Name of Georgia

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Georgia Listeni/ˈɔːrə/ is an exonym for the country located on the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. A definitive etymology of European "Georgia'" has never been established, but it has been variously explained as derived from the Greek word γεωργός ("tiller of the land"), georgicus ("agricultural"), and the name of St. George, which the Georgians particularly revere. The Russian exonym for Georgia is Gruziya (Грузия), which may have been imported from Persian. The very first article of the Georgian Constitution declares "Georgia" as the country's official exonym and the nation's government works actively to remove Russian-derived exonyms from usage around the world.[1]

Georgia is natively known as Sakartvelo (Georgian: საქართველო, [sakʰartʰvɛlɔ]). The native name is derived from the core central Georgian region of Kartli i.e. Iberia of the Classical and Byzantine sources, around which the early medieval cultural and political unity of Georgia was formed.


The front cover of a Georgian passport showing the name of the state in Georgian and English.

The native Georgian name for the country is Sakartvelo (საქართველო). The word consists of two parts. Its root, kartvel-i (ქართველ-ი), originally referred to an inhabitant of the core central Georgian region of KartliIberia of the Classical and Byzantine sources. By the early 9th century, the meaning of "Kartli" was expanded to other areas of medieval Georgia held together by religion, culture, and language. The Georgian circumfix sa-X-o is a standard geographic construction designating "the area where X dwell", where X is an ethnonym.[2]

The earliest reference to "Sakartvelo" occurs in the c. 800 Georgian chronicle by Juansher Juansheriani. Within the next 200 years, this designation was reconfigured so that it came to signify the all-Georgian realm which came into existence with the political unification of Kartli/Iberia and Apkhazeti under Bagrat III in 1008. However, it was not until the early 13th century that the term fully entered regular official usage.[2]

The memory and dream of a united Georgia – Sakartvelo – persisted even after the political catastrophe of the 15th century when the Kingdom of Georgia fell apart to form three separate kingdoms: Kartli, Kakheti, and Imereti, and five principalities: Samtskhe-Saatabago, Mingrelia, Guria, Svaneti, and Abkhazia. Thus, the later kings did not relinquish the titles of the all-Georgian monarchs whose legitimate successors they claimed to be. The idea of all-Georgian unity also dominated history-writing of the early 18th-century Georgian scholar and a member of the royal family, Prince Vakhushti, whose Description of the Kingdom of Georgia (agtsera sameposa sakartvelosa) had a noticeable influence on the latter-day conception of Sakartvelo. Although Georgia was politically divided among competing kingdoms and principalities during Vakhushti’s lifetime, the scholar viewed the past and present of these breakaway polities as parts of the history of a single nation.[2]

In other Kartvelian languages, like Mingrelian, Georgia is referred as საქორთუო sakortuo, in Laz it's ოქორთურა okortura, when in Svan it uses the same name as Georgian does, საქართველო sakartvelo. This same root is also adopted in Abkhaz and Georgia is referred as Қырҭтәыла Kyrţtwyla (i.e. Sakartvelo).



"Gorgania" i.e. Georgia on Fra Mauro map.

A definitive origin of European "Georgia'" has never been established, but there are a number of unconfirmed theories as to its provenance. Jacques de Vitry and Franz Ferdinand von Troilo have explained the name's origin by the popularity of St. George (Tetri Giorgi) among Georgians. [3] Another theory, popularized by the likes of Jean Chardin, semantically linked "Georgia" to Greek γεωργός ("tiller of the land"). The supporters of this explanation sometimes referred to classical authors, in particular Pliny and Pomponius Mela, who mentioned agricultural tribes called "Georgi", (Pliny, IV.26, VI.14; Mela, De Sita Orb. i.2, &50; ii.1, & 44, 102.) so named to distinguish them from their unsettled and pastoral neighbors on the other side of the river Panticapea.[4] Alternatively, several modern scholars have theorized that "Georgia" could have been borrowed in the 11th or 12th centuries from the New Persian gurğ/gurğān. [5] According to the Constitution of Georgia, the nation's official exonym is "Georgia".[6]


Further information: Kingdom of Iberia
"Hiberia" i.e. Iberia on Tabula Peutingeriana.

One theory on the etymology of the name Iberia, proposed by Giorgi Melikishvili, was that it was derived from the contemporary Armenian designation for Georgia, Virkʿ (Armenian: Վիրք, and Ivirkʿ [Իվիրք] and Iverkʿ [Իվերք]), which itself was connected to the word Sver (or Svir), the Kartvelian designation for Georgians.[7] The letter "s" in this instance served as a prefix for the root word "Ver" (or "Vir"). Accordingly, in following Ivane Javakhishvili's theory, the ethnic designation of "Sber", a variant of Sver, was derived the word "Hber" ("Hver") (and thus Iberia) and the Armenian variants, Veria and Viria.[7]

The Armenian name of Georgia is Վրաստան Vrastan, Վիրք Virk (i.e. Iberia). Ethnic Georgians are referred in Armenian as Վրացիներ (Vratsiner) literally meaning Iberians.


