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Countries with Names Deriving from the Greek Language

countries names greek language
Credit: Greek Reporter

It is estimated that at least 5,000 words — and most likely many, many more — in almost all languages spoken today stem from the Greek language. Perhaps a bit more surprisingly, the names of many countries around the world, some of them thousands of miles away from Greece, come from words in the Greek language.

Argentina: the land of silver

The name of the second largest country in South America, Argentina, comes from the Latin “argentum,” which, in turn, has its roots in ancient Greek word Άργυρος (Argyros), meaning silver.

When the Spaniards first arrived in today’s Argentina, they expected to find gold. Instead, they found that all the indigenous people used silver for their silverware and jewelry.

It didn’t take long for them to realize that the mountains in the area were full of deposits of the precious metal, and the land soon was named for silver.

Azerbaijan and the ancient city of Atropatene

Countries greek language
The Palace of Shirvanshahs in Baku, Azerbaijan dates back to the 15th century. Credit: Urek Meniashvili /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The name of the the country, which lies between Eastern Europe and West Asia, comes from the ancient Greek name “Atropatis.”

Atropatis was actually a Persian nobleman who founded the city of Atropatene after the death of Alexander the Great.

Although the territories he occupied mostly belong to Iran today, the ancient city itself is considered to belong to Azerbaijan’s cultural heritage.

Egypt’s name comes from two words in the Greek language

countries greek language name
The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Credit: kallerna /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The ancient philosopher Strabo argued that Egypt (Αίγυπτος) was actually a composite word, or a word that is the result of the combination of two other words.

Specifically, it derives from the word Αγαίον (Aegean) and Υπτίως (yptios) meaning below, or “the country below the Aegean Sea.”

Ethiopia and Eritrea

From the ancient Greek Αιθίωψ, this is a composite name originating from the verb αίθω (aitho, or “burn”) and the word όψις (opsis, “face”) meaning burnt face, describing what they believed to be the sunburned skin of the North African country’s inhabitants.

Ethiopia’s neighboring country was named Ερυθραία after the Red Sea (Ερυθρά Θάλασσα).

Georgia, named after a Greek Saint

countries name greek language
The Gelati Monastery in Georgia, constructed in the 12th century. Credit: Dmitry Torbins/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Most probably, this country, located in the Caucasus region on the shores of the Black Sea, was named after the Greek martyr St. George.

Nevertheless, the actual origin of the name itself is from the Greek word Γεωργία, which means agriculture and farming.

Indonesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia all come from the Greek language

Indonesia, along with all other countries ending in -nesia, owe their names to the Greek language.

The island archipelagos ending in “nesia” (Polynesia, Micronesia, etc.), have borrowed the ending of their names from the ancient Greek word Νήσος (Nesos) which means “island.”

Malta, named after its famous honey

 honey
Credit: Greek Reporter

Greeks are known to have inhabited this tiny Mediterranean island as early as 700 BC. They gave it the name “Mελίτη῾῾ (Μeliti), from the Greek meli, or honey, which is thought to be because of the well-known honey produced on the island far back into antiquity.

Up until the Byzantine years, Malta was referred to by the nickname “The land of honey” in many texts.

Monaco was linked to Hercules, hero of Greek myth

Monaco may be among the many countries that have names which come from the Greek language.

In ancient times, the port of Monaco was inextricably linked to the worship of the mythical hero Hercules and it was often referred to as “Hercules Monoikos.”

In fact, at that time there was a small temple dedicated to Hercules, which was not customary for only a demi-god, which was therefore called Monoikos, or “single house.”

This amazing theory is also confirmed by the fact that even today, the name for Monaco’s main port is “Port Hercules.”

The disputed link between Scotland and the Greek language

Scotland
The ruins of a chapel in the Scottish Highlands. Credit: Superbass /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Although it is not widely accepted, one theory posits that the name of Scotland came from the ancient Greek word Σκότος (skotos), meaning “darkness.”

It is said that Minoan and Mycenaean merchants who reached the coast of Britain, as far north as present-day Scotland, were impressed by the lack of light in the area, which lies just west of southern Scandinavia, describing it as Skotia, or “the land of darkness.”

The Philippines

When Spanish explorer Rui Lopez de Villalobos arrived by ship on the large Pacific archipelago, he decided to name two of its major islands in honor of his monarch, King Philip II of Spain (1537-1598).

Over the years, the name “The Philippines” has been used for all the islands belonging to the archipelago.

Of course, the name Philippos itself is an ancient Greek one, meaning “lover of horses.” Philippos II, history’s most famous Philip, was the father of Alexander the Great.

Europe, the North and South Pole, and the Atlantic Ocean all come from the Greek language

Europe
Europa and the bull. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

In addition to the many countries whose names come from the Greek language, there is even an entire continent which derives its name from Greece.

According to Greek mythology, Ευρώπη, Europa, was the daughter of Phoenician King Agenoras and Queen Telephassa.

Europa was a beautiful maiden with soft, fair skin and Zeus naturally fell in love with her.

Transforming himself into a bull with golden horns, he enticed Europa to ride on his back and carried her thus to the island of Crete, where they then secreted themselves away to enjoy their love.

In addition, even our globe’s North Pole and South Pole were named after the Greek word Πόλος (Polos), originating from the high, cylindrical crown the Greek goddesses Rhea, Cybele and Hera were described as wearing.

The word came to mean an axis or pivot, from which we get the modern word pole.

Finally, the name Atlantic Ocean was first used during the era of Herodotus in ancient Greece, approximately 450 BC. In Greek, this means the “sea of Atlas.”

Atlas was the Greek god of both navigation and astronomy. The earliest writings which mention the Atlantic Ocean are attributed to the Greek philosopher Plato.

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