There are several proposed etymologies for the name Begemder. One is that it came from Bega (Beja) plus meder (land) (meaning land of the Bega or Beja), as an inscription of Emperor Ezana of Aksum describes his movement of 4,400 conquered Beja to a not yet located province named Matlia.
A perhaps more plausible source for the name Bega is the self-name of the word Bega which means dry in the local language or another possible interpretation could be "sheep" where rearing of sheep which is beg in Amharic. Thus, Begemder likely refers to 'land of that rear sheep or The land of Dry area".
Another etymology is that the first two syllables come from the Ge'ez language baggi` for sheep (Amharic: beg), although Beke claimed that sheep have never been pastured there, nor could they be raised there. Beckingham and Huntingford note that Begemder originally applied to the country east of Lake Tana, where water is scarce, and conclude, "The allusion to the lack of water suggests Amharic baga, "dry season", as a possible source of the name."
The earliest recorded mention of Begemder was on the Fra Mauro map, (c.1460), where it is described as a kingdom. While Emperor Lebna Dengel, in his letter to the King of Portugal (1526), also described Begemder as a kingdom, he included it as a subdivision of his empire. During the later 18th century, its capital was at Filakit Gereger, where Ras Ali died in 1788.
Begemder's boundaries were revised as a result of Proclamation 1943/1, which created 12 taklai ghizats from the existing 42 provinces of varying sizes. A comparison of the two maps in Margary Perham's The Government of Ethiopia shows that Semien and Wolqayt provinces were added to Begemder. With the adoption of the new constitution in 1995, Begemder was divided between two new ethnic regions (or kilil): Wolqayt province became part of the Mi'irabawi Zone and Tselemti district became part of the Semien Mi'irabawi Zone, both in the Tigray Region, while the remainder became the Semien and Debub Gondar Zones of the Amhara Region.
- Munro-Hay, Stuart. Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity (Edinburgh: University Press, 1991), pp. 48.
- Ahland, Colleen (1920). አዲስ የአማርኛ መዝገበ ቃላት. Addis Abeba, Ethiopia: አርቲስቲክ ማተሚያ ቤት. p. 20.
- C.F. Beckingham and G.W.B. Huntingford, Some records of Ethiopia, 1593-1646 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1954), pp. 230f
- Herbert Weld Blundell, The Royal chronicle of Abyssinia, 1769-1840 (Cambridge: University Press, 1922), pp. 391f
- Bereket Habte Selassie, "Constitutional Development in Ethiopia", Journal of African Law, 10 (1966), p. 79.
- Perham, The Government of Ethiopia, second edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1969), maps 1 and 2