While trying to trace back the etymology of “Anglican” I’ve come to the following extract which suggests that the term originates from the German district called Angeln:

Bede gave a precise date, 449AD, for the first arrival of the Anglo-Saxons and he said they came from three tribes: the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who themselves came from different parts of Germany and Denmark – the Angles were from Angeln, which is a small district in northern Germany.

Now my question is: where did this place (Angeln) get its name from?


2 Answers 2


The etymology is contested. It is common sense that Anglican derives from anglo-, an archaic form of eng- as in England, and scholarly concensus holds, that the ethonym Angels derives from a toponym known from Latin sources as Anglia (German Angeln, Danish Angel). However, sources on the original meaning of the name differ in their presentation of the evidence and have in fact very little to recommend themselves.

The interpretation of an ancient placename is necessarily up to speculation, not the least because the pre-history of Germanic tribes is poorly documented. The Proto-Indo-European reconstruction fares no better, I'm afraid. Notabene: "In der Onomastik sehen viele geradezu ein Paradefeld der Volksetymology" (Fetzer, Aspekte toponymischer Volksetymologie, 2011: 59. with further references, emphasis mine). For example, the name of Angermünde was transfered from Tangermünde, which was frequently spelled without T- in the middle ages (Niemeyer, Deutsches Ortsnamenbuch, 2012).

My favoured interpretation in this answer would be that German Enge is cognate, whence also Angst, compare jmd. in die Enge treiben. I do not remember who said it, that the word could describe a narrow fjord.

On a website of the Saxon Academy of Sciences I found further details on the etymology of engi, ango and angul: "angul m. a-St. ‚(Angel)Haken, hamus‘; erst vom 11. Jh. an übernimmt angul die Bed. von ango¹: ‚Stachel, Spitze, aculeus, fuscina, acumen‘; ‚Türangel‘, auch ‚Endpunkt, cardo, finis‘."

In fact, their roots appear to differ:

  • engi "narrow":

    Am nächsten verwandt sind außergerm. u-Stämme (zu idg. *ang̑hu-): [altindisch] aṁhú- ‚eng‘; [lateinisch] angi-portus (< *angu-) ‚enges Gäßchen‘;

  • angul "hook",

    (dazu vielleicht der VN Angul-[Ongol-]s[e]a-xan)

    [...] Dem Ansatz von idg. *ankúlos entspricht in Form und Bed. gr. ἀγκύλος ‚gebogen, krumm‘; dazu kommt gr. ἀγκύλη ‚Schlinge am Wurf- spieß, Riemen; Haken, Türangel‘,

I do note that Egyptologist Philippe Collombert 2023, "The Egyptian Hieroglyphic Sign for the Sky 𓇯", has argued that a door-hinge was the original motivation of the sky hieroglyph. If this is correct, we might as well compare (*h)angel to Himmel < *h₂ek̂- ~ h₂k̂-* "sharp". But this does not seem very likely to begin with since heaven and Himmel are notoriously uncertain.


Not a definitive answer, but an addition to Dodezv's comment:

In German there is the term "Türangel". This refers to a rotating device (a hinge) with which the door is attached to the jamb. On a website of the Saxon Academy of Sciences on the ethymology of "Türangel", I found further details (including sources) on the basic word "Angel".

Here is a translated excerpt:

"*The determinative compound Türangel f. "rotatable device with which the door is fastened to the jamb" has been attested since the 15th century. The base word and trailing element Angel goes back to ahd. angul st. m. (a-st) "(fishing) hook" (9th century). The word has equivalents in almost all Germanic languages, cf. e.g. as. angul, mndd. angel, mndl. ang(h)el, aengl. angul, nengl. angle, aisl. ǫngull, which leads to a basic form germ. angulaz. This noun belongs with grammatical alternation to uridg. *h2enkulos "bent; bent thing", cf. gr. agkúlos "bent, crooked", agkúlē f. "noose on a spit, strap; hook; door hinge". Based on a root uridg. h2enk- "to bend"."

Based on these two clues (1: reference to dodezv; 2:reference to website of the Saxon Academy of Sciences), I would narrow down two interpretations: Angeln refers to ...

the Shape of the peninsula or the Schlei The reference to a curved or angular shape could be appropriate. Either the peninsula (shape of a fishhook or rather unlikely the description of an angular (rocky, stony) landscape) or the Schlei (old Germanic name: "angwa" -> narrow), a narrow arm of the Baltic Sea. Here the name angwa could also refer to many bends (zig-zag).

the Name of the ruler Angul On the other hand, one could assume that "Angeln" refers to the settlement area of the Angeln much earlier. In this case, there would be an attempt to explain that, according to Axo Grammaticus' Danish imperial chronicle Gesta Danorum, the Angles were descendants of Angul, brother of the mythical Danish king Dan. (meaning of the Name Angul: engl. angular, germ. kantig)

  • Interesting. How is this related to Angeln, i.e. catching a fish with a rod. It's it because the hook is bent? Commented Mar 7 at 6:08
  • It is certainly primarily about the use of the bent hook. This linguistic process is known as derivation. In derivation, a word stem (for example of a verb, noun or adjective) is combined with either a prefix, a suffix or both to form a new word. For example, the verb hammer (der Hammer -> hammern) is derived from the noun hammer and the verb "angeln" (die Angel -> angeln) is derived from the noun "Angel". This is a common process in the German language for forming new words.
    – JD38292
    Commented Mar 8 at 9:56

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