For example India is Indien, Serbia is Serbien, Saudi Arabia is Saudi Arabien. However, some other countries are written as is: Malaysia, Namibia.

My questions are:

  1. Why is Latin -ia written as -ien in German? I mean, why is India corrected to Indien in German given that it is a foreign (Latin) word?

  2. Why is it applicable to some country names, not all?

I noticed this in FIFA country code list.

  • 4
    Why not? Why do you think it should be different? How do you think it should be, and why? Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 5:55
  • 1
    It seems that the suffix -ien is no longer productive, so only countries which existed/were known in Germany a century ago could use it: Indien, Arabien, Transsylvanien... vs. Namibia, Malaysia, Somalia etc. (And why? Well, my assumption is that it's just be part of the general trend towards anglicism, whereby any German construction can face a slow takeover by the corresponding English one.) Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 10:00
  • 4
    I thought the German name of Namibia was Namibien. Wiktionary has it, Duden does not. Also listed here: corpora.informatik.uni-leipzig.de/de/….
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 10:41
  • 3
    Same with Malaysia, I always call it Malaysien
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 10:42
  • 3
    @tavkomann I don’t know if it’s “correct” or not, but the -ien endings do exist in German with those two countries: gpskoordinaten.de/karte/land/MY and falkmedien.de/Namibien-Suedwestafrika to quote just two examples that are actually related to geography. Maybe the terms are old-fashioned or have been replaced by their English counterparts, but they do exist.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 12:24

2 Answers 2


Many old German names for countries are weak plurals of the name of the inhabitants. For example, Sachse > Sachsen, Bayer > Bayern, Schwabe > Schwaben, Preusse > Preussen. By analogy to these you then have foreign names like Italië > Italien.This does not happen with names borrowed in the recent past.

  • 2
    Could you please extend your answer and address the reasoning behind naming countries with -ien vs -ia?
    – Arsak
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 17:52
  • @Marzipanherz. I have added a sentence. Is it clearer now?
    – fdb
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 18:02

The -ien suffix is used for countries where the German name is taken from Latin (or, in some examples, Spanish), the -ia suffix is then converted to -ien:

  • Indien
  • Spanien
  • Serbien
  • Arabien
  • Kolumbien
  • Germanien

For other countries that (more or less coincidently, but not based on Roman language) end in -ia or -ya, the suffix is kept as is or transposed to -ia

  • Kenia
  • Namibia
  • Tansania
  • Malaysia

Latin country names have also typically been part of the German language for much longer time than these farther-away countries. Thus, their names had more time to be adapted to German.

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    Namibia is Namib + -ia where suffix -ia is of Latin origin. Same goes for Malayasia (Malaya + -ia). -ia suffix is used to form the name of a nation and it's definitely Latin. Kenya is not Latin.
    – MAKZ
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 15:29
  • Here's the story behind the name - there's no hint to a Latin origin. namibian.com.na/index.php?id=127811&page=archive-read . The very same applies to Malaysia - I am pretty sure the Romans didn't even know where that was supposed to be. You seem to assume that any language would simply form country names like English does (by appending -ia) - Why should they?
    – tofro
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 15:36
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    tofro, you missed the point. The name Namibia was formed by combining the words Namib and -ia. Here Namib is not Latin, i agree with you. But my point is -ia is borrowed from Latin. Namibia means Land of Namib. I agree with you that Romans did not know Malays existed. But when the Malays named their country, they called it Land of Malaya, which is what Malayasia means. Not all countries use -ia to name their country, but when they do, it's always the Latin -ia.
    – MAKZ
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 15:52
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    @MAKZ Nah, I'm not missing the point. You are aware that the forming of country names using the ex-Latin -ia suffix is a habit specific to the English language? Other languages have other habits, like Swedish, Danish or German that tend to use -ien. You seem to be extrapolating from an English-centric view.
    – tofro
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 16:08
  • Saudi-Arabia calls itself as-saʿūdīya (Arab), Syria call themselves as-sūriyya (still no Latin, but Arabic), Serbia is Srbija (very probably not Latin as well), and Croatia Hrvatska (no Latin as well). Even the official name of the state of India resolves to something like Bharat Ganarajya. There is no rule like you stated.
    – tofro
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 16:23

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