Name of Greece

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The name of Greece differs in Greece in comparison with the names used for the country in other languages and cultures, just like the names of the Greeks. The Greeks call the country Hellas or Ellada (Greek: Ελλάς, Ελλάδα; in polytonic: Ἑλλάς, Ἑλλάδα) and its official name is Hellenic Republic. In English, however, the country is usually called Greece, which comes from Latin Graecia (as used by the Romans) and literally means 'the land of the Greeks'.


The English name Greece and the similar adaptations in other languages derive from the Latin name Graecia (Greek: Γραικία), literally meaning 'the land of the Greeks', which was used by the Romans to denote the area of modern day Greece. Similarly, the Latin name of the nation was Graeci, from which the English name Greeks originates. These names in turn trace their origin from Graecus, the Latin adaptation of the Greek name Γραικός (pl. Γραικοί), which means 'Greek' but its etymology remains uncertain. It is unclear why the Romans called the country Graecia and its people Graeci. In Arabic "الإغريق" or "alegreek" is the name of the old Greeks, while the Greeks called their land Hellas and themselves Hellenes, and several speculations have been made. William Smith notes in the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography that foreigners frequently refer to people by a different name (an exonym) from their native one (endonym).[1]

Aristotle was the first to use the name Graeci (Γραικοί) in Meteorology, saying that the area about Dodona and Achelous was inhabited by the Selli and a people formerly called Graeci, but at his time Hellenes.[2] From this statement of Aristotle it is asserted that the name of Graeci was at one period widely spread in Epirus and the western coast of Greece in general, hence it became the one by which the Hellenes were known to the Italic peoples on the opposite side of the Ionian Sea.[1] According to Hesiod, in his work Catalogue of Women, Graecus was the son of Pandora and Zeus; he gave his name to the people who followed the Hellenic customs, while his brother Latinus gave his name to the Latins;[3] similarly the eponymous Hellen is supposed to have given his name to the Greeks/Hellenes. In Ethnica, Stephanus of Byzantium also states that from Graecus, the son of Thessalus, the Hellenes derived the name of Graeci.[4][5]

The name "Yūnān" (Persian: یونان), an Old-Persian name that all Eastern nations under Achaemenid Persian Empire and the other nations after them used for calling the country, is a Persian name and took from ancient Greek colony Ionia, which was conquered by Cyrus the Great of Persia. The Sanskrit root of the name is Yavana, in Pāṇini and Pali is Yona, and in Indian-European is Yonaka. Today the word Yūnān can be found in Persian, Turkish, Azeri, Uzbek, Kurdish, Armenian (as Yūnānistan "land of Yūnān"; -istan "land" in Persian), Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Indian (Hindi), Laz, Pashto, Urdo, Indonesian, Malay.

The eastern part of the Roman Empire which was predominantly Greek-speaking, gave rise to the name Ῥωμανία (Rhomania or Romania); in fact, starting from a point in late antiquity and for a long period, Greeks called themselves Ῥωμαῖοι (sg. Ῥωμαῖος), i.e. Romans; these or related terms are in fact still used sometimes in Modern Greek: e.g. Ρωμιός (from Ῥωμαῖος), Ρωμιοσύνη. While there was tension with Western Europe regarding the romanness of the eastern part of the Empire[6] – something exemplified, starting with Hieronymus Wolf and after it had ceased to exist, in calling it the Byzantine Empire – which, unlike its western twin, survived till the 15th century CE, people to the East of the Empire, e.g. Persians and later Turks, used and sometimes still use Rhomania or Rome derived terms, e.g. Rûm, to refer to the land or to the people.

List of names in other languages[edit]

Graecia-derived names[edit]

The first major form of names derives from the Latin Graecus and Graecia or their equivalent forms in Greek whence the former derive themselves. These terms have fallen out of use in Greek.

Ionia-derived names[edit]

The second major form, used in many languages and in which the common root is "yun" or "ywn", is borrowed from the Greek name Ionia, the Ionian tribe region of Asia Minor.[7] In Greek, these forms have never normally been used to denote the whole Greek nation or Greece.

Hellas-derived names[edit]

The third major form, "Hellas" and its derivatives, is used by a few languages around the world, including Greek itself:

Other names[edit]

In the Georgian language, the root for "Greek" is "-berdzen-", so "Greece" is "Saberdzneti", "საბერძნეთი". The same root is adopted in Abkhazian: "Барзентәыла" ("Barzent°yla").

Official name of the modern Greek state[edit]

Government papers header "Hellenic State", 1828

From its establishment after the outbreak of the Greek War of Liberation in 1821, the modern Greek state has used a variety of official names, most often designating changes of regime.

  • 1821–28: "Provisional Administration of Greece" (Προσωρινή Διοίκησις τῆς Ἑλλάδος), used by the provisional government before the international recognition of Greek autonomy (and later independence) in the London Protocol.
  • 1828–32: "Hellenic State" (Ἑλληνική Πολιτεία), used under the governorship of Ioannis Kapodistrias. Along with the previous period, it is sometimes grouped together in the historiographic term "First Hellenic Republic".
  • 1832–1924: "Kingdom of Greece" (Βασίλειον τῆς Ἑλλάδος), adopted after Greece was declared a monarchy in the London Conference of 1832, and retained until the abolition of the monarchy on 25 March 1924.
  • 1924–35: "Hellenic Republic" (Ἑλληνική Δημοκρατία), known historiographically as the Second Hellenic Republic, from 1924 until the 10 October 1935 coup by Georgios Kondylis and the restoration of the monarchy.
  • 1935–73: "Kingdom of Greece" (Βασίλειον τῆς Ἑλλάδος), from the restoration of the monarchy in 1935 to its abolition by the Regime of the Colonels junta on 1 June 1973. Between 1941–44 used by the internationally recognized Greek government in exile.
  • 1973–today: "Hellenic Republic" (Ελληνική Δημοκρατία), from the abolition of the monarchy by the military junta to the present day. However, the present Third Hellenic Republic is held to have begun in 1974, following the fall of the junta and the return of democratic rule.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Smith 1854, p. 299.
  2. ^ Aristotle, Meteorology, 1.14
  3. ^ Hesiod, Catalogue of Women, 2
  4. ^ Stephanus, Ethnica, p. 212
  5. ^ Smith 1849, p. 1011.
  6. ^ And vice versa.
  7. ^ "Yavan in the House of Shem: Greeks and Jews, 332–63 BC". Washington State University. 1999-06-06. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 


Primary sources

Secondary sources