Friday, 19 August 2011

The Etymology of World Currencies

Having looked at the etymologies of former European currencies recently, I spent most of the next day wondering about the origins of others worldwide. This is what I uncovered.

The dollar of course shares an origin with the Slovenian tolar, as discussed last time. From the former European silver coin the thaler, an abbreviation of Joachimsthaler and telling us it was first minted in Bohemia. Here thal means 'valley' and thaler 'thing or person from the valley'.

Somoans use the tala, a literal translation of 'dollar'.

Several countries use the Russian ruble, the word thought to be derived from the verb rubit meaning 'to chop'. Earlier a ruble was that chopped from an ingot of gold or silver of a certain weight.

I have always found the Albanian lek to be a most curious name so it came as quite a disappointment to find it was named for the first face to appear on the coin, that of Alexander the Great.

Algerians are paid in dinar, clearly derived from the old Roman denarius, itself from Latin deni 'containing ten'. Bahrain and Iraq also use the dinar. The denar of Macedonia shares this origin despite the different spelling.

Since independence in 1977, Angolans have used the kwanza which also happens to be the name of the major river in the country.

Argentina has the peso, clearly derived from Spanish peseta and from a Catalan word peceta meaning 'small piece'.

The Armenian dram literally translates into English as 'money', although there are suggestions this is related to the Greek drachma 'fistful'.

Azerbaijanis hope to have pockets full of manats. Manat is borrowed from moneta meaning 'coin'.

The taka is the currency in Bangladesh, taka being the Bengali word for 'money'.

The rupee, used in India and nearby nations, is from a Sanskrit word meaning either 'silver' or 'made from silver'.

The Kalahari Desert is known for its lack of rain, this arid region occupies large stretches of Botswana. Clearly rain is precious and the currency is thus called the pula, the Setswana word for 'rain'.

Brazilians have the real which means both 'royal' and 'real' in Portuguese, the coinage meaning originally the former.

Until they adopt the euro in 2013 or 2014, Bulgarians have the lev which was an early Bulgariuan word for 'lion'. Similarly the Moldovan leu also means 'lion', the same coin is used in Romania.

The People's Republic of China use a system of currency called the renminbi, literally 'the people's currency'. The basic unit is the yuan meaning 'round object' and is known colloquially as the kuai meaning 'lump'.

The Japanese yen has an identical meaning of a 'round object'.

Similarly the Korean won also speaks of itself as a 'round object'.

In Vietnam the dong is from dong tien, a direct translation meaning 'money'.

Croatians count their kuna, the name meaning 'marten' as the pelts of pine martens were the basic monetary unit in medieval times.

It was on his fourth voyage to the Americas when Christopher Columbus found what is now Costa Rica. The native Spanish name for Christopher Columbus is Cristobal Colon, which is why their unit of currency is the colon.

In the Czech Republic the koruna is one of several currencies derived from 'crown'. The Danish krone is another.

Eritrea named the nafka after the town of Nafka, the base of operations during the Eritrean War of Independence against Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian birr has the literal meaning of 'silver', prior to their introduction they had used thalers (also the origin of the dollar) and blocks of salt called 'amole tchew'.

The lari is used in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, lari being an old word denoting 'hoard, property'.

Ghanains once used cowry shells as currency, they now use coins called cedi which was also the Akan word for 'cowry shell'.

Across the Atlantic in Guatemala a very similar story is found for the quetzal, for in the Mayan culture the tail feathers of the Resplendent Quetzal were used as currency.

In Honduras and the lempira is the basic unit of currency, the name dating from the sixteenth century ruler of the indigeous Lenca culture, Cacique Lempira.

The Hungarian forint was named after Florence in Italy, where the original gold coins were minted.

Kyrgyzstan uses the som, literally meaning 'pure' and implies it was originally made from 'pure gold'.

South Africans use the rand, which takes its name from Witwatersrand, the name of the ridge of land on which Johannesburg is built. The place name describes 'the white waters ridge'.

Macau use the pataca, a name borrowed from the Portuguese reference to the Mexican dollar as the Pataca Mexicana.

Madagascar uses the ariary meaning 'silver dollar', which is divided into five iraimbilanja, a name meaning 'one iron weight'. This is one of only two currencies in the world which does not employ a decimal system.

Malawi has the kwacha, which happens to be the word for 'dawn' in both the Nyanja and Bemba languages.

In Malaysia they use the ringgit, a Malay word meaning 'jagged' for the term was originally used to describe the serated edges of the silver Spanish dollars seen here from the sixteenth century.

The evolution of the rufiyaa, the currency of the Maldives, is something of a mystery, however there can be no doubt it is from Hindi and ultimately Sanskrit words for 'silver'.

In Papua New Guinea the locals used a pearl shell as a token when trading until the introduction of the kina. This was derived from the Kuanua of the Tolai region, which was where these pearl shells were obtained.

In Poland the zloty means 'golden'.

Tajikistan use the somoni, named after the man known as the Father of the Tajik Nation, Ismail Samani whose name is also spelled Ismoil Somoni.

Tonga has the pa'anga, also the name of a vine which produces large pods with reddish-brown seeds which can be up to five centimetres in diameter.

Ukraine uses the hryvnia, which comes from the former word for the currency grivna used in the eleventh century.itself from a Slav word meaning 'mane' and probably suggesting something valuable worn around the neck.

1 comment:

  1. I'm curious about the Lek, as Alexander is called Iskender in Albanian. I'm not sure I believe Wikipedia on this one. Lekë Dukagjin seems a more likely origin. I've been asking Albanians about this for years but of course, like Americans knowing the origins of "dollar", I've come up empty handed.

    cool post though.

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