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Excuse me if this is off-topic.

When I'm learning other languages, I usually (99% of the time) find that "England" is either the same or very similar in the other language. However, I know at least five different names now for Germany in the other languages that I know... Deutschland (German), Germany (English), Tyskland (Swedish), Allemagne (French), Niemcy (Poland), Saksa (Finnish). I was wondering if there was some particular reason why this is so.

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    english.stackexchange.com/questions/7785/…
    – RegDwight
    Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 1:07
  • I guess you meant that "Germany" is English, fixed that for you. @RegDwight (and others): If the answer is the same as on ELU, would it be redundant or should it be copied to GL&U? Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 8:11
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    The most ironic thing is that in contrast, the Germans themselves add a tendency to name all foreign countries and people with very similar names... To quote wikipedia :"The Germanic invaders of the Roman Empire applied the word "Walha" to foreigners they encountered and this evolved in West Germanic languages as a generic name for all non-Germanic speakers; thence, the names Wallachia, Vlachs, Wallonia, Walloons, Wales, Wallasey, and even the Polish name for Italy, Włochy." Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 21:46
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    This is an absolutely fascinating topic. Needless to say that it has already attracted the attention of many scholars. To refer to Wikipedia again, there is a dedicated article which summarises the most widely accepted theories. Time permitting I'll add my 2 cents. Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 22:00
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    In Italian "German" is "tedesco". Sometimes people would say that using this word was convenient cuz Germans would have no idea that you are talking about them. That must just be a joke anyways..
    – E.V.
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 13:08

9 Answers 9

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There were different Germanic tribes and thus the people living in the Germanic territory were called differently by the peoples around them.

In English it was chosen the overall expression for all Germanic tribes: German. In French and Spanish the "Alemannen" a south western tribe (and therefore locally closer to France and Spain) seemed to have left an impression: allemand, alemán.

For me, Saksa seems to follow the same pattern: the "Saxons" where the tribe in the North East, and therefore close to Finland.

The words deutsch, tedesco (ital.) and I suppose Tyskland as well derive from the Old High German word diutisc, "belonging to the people/of the people".

An addition: "deutsch" derives from the Proto-Germanic stem *þeodisk- ('*' indicates reconstruction), meaning "of the people" or "popular". It invaded (Late?) Latin via some Germanic dialect as "theodiscus" and was used in legal documents to refer to regional languages in contrast to Latin. At that time its use wasn't restricted to the languages of Germanic tribes nor the ones in modern Germany, Austria, etc.. It was instead used to refer to all popular languages.

The first attested usage of "deutsch" (or rather "diutisc") is from a Middle High German poem called "Annolied" composed in the late 11th century. Here, "diutisc" is used as an umbrella term for Franconians, Saxons and Bavarians.

The words related to Niemcy in the Slavonic languages mean something like "mute", nie meaning "not" and m being a root for "to speak", like mówić in Polish for example. This is due to the fact that Slavonic languages are on a basic level mutually understandable, so the Polish tribes could talk to all their neighbours which were other Slavonic tribes, except the Germans.

