative term, from about the 10th century. It was used, for example, in the Sachsenspiegel, a legal code, written in Middle Low German in about 1220:

Iewelk düdesch lant hevet sinen palenzgreven: sassen, beieren, vranken unde svaven
(Every German land has its Graf: Saxony, Bavaria, Franken and Schwabia).

The Teutoni, a tribe with a name which probably came from the same root, did, through Latin, ultimately give birth to the English words "Teuton" (first found in 1530) for the adjective German, (as in the Teutonic Knights, a military religious order, and the Teutonic Cross) and "Teuton" (noun), attested from 1833.

East Asian names

The Chinese name is probably a phonetic approximation of the German proper adjective. The Vietnamese name is based on the Chinese name. The Japanese name is a phonetic approximation of the Dutch proper adjective. The Korean name is based on the Japanese name. This is explained in detail below:

Chinese and Vietnamese

The common Chinese name (Traditional: , Simplified: 德, Pinyin: Déguó) is a combination of the short form of 德 déyìzhì, which approximates the German pronunciation [d̥ɔɪ̯ʧ] of deutsch meaning ‘German’, and 國 guó meaning ‘country’.

The Vietnamese name Đức is the Vietnamese pronunciation (đức = ) of the Chinese character 德 that appears in the Chinese name.


Japanese language ドイツ (doitsu) is an approximation of the Dutch word duits meaning ‘German’.

It was earlier written with the Sino-Japanese character compound (whose 獨 has since been simplified to ), but has been largely superseded by the above-mentioned katakana ドイツ. The character 独 is sometimes used in compounds, for example 独 (dokubun) meaning ‘German literature’.


The (South) Korean name Dogil (hangul: 독일) is the Korean pronunciation of the former Japanese name (see previous section). The compound coined by the Japanese was adapted into Korean, so its characters 獨逸 are not pronounced do+itsu as in Japanese, but dok+il = Dogil.

The official North Korean name toich'willandŭ (MR; hangul: 도이췰란드) approximates the German pronunciation [ˈd̥oɪ̯ʧla̠nt] of Deutschland.

Use of the Chinese name (in its Korean pronunciation deokguk, hangul: 덕국) is attested for the early 20th century. It is now uncommon.

Names from Germania

The name Germany and the other similar-sounding names above are derived from the Latin Germania, of the 3rd century BC, a word of uncertain origin. The name appears to be a Gaulish term, and there is no evidence that it was ever used by the Germanic tribes themselves. Julius Caesar was the first to use Germanus in writing when describing tribes in north-eastern Gaul in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico; he records that four northern Belgic tribes, namely, the Condrusi, Eburones, Caeraesi and Paemani, were collectively known as Germani. In 98, Tacitus wrote Germania (the Latin title was actually: De Origine et situ Germanorum), an ethnographic work on the diverse set of Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire. Unlike Caesar, Tacitus claims that the name Germani was first applied to the Tungri tribe. The Tungri name is thought to the endonym of the exonym Eburones.

Whether the northern Belgae were Celts or Germanic tribes occupied 19th century and early 20th century historians. Caesar claims that most of the northern Belgae were descended from tribes who had long ago crossed the Rhine from Germania. However many tribal names and personal names or titles recorded are identifiably Celtic. It seems likely that the northern Belgae, due to their intense contacts with the Gaulish south, were largely influenced by this southern culture. Tribal names were 'qualifications' and could have been translated or given by the Gauls and picked up by Caesar. Perhaps they were Germanic people who had adopted Gaulish titles or names. The Belgians were a political alliance of southern Celtic and northern Germanic tribes. In any case, the Romans were not precise in their ethnography of northern barbarians: by "German(ic)" Caesar meant "originating east of the Rhine". Tacitus wrote in his book Germania : "The Treveri and Nervii affectionate very much their German origin, stating that this noble blood separates them from all comparison (with the Gauls) and the Gaulish laziness" . This implies that the northern Belgians were indeed Germanic speakers.

The OED2 records theories about the Celtic roots of the Latin word Germania: one is gair, neighbour (a theory of Johann Zeuss, a German historian and Celtic philologist) - in Old Irish gair is "neighbour". Another theory is gairm, battle-cry (put forward by Johann Wachter and Jacob Grimm, who was a philologist as well as writing fairy tales). Yet another theory is that the word comes from ger, "spear"; however, Eric Partridge suggests *gar / gavin, to shout (as Old Irish garim), describing the Germanic tribesmen as noisy. He describes the ger theory as "obsolete". A last theory is that the word comes from hari, her meaning "army". The word "German" would then mean "man-with-arms".