"Map of Russia" commissioned by Feodor II of Russia and published by Hessel Gerritsz in Amsterdam mentions "Iveria sive Grusinæ Imperium" i.e. Iberia or the Empire of Georgia.

The Russian exonym Gruziya (Грузия ['gruzʲɪjə]) is of Perso-Arabic origin, from Persian: گرجستان Gorjestân (Turkish Gürcistan Gurjistan, Ossetian: Гуырдзыстон Gwyrdzyston).[citation needed]

The Russian name first occurs in the travel records of Ignatiy Smolnyanin as gurzi (гурзи) (1389) and Afanasy Nikitin as gurzynskaya zemlya (Гурзыньская земля, "Gurzin land") (1466–72).[8]

The Russian name was brought into several Slavic languages (Bulgarian, Belarusian, Croatian, Polish, Czech, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Macedonian, Ukrainian) as well as other language historically in contact with the Russian Empire (such as Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Hungarian, Yiddish, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Uyghur, Chinese, Japanese, Korean).[9] It also entered the contemporary Hebrew as גרוזיה ("Gruz-ia"). It coexisted with the names גאורגיה ("Gheorghia" with two hard g's) and גורג'יה (Gurjia), when "Gruzia" took over in the 1970s, probably due to a massive immigration of bilingual Georgian-Russian Jews to Israel at that time.[citation needed]

In August 2005 the Georgian ambassador to Israel Lasha Zhvania asked that the Hebrew speakers refer to his country as "Georgia" גאורגיה and abandon the name "Gruzia".[10] A similar request was issued by Georgia, in December 2009, to Lithuania, asking to be called "Georgija" instead of "Gruzija"; the request was forwarded to the Commission of the Lithuanian Language.[11] In June 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia said South Korea had agreed to refer to the country as “Georgia” instead of the Russian-influenced “Gruzya” and the government of Georgia was continuing talks with other countries on the issue.[9] In April 2015, Japan changed the official Japanese name for Georgia from "Gurujia" (グルジア?), which derives from the Russian term "Gruziya," to "Jōjia" (ジョージア?), which derives from the English term "Georgia".[12]


  1. ^ Government changing official pronunciation of Georgia, The Japan Times, 15 April 2015
  2. ^ a b c Rapp, Stephen H. (2003), Studies in Medieval Georgian Historiography: Early Texts And Eurasian Contexts, pp. 419-423. Peeters Publishers, ISBN 90-429-1318-5
  3. ^ Peradze, Gregory. "The Pilgrims' derivation of the name Georgia". Georgica, Autumn, 1937, nos. 4 & 5, 208-209
  4. ^ Romer, Frank E. (ed., 1998), Pomponius Mela's Description of the World, p. 72. University of Michigan Press, ISBN 0-472-08452-6
  5. ^ Khintibidze, Elguja, The Designations of the Georgians and Their Etymology, pp. 29-30. Tbilisi State University Press, 1998, ISBN 5-511-00775-7
  6. ^ Constitution of Georgia. Chapter 1. Article 1.3. Parliament of Georgia. Retrieved on June 28, 2009
  7. ^ a b (Armenian) Yeremyan, Suren T. «Իբերիա» (Iberia). Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia. vol. iv. Yerevan, Armenian SSR: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1978, p. 306.
  8. ^ (Russian) Vesmer, MAx (trans. Trubachyov, Oleg, 1987), «Этимологический словарь русского языка» (Etymological Dictionary of the Russian Language), vol. 1, p. 464. Progress: Moscow (Online version)
  9. ^ a b Tbilisi Wants to Be Referred as 'Georgia' Not 'Gruzya'. Civil Georgia. June 27, 2011.
  10. ^ "Georgia on his mind: Republic's ambassador demands Hebrew name change". 2005-08-08. Retrieved 2009-06-28. 
  11. ^ "Gruzija nori būti vadinama "Georgija"" (in Lithuanian). 2009-12-02. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  12. ^ Government changing official pronunciation of Georgia The Japan Times


  • (Georgian) Paichadze, Giorgi (ed., 1993), საქართველოსა და ქართველების აღმნიშვნელი უცხოური და ქართული ტერმინოლოგია (Foreign and Georgian designations for Georgia and Georgians). Metsniereba, ISBN 5-520-01504-X