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    Your supposition about Tyskland is correct. Tysk stems from the pre-nordic þýdisker which is a cognate of the High German diutisc.
    – Stovner
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 13:03
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    In short, with different emphasis: Germany was very late to become a nation. Unlike most other big European nations, it lacked most criteria for a nation before the period of nation building caused by the French revolution (1789). Deutsch was just a common language and until about the midd-16th century it wasn't even that. (It was a continuum of dialects.) Consequently, neighbours referred to the individual tribes/peoples that were most relevant to them and generalised their established term to include the others as well.
    – user2183
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 8:11
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    @HansAdler: Just about the continuum of dialects: This continuum still exists. For most German native speakers Standard German is some kind of foreign language, because most of them do not learn Standard German as their first language, but a dialect. Take me as example: I learned the dialect spoken in the south-east region of Steiermark. This dialect uses a pronunciation with many diphthongs, often uses other words then Standard German and has a different grammar (there is no genitive in my native dialect, but beside singular and plural there is also a rudimentary dual) Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 9:01
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    Yes, of course the continuum of dialects still exists. But it received a supraregional written standard, and that makes a big difference because such a standard has a huge influence on the dialects in a continuum. We tend to notice how English is affecting German at the moment; the influence of standard German on the dialects is much greater. It doesn't just make it possible for people from Flensburg and people from Steiermark to communicate without effort using a common almost-foreign language. It also makes their dialects converge, or at least diverge slower.
    – user2183
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 16:57
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In addition to what others already said, you may expect this to be a common situation, actually. A nation's neighbors often call it by the closes tribe to each particular neighbor. The problem here is that nations often expand and conquer each other, so the fact that Germany has so many names just mean that they were unable to conquer/eliminate their neighboring nations (which happen to be relatively powerful, as we know now). Or, as others said, they appeared pretty lately and faced strong competitors around them.

If you look closely, you will see that smaller countries/nations surrounding some big one often give that big one different names. Being Russian I can give my homeland as an example. In most countries, its names are similar: Russia, Ryssland, Russie, etc. But if you look to our smaller neighbors, you'll see Finish Venäjä and Estonian Venemaa (both named after Slavonic tribe of Viatichi), Latvian Krievija (after the tribe Krivichs or Krivichi). Smaller ethic groups in Russia can present even more names, for example Udmurts call Russian "Dzhootch" (I've no idea where could this name came from. After the tribe Drevliane? Not sure.).

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Germany is a central European country. Because of that fact, it attracts attention from widely disparate countries on all sides.This reminds me of the story of the six blind men and the elephant, where each blind man grabbed a different part of the animal, and therefore had a different view.

I consider the Swedish "Tyskland" a variation of "Deutschland," after allowing for the differences in language. The word Deutschland itself seems to resemble "Dutch," and may be a reference to the North Sea area. That's particularly true in USA, where "Dutch" often refers to "German," as opposed to "Netherlands."

Germany seems to stem from the Roman Germania, specifically a reference to the east bank of the Rhine. Allemagne also probably originated in Roman times, and was, I believe, a Gallic (French) reference.

The Finnish Saksa seems to be a reference to Saxons, a particular Group of Germans that the Finns may have come into contact with.

Niemcy in Polish seems to be derived from "Nie" (not) something, apparently the way the Poles felt about the Germans.

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    Without having done research on this, I'm quite sure that "Deutschland, deutsch" comes from the people of "Teutonen".
    – Deve
    Commented Aug 5, 2011 at 17:47
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    I've read that Russian немец meaning German (and similarly other Slavic languages like Polish) derives from немой meaning mute. It used to mean simply foreigner, but came to mean German. However, Russians call the country itself Германия.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Aug 6, 2011 at 13:08
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    @z7sg, the meaning of mute has to be compared to "one of the the more prominent theories regarding the origin of the term "Slav" suggests that it comes from the Slavic root slovo (hence "Slovenia," "Slovakia"), meaning "word" or "speech." In this context, the Slavs describing Germanic people as "mutes" — in contrast to themselves, "the speaking ones"." excerpt cited from wikipedia. Commented Aug 6, 2011 at 16:38
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    @z7sg: Good to know. I "sort of" knew that, but "sort of" isn't the same as actually knowing.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 6, 2011 at 22:13
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    You speculate about things that you could easily have looked up.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jul 18, 2018 at 7:48
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slavonic "Niemcy" (read: n-yem-tsi|) derives form "niemy" or "niemowa" (nie = no, mowa = speech) - due to the reason they were the only relevant neighbor (form poinf of viev of early middle ages slavic tribes) which whom they couldn't talk to. The opposite term for that is the word "a slav" itself - slovianin - from word "slovo" - "a word" - due to the fact each slavic languages are fair enough to say mutually understandable to some degree

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    plus, "Niemcy" means "the German People" in more language than just Polish, but i Polish it is also the name of a country.
    – efefef
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 9:43
  • This does not answer the question, and the information is already contained in one of the answers; maybe with less detail, but then this could have been a comment, or possibly an edit, there.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 11:36
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Germany itself had many names in its history and its own language.

