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Many toponyms (place names) that in English or Latin end in -ia end in -ien in German. For example:

Croatia → Kroatien
Czechia → Tschechien
Romania → Rumänien
Serbia → Serbien
Macedonia → Mazedonien
Albania → Albanien
Bulgaria → Bulgarien
Abkhazia → Abchasien
Gagauzia → Gagausien
Transnistria → Transnistrien

However, many other toponyms that end in -ia in English or Latin end in -ei in German:

Slovakia → Slowakei
Manchuria → Mandschurei
Wallachia → Walachei
Mongolia → Mongolei
Cassubia → Kaschubei
Hanakia → Hanakei
Tartaria → Tartarei

Is there any basis for this distinction (be it historical, etymological, orthographical, morphological, or phonological), or is it completely arbitrary?

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  • Concerning "ei" read taz.de/Verachtung-im-Suffix/!1231813
    – Paul Frost
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 20:38
  • Note your example toponyms are all country names - Cities and other place names are entirely different. (Colonia - Köln, 'Roma - Rom,....)
    – tofro
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 12:41
  • 1
    Nur eine kleine weitere Fallgruppe: Hungaria -> Ungarn. Gibt es noch mehr Fälle in dieser Gruppe?
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 13:14

2 Answers 2

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The most probable factor is the time the name is coined.

There are basically three ways to make a country name out the name of the people:

  1. The probably oldest is just "-en", like in "Sachsen", "Hessen" (German tribes), but also "Schweden", "Polen", "Böhmen", which are all (relatively) close to Germany. A comment in Wiktionary on -ien suggests it is a dative plural, that would make it a native form.

  2. The suffix "-ien" is a loan from Latin "-ia", which later changed its form from Middle High German. So country names that came into German via Latin were likely to use this suffix.

  3. The suffix "-ei" comes from French "-ie", which also comes from Latin "-ia".

As "-ien" is a originally Latin and "-ei" is a originally French suffix, we would expect the names with "-ien" to be older than the ones with "-ei".

But it really seems arbitrary. Just taking Italian regions: We have "Ligurien", "Emilien" (nowadays "Emilia"), "Sizilien", but "Lombardei", "Romanei" (nowadays "Romagna").

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It's arbitrary. For example Tschechien had been commonly called Tschechei before the late 1990ies, and some of my relatives are from Kaschubien. We never said Kaschubei.

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