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?

  • 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


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").


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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