  • Germanien
  • Heiliges Römisches Reich (Deutscher Nation) = Holy Roman Empire (of the German Nation)
    • Regnum Teutonicum = Kingdom of the Teutonics/Germans (northern parth of the Holy Roman Empire)
  • Deutscher Bund/Deutsches (Kaiser)reich = German Confederation/German Empire
  • Weimarer Republik
  • Drittes (Deutsches) Reich = Nazi Germany
  • West-Deutschland (or BRD) = West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany)/Ost-Deutschland (or DDR) = East Germany (German Democratic Republic)
  • After 1989, the whole of Germany was referred to as BRD

Additional to that, "Dutch" was already given to the language spoken in the Netherlands in 16th and 17th centuries (In both Belgium and the Netherlands, the native official name for Dutch is Nederlands). It first described people speaking the language used in the vague region somewhere in between the Netherlands and Germany when people came from the Netherlands to America. All these settlers influenced the development of the dutch language and the two languages happened to have less in common. So for German they had to use another term to differentiate it from Dutch.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=1Gyhu03qHTo

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    "Deutsches Reich = Nazi Germany" is simply wrong. Both the Kaiserreich and the Weimarer Republik were officially called Deutsches Reich. Weimarer Republik is only an informal name.
    – Lykanion
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 13:46
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    It's not wrong, it's just a little too short. Yes, the two others were also called "Deutsches Reich", but so was Nazi Germany. I'll make that a little clearer in the answer itself.
    – shaedrich
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 14:25
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According to a comment at https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/29028/why-are-germans-referred-to-so-differently-in-different-languages

"The Koreans ended up with dogil because it's the Sino-Korean reading of the Japanese 独逸/ ドイツ doitsu, which is more clearly a loan of Deutsch."

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I think the answer can be given very briefly:

As initially there was no such thing as "the Germans" but the area was inhabited by various tribes with different names, and their respective neighbours used either those names or names they made up for them (as the Slavonic "nemec" for "not speaking", meaning: "not speaking our language"), and a nation state comprising most of them was created late, it is quite logical that there are different names around.

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  • What about the Turkish and Arabic "Almanya"? Turkey and Arabia have never been neighbors, I guess the first real contact was during the crusades. Or perhaps at the battle of Tours in 732, but then it would have been more logical to use something related to the Francs.
    – Paul Frost
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 10:51
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This is not only Germany which is called by different names. I can tell you many more countries/regions which are called with different names.

1. Iran is also called Persia, Arya, Iranshahr,Iranzamin and Aryānām.
2. India is also called, Bharat, Hindustan,Nabhivarsha,Tianzhu,Al-Hind, Hidush etc
3. Turkey is also called Ottoman Empire, Turquie,Turchia,Turkye,and Torke. 

This question is regarding the evolution of country names. In different parts of the world names could be different for the same country. Therefore multiple naming of a country should not be confused with other things.

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    Most of your names are simply local variations sharing the same root. Whether you call it England, Inglaterra or Англия, the name means land of the Angles. Turquie, Turchia, Turkye and Torke simply reflect the different pronunciation in different languages.And Ottoman Empire is as much a name for Turkey as East Francia, Holy Roman Empire or Confederation of the Rhine is for Germany. In addition to your valid examples (Persia/Iran, India/Bharat/...) one could also mention Japan/Nippon or Greece/Hellas. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 20:23
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When I'm learning other languages, I usually (99% of the time) find that "England" is either the same or very similar in the other language.

This is incorrect. We do not distinguish Britain, UK and England, at least not in the common sense of Inselaffen, informally speaking. In political terms we may be more particular: Not every Englishman is Angelsachse, but nobody is counting on the difference.