In English, the word "German" is first attested in 1520, replacing earlier uses of Almain, Alman or Dutch. In German, the word Germanen today refers to Germanic tribes, just like the French adjective "germanique", The English words "german" (as in "cousin-german") and the adjective "germane" are not connected to the name for the country, but come from the Latin germanus, "genuine".

Names from Alemanni

The name Allemagne and the other similar-sounding names above are derived from the southern Germanic Alemanni, a Suebic tribe or confederation in today's Alsace and parts of Switzerland.

The name comes from Proto-Germanic *Alamanniz which may have one of two meanings, depending on the derivation of "Al-". If "Al-" means "all", then the name means "All men", suggesting that the tribe was a confederation of different groups. If "Al-" comes from the first element in Latin alius, "the other", then it is related to English "else" or "alien" and Alemanni means "foreign men", similar to the Allobroges tribe, whose name means "the aliens".

In English, the name "Almain" or "Alman" was used for Germany and for the adjective German until the 16th century, with "German" first attested in 1520, used at first as an alternative then becoming a replacement. In Othello ii,3, (about 1603), for example, Shakespeare uses both "German" and "Almain" when Iago describes the drinking prowess of the English:

I learned it in England, where, indeed, they are most potent in potting: your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander--Drink, ho!--are nothing to your English. [...] Why, he drinks you, with facility, your Dane dead drunk; he sweats not to overthrow your Almain; he gives your Hollander a vomit, ere the next pottle can be filled.

Andrew Boorde also mentions Germany in his Introduction to Knowledge, c. 1547:

The people of High Almain, they be rude and rusticall, and very boisterous in their speech, and humbly in their apparel .... they do feed grossly, and they will eat maggots as fast as we will eat comfits.

Through this name, the English language has also been given the Allemande (a dance), the Almain rivet and probably the almond furnace, which is probably not really connected to the word "almond" (of Greek origin) but is a corruption of "Almain furnace". In modern German, Alemannisch (Alemannic German) is a group of dialects of the Upper German branch of the Germanic language family, spoken by approximately ten million people in six different countries.

Among the indigenous peoples of North America of former French and British colonial areas, the word for "Germany" came primarily as a borrowing from either French or English. For example, in the Anishinaabe languages, three terms for "Germany" exist: ᐋᓂᒫ (Aanimaa, originally Aalimaanh, from the French Allemagne), ᑌᐦᒋᒪᓐ (Dechiman, from the English Dutchman) and ᒣᐦᔭᑴᑦ (Meyagwed, Ojibwe for "foreign speaker"), of which Aanimaa is the most common of the terms to describe Germany.

Names from Saxon, nemoy and folk

The names Saksamaa and Saksa are derived from the name of the Germanic tribe of the Saxons. The word "Saxon", Proto-Germanic *sakhsan, is believed (a) to be derived from the word seax, meaning a variety of single-edged knives: a Saxon was perhaps literally a swordsman, or (b) to be derived from the word "axe", the region axed between the valleys of the Elbe and Weser. This region was traditionally considered by the Romans to be the region the real Germans (with a bad reputation) came from. The Saxons were considered by Charlemagne, and some historians, to be especially war-like and ferocious.

In Finnish and Estonian the words that historically applied to ancient Saxons changed their meaning over the centuries to denote the whole country of Germany and the Germans. In some Celtic languages the word for the English nationality is derived from Saxon, e.g. the Scottish term Sassenach, the Breton Saouzon and the Welsh term Sais. "Saxon" also led to the "-sex" ending in Essex, Sussex, Middlesex etc and of course to "Anglo-Saxon".

The name Německo and the other similar-sounding names above are derived from a Slavic root (in Russian немой, nemoy) meaning "mute", "dumb" i.e. "those who do not speak our language". In contrast, Slavic speakers own name derives from slovo, meaning word, so the name "Slavs" can be translated as "people of the word". At first nemoy was used for any foreigners who did not speak a Slavic language, but later it began to be used specifically for those who spoke German. It is believed that the Arabic name for Austria النمسا al-Nimsā also comes from this root as a loanword.

In Latvian and Lithuanian the names Vācija and Vokietija possibly come from the German word Volk, "the people".


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