Name of Romania

The name of Romania (România) comes from "Român" (Romanian), which is a derivative of the Latin adjective "Romanus" (Roman. Romanians are a people living in Central and South-Eastern Europe speaking a Romance language.

Etymology of the ethnonym "Romanian" (român)

During the transition from Vulgar Latin to Romanian, there were some phonetical changes that modified romanus into român or rumân:

  • ending "-s" dropped (occurred in all Romance languages)
  • ending "-u" dropped (regular change; in Old Romanian was however still present)
  • "a" → "â" (regular change; vowels before nasal consonants turned into "â"/"î")
  • "o" → "u" (regular change; however, in some regions of Romania, the variant with "o" was kept)

A reference of the name "Romanian" could be contained by the Nibelungenlied: "Duke Ramunc of Walachia,/with seven hundred vassals, galloped up before her/like flying wild birds men saw them ride". It is argued that "Ramunc" could represent a symbolic figure, representing Romanians.

The self-designation of Romanians as Romans is mentioned in scholarly works as early as the 16th century by mainly Italian humanists travelling in Transylvania, Moldavia and Walachia. Thus, Tranquillo Andronico writes in 1534 that Romanians (Valachi) "now call themselves Romans". In 1532, Francesco della Valle accompanying Governor Aloisio Gritti to Transylvania, Walachia and Moldavia notes that Romanians preserved the name of the Romans (Romani) and "they call themselves in their language Romanians (Romei)". He even cites the sentence "Sti rominest ?" ("do you speak Romanian ?" for originally Romanian "ştii româneşte ?"). Ferrante Capeci writes around 1575 that the inhabitants of those Provinces call themselves “Romanians”, while Pierre Lescalopier notes in 1574 that those inhabiting Walachia, Moldavia and the most part of Transylvania say to be descendants of Romans, calling their language "romanechte" (French transcription for Romanian româneşte - Romanian).

Other first-hand evidence about the name Romanians used to call themselves comes from authors having lived in Transylvania and/or Romanian principalities: the Transylvanian Saxon Johann Lebel confirms in 1542 that common Romanians call themselves "Romuini", Orichovius (Stanislaw Orzechowski) notes as late as 1554 that "in their own language, Romanians are called Romain, after the Romans, and Walachs in Polish, after the Italians", Anton Verancsics writes around 1570 that Romanians living in Transylvania, Moldavia and Walachia call themselves Romans (Romanians) and Martinus Szent-Ivany cites in 1699 Romanian expressions: "Sie noi sentem Rumeni" (for originally Romanian "Şi noi suntem români") and "Noi sentem di sange Rumena" (for originally Romanian "Noi suntem de sânge român")

Historical Romanian documents display two spelling forms of "Romanian": "român" and "rumân". For centuries, both spelling forms are interchangeably used, sometimes in the same phrase.

In the Middle Ages the ethno-linguistical designation rumân/român also denoted common people. During the 17th century, as serfdom becomes a widespread institution, common people increasingly turns into bondsman. In a process of semantic differentiation in 17th-18th centuries the form rumân, presumably usual among lower classes, got merely the meaning of bondsman, while the form "român" kept an ethno-linguistic meaning. After the abolition of the serfage by Prince Constantine Mavrocordato in 1746, the form "rumân" gradually disappears and the spelling definitively stabilises to the form "român", "românesc".

Etymology of "Romania" (România)

The earliest preserved document written in the Romanian language is a 1521 letter that notifies the mayor of Braşov about an imminent attack by the Turks. This document is also notable for having the first occurrence of "Romanian" in a Romanian text, Wallachia being called here the Romanian LandŢeara Rumânească (Ţeara < Latin Terra = land). As in the case of the ethnonym "român/rumân", Romanian documents use both forms, Ţara Românească and Ţara Rumânească, for the country name.

A common Romanian area embracing Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania is mentioned by the chronicler Miron Costin in the 17th century.

In the first half of the 18th century the erudite prince Dimitrie Cantemir systematically used the name Ţara Românească for designating all three Principalities inhabited by Romanians.

The name "România" as common homeland of the Romanians is documented in the early 19th century.

The etymology of "România" didn't follow the Romanian pattern of word formation for country names, which usually adds the suffix -ia to the ethnonym, like in "grec" → "Grecia", "bulgar" → "Bulgaria", "rus → "Rusia", etc. Since it is a self-designation, the word "România" has an older history, coming from "românie" which in turn resulted as a derivation of the word "român" by adding the suffix -ie, like in ""moş → moşie", "domn" → "domnie" or "boier" → "boierie" (lord → lordship). Initially, "românie" may indeed have meant "Romanianship", (just like "rumânie" meant "serfdom" before disappearing) being then used in the eve of the 19th century to designate the common homeland of Romanians.

The name "Romania" (România) was first brought to Paris by young Romanian intellectuals in the 1840s, where it was spelled "Roumanie" in order to differentiate Romanians (fr.: Roumains) from Romans (fr.: Romains). The French spelling version (Roumanie) spread then over many countries, such as Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany.

In English, the name of the country was originally borrowed from French "Roumania" (<"Roumanie"), then evolved into "Rumania", but was eventually replaced after World War II by the name used officially: "Romania". With a few exceptions such as English and Hungarian ("Románia"), in most languages, the "u" form is still used (German and Swedish: Rumänien; Bulgarian: Румъния; Serbian: Румунија / Rumunija, Polish: Rumunia, etc). In Portuguese, to distinguish them from the Romans, the Romanians are called romenos and their country Roménia. The e reflects the distinct quality of the Romanian â, even though it's not very similar.

Spelling reforms

After the take of the power by the Communists, a spelling reform simplified the Romanian alphabet substituting î for â. The name of the country was officially Republica Populară Romînă. Soon an exception was made to allow â for român and its derivations, while î kept used elsewehere. Since, and even after the post-Communist spelling reform, român is spelled with a.

"Romania" and other derivatives of "Romanus" as terms used also

  • Since 7th century, name for region surrounding Ravenna (Romagna in Italian) where the Byzantines keep off the Germanic rulers.
  • It has been an alternative name for the Byzantine Empire (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, Ρωμανία Rōmanía in Greek - compare with the name Ρουμανία Roumanía for Romania). The name was also kept by non-Latin peoples, such as the Byzantines, who used to call themselves "Romaioi" (Ρωμαίοι, also the origin of the first name Romeo). In the Arabic and Ottoman Turkish languages, it came to mean farther Eastward regions of the empire, like Rûm and Rumelia in Asia. Rumi was also an Arabic word for Christian.
  • It has been an alternative name for the Latin Empire, centred on Byzantium, set up by Roman Catholic Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade with the intention of replacing the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Empire with a Roman Catholic empire.
  • In Romance linguistics it designates all Romance linguistic areas.
  • The word Romanus is also kept elsewhere in other parts of the Roman Empire in the name of the Romansh language of Switzerland.
  • In the Balkans there are Romanic people that have an ethnonym derived from "Romanus", including Aromanians (armâni, arumâni or rămăni) and Istro-Romanians (rumâri). The Megleno-Romanians originally used the form rămâni, but it was lost by the 19th century and used the word Vlaşi borrowed from Bulgarian/Macedonian.


See also

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