Sunday, 21 September 2014

Countries of Asia – Etymologically Speaking (M to Z)

Following on for last week’s look at the origins of the names of Asian nations, here is the completion of the list.

Malaysia – is probably from the Sanskrit malai or ‘mountain’, although the alternative maha lanka, also Sanskrit, for ‘big island’.

Maldives – has almost as many suggested origins as there are islands. The most likely of them Sanskrit dwipa ‘island’, which would give maldiva ‘thousand islands’ even though there are twice that number.

Mongolia – another named after the native peoples, the Mongols name meaning ‘brave ones’. Earlier they called themselves Bide, a much more modest name meaning simply ‘we’.

Myanmar – used to be known as Burma, both names derived from the indigenous Bamar people themselves coming from the Sanskrit mranma or bama ‘strong ones’.

Nepal – is possibly another of Sanskrit origin where nipalaya means ‘abode at the foot’ (of the Himalayas) or alternatively from Tibetan niyampal ‘holy land’.

Oman – was also the name of an ancient city named from the Arabic for ‘stopped here’, as it was settled by nomads, or from the founder Oman-ben-Ibrahim.

Pakistan – a recent name, first suggested in 1931 although the nation did not officially exist until 1947, which is thought to come from Urdu or Iranian pak ‘clean’ (in spirit) with that common suffix stan ‘country’.

Palestine – shares an origin with the Philistines, both from the Hebrew palash meaning ‘to travel’.

Philippines – when first spotted by Magellan it was December 17th 1521 and he named them the St Lazarus Islands, this being the feast day of St Lazarus. However when the first settlers arrived in 1543 they named them in honour of the heir to the Spanish throne, the future Philip II.

Qatar – is thought to derive from an ancient port or city of the same name, although the meaning is unknown.

Russia – a surprisingly recent name only used for the entire country since the 15th century. It comes from the local Rus people, whose name has been explained several ways. Perhaps this is a Slavic name describing the Varangians, who were Swedish Vikings and ruled from the 9th century and had a name meaning ‘foreigners’. It could also refer to the Swedish Ruotsi tribe, their name meaning ‘rowers’, ie of Viking ships.

Saudi Arabia – was named after King Ibn-Saud, he united the former states of Nejd and Hejaz to create the country in 1932.

Singapore – another name of Sanskrit origins where singa pura may literally mean ‘lion town’ but should be seen as ‘strong’ as there are no lions here. The traditional story of this being named in the 7th century when an Indian prince landed here and mistakenly thought the first animal he saw was a lion can be ignored.

Sri Lanka – named as such from 1972 and taken from the local Sinhalese for ‘blessed island’, the Sanskrit lanka means ‘island’. Originally this was Singhala, named for the local people, which came from Sanskrit sinha, literally ‘lion’ but used in the sense ‘brave’.

Syria – a name of uncertain origin until the discovery of a tablet at the beginning of the 21st century which showed the name does have a link to the Assyrian people, themselves named for their chief city of Assur which was named for their chief god.

Tajikistan – is another stan or ‘country’, here being that of the Tajiks. These were undoubtedly the people who were here in the 7th century but their name is difficult to define as it is not clear if these were of Turkic or Iranian heritage.

Thailand – comes from the native name of the island of Prathet Thai meaning ‘country of the free’. Prior to 1939 it was known as Siam, this from the Sanskrit word sian meaning ‘brown’, the distinctively different colour of the skin of the indigenous people here.

Timor – is simply an Indonesian word meaning ‘east’, it is the most easterly of the Lesser Sunda Islands but one which explains why this has not been listed under the official name of East Timor.

Turkey – has already had a number of clues under other nations with mentions of the Turkic people with the suffix from Latin ia showing it was their territory. The Turks probably get their name from tora ‘to be born’, although some maintain the English ‘turban’ has also influenced the name.

Turkmenistan – is again named after the local tribe, these the Turkmens with the addition of stan ‘country’. The origin of turkmend or ‘Turk-like’ is possible but, with the different uses of men in Turkish languages, it is difficult to know if this is ‘pure Turks’, ‘good Turks’, ‘great Turks’, or several other similar terms.

United Arab Emirates – a name which explains itself, the unification of (seven) Arabic states headed by an emir and known by this name since 1971. Prior to this it was the Trucial States, again a comparatively modern name and dating from 1820 when British presence here ensured a truce in the area which had previously been known as the Pirate Coast.

Uzbekistan – and another stan or ‘country’ named after the indigenous peoples. The Uzbeks are thought to get their name from Khan Uzbek, the fourteenth-century chieftain of the Golden Horde, even though both the language and the race had already existed for centuries.

Vietnam – a local Annamese name meaning ‘land of the south’. Prior to 1945 the country was separated into Annam, Tonkin and Cochin-China.

Yemen – is thought to be from the Arabic yamin or ‘on the right hand’. Hence this describes this land as being to the right when facing Mecca while Sham (a part of Syria) speaks of it being ‘on the left’.

As previously etymologies for the relevant capital cities will follow.

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