Many political entities and their names are newer than that, and more foreign1, which explains why there is less variation. England or China for example are just not very good examples.

1: An often repeated Heuristic after Bartoli says, the center innovates, the periphery remains conservative, cf. Trudgill on "Sociolinguistic typology and the speed of linguistic change" in Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics, vol. 6, no. 2, (2020).

The same principle holds for Germany and German speaking regions. The political divide is always fairly subjective and technical or emotional2.

2: “Bayern gehört zu Österreich” is banter heard in the north of Germany. Mittelbairisch is indeed spoken in both countries. “Piefke” on the other hand is an offensive or meliorative Austrian German word for Germans, potentially including those from Bavaria on political grounds. Both agree that northern Germans are “Saupreußen”. “Saksa” is reportedly used as a slur in Finnland. Ethnic slurs are not scarce at all and often reciprocal. The modern use of “Nazi” seems to continue the older sense of Ignatz > Nazi ("idiot"). The political tangent from National Socialism is barely metaphoric as in “grammar nazi”.

The question is just too broad:

Is there a reason why Germany (Deutschland) is called so many different things in other European languages?

There are many reasons. Not all of them are actually reasonable

It may be argued that “Deutschland” is a metonym. For example, “Germany has voted” ipso facto defines Germany as the sum of subjects who have voted. I disagree because it would mean that I either am not German (false Scotsman fallacy) or I voted for something I haven't actually voted for (another fallacy, not understanding metonymy). Yet it is entirely lexical to say so.

Other languages have simply calqued from usage. They haven't borrowed "Deutsch" because the name is fairly new in reference to geography and it's too easy to confuse with the name of Dutch, from the same word. The word may be older but it had different meanings, which is a subject for another day under another question. It had therefore many different possible calques depending on the meaning in each instance. Besides, it is used today to calque different words.

Other Germanica are off-topic3, except when they may be explained in German. So for example among Family names, Niemczyk, Nimschik etc. are well attested variants to Niemtschke, Nimtz, Nimz, Niemetz etc. (Polish Niemeć "German”) beside Nie- for neu "new" (Niemeyer; Dutch Nijmegen ~ Ger. "Nimwegen") or Nier ("nieder"), Neymar (?) and what not; Meijering is but a form of Meyer, from maioris, mega-, compare michel (Middle Low German "big") rather than Mikael, Mike, Mitchel; only Neumerkel comes close to Mark, which has several explanations (Digitales Familiennamenwörterbuch Deutschlands). This would be my best guess at relating Niemeć to Morvec, Morvek, Moravia. That's impossible without some heavy lifting which the Erbfeinde on all sides will fight tooth and nail. Further, Frankish Merowingian is impossible to pin point.

The origin of the Germanic tribes is lost to history (thus Wilhelm Schmidt, Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache, 12. Auflage. (2020). p. 45).

That said, the Polish suffixes may be derived from Proto-Slavic, from Proto-Balto-Slavic (PBS)

  • -iec /jɛts/ << PBS *-ikas,

  • -(i)eć /ɛt͡ɕ/ << PBS *-ḗˀtei and

  • -(iec)ki << PBS *-iškas; niemiecki "German".

(en.Wiktionary)

Although, the palatalized consonant ć before high vowel may be identified with palatalized Swedish tjod [ˈtɕʌð], Old Saxon thīod, Gothic þiuda < PG *þeudō, Swedish tysk, German deutsch, Dutch duits < PG *þeudiskas. This implies that c /ts/ and ć /t͡ɕ/ may be an analogical reflection of the same word, except where PBS has *k it might imply PS *kelawaikas (compare Czech), from *(s)kʷel- “crowd, people”, from *kʷel-, whence also Greek tele- ("far"). Similar arguments hold for Allemagne and Sasse. I mean it's speculative.

3: Anyway, Polish mówić is not exactly related to niemeć (en.Wiktionary; cf. Vasmer, Trubachev).

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