Name of Switzerland
The English name of Switzerland is a compound containing Switzer, an obsolete term for the Swiss, which was in use during the 16th to 19th centuries. The English adjective Swiss is a loan from French Suisse, also in use since the 16th century.
The name Switzer is from the Alemannic Schwiizer, in origin an inhabitant of Schwyz and its associated territory, one of the Waldstätten cantons which formed the nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy. The name originates as an exonym, applied pars pro toto to the troops of the Confederacy. The Swiss themselves began to adopt the name for themselves after the Swabian War of 1499, used alongside the term for "Confederates", Eidgenossen ("oath-fellows"), used since the 14th century.
The Swiss German name of the country is homophonous to that of the canton and the settlement, but distinguished by the use of the definite article (d'Schwiiz [tʃviːts] for the Confederation, but simply Schwyz [ʃviːts] for the canton and the town).
The toponym Schwyz itself is first attested in 972, as villa Suittes. Its etymology is uncertain, it may be either derived from a Germanic name in Svid- or from either a Germanic or a Celtic word for "clearing". The name is recorded as Schwitz in the 13th century, and in the 17th to 18th century often as Schweitz. The spelling of y for [iː] originates as a ligature ij in 15th-century handwriting.
The Swiss chroniclers of the 15th and 16th centuries present a legendary eponymous founder, one Suit (Swit, Schwyt, Switer), leader of a population migrating from Sweden due to a famine. Suit is said to have defeated his brother Scheijo (or Scheyg) in single combat in a dispute over leadership of the new settlement. Petermann Etterlin (fl. 1470s, printed 1507).
The original name for the Old Swiss Confederacy was Eidgenossenschaft "oath-fellowship", Schwyz being just one of the participating cantons or Orte (Waldstätte). The term has never fallen out of use when referring to the Swiss Confederacy (as opposed to the territory). Eidgenossen translates the Latin conspirati of the Federal Charter of 1291, and the German term Eidgenossen is used in the pact of 1351 between Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden and the cities of Lucerne and Zürich. Attestation of the abstract noun Eidgenossenschaft is somewhat younger, recorded in the Pfaffenbrief of 1370 (as unser Eydgnosschaft "our oath-fellowship"). In the Holy Roman Empire, emperor Charles IV outlawed any such conjurationes, confederationes, and conspirationes in his Golden Bull of 1356.
The Old Swiss Confederacy of the early modern period was often called Helvetia or Republica Helvetiorum ("Republic of the Helvetians") in learned humanist Latin, and the allegory Helvetia makes her appearance in 1672. The official Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica (abbreviated CH) was introduced gradually after the formation of the federal state in 1848, harking back to the Napoleonic Helvetic Republic, appearing on coins from 1879, inscribed on the Federal Palace in 1902 and after 1948 used in the official seal.
- OED Online Etymology Dictionary etymonline.com. Retrieved on 25 June 2009
- Züritütsch, Schweizerdeutsch (p. 2) schweizerdeutsch.ch. Retrieved on 26 January 2010
- Kanton Schwyz: Kurzer historischer Überblick sz.ch. Retrieved on 26 January 2010
- A summary of the history of suggestions until 1970 is given in Viktor Weibel, Suittes - Schwyz - Schweiz : Geschichte und Deutung des Namens Schwyz', Mitteilungen des historischen Vereins des Kantons Schwyz 65 (1972). See also Lexikon der schweizerischen Gemeindenamen, Frauenfeld 2005, 819f.
- Etterlin's account is supposedly based on a "common Swiss chronicle" (Gesta Suitensium, gemeine Schwyzerchronik also reflected in the White Book of Sarnen and later by Aegidius Tschudi (Die Geschichte der Ostfriesen, Swedier und andre, so mit jnen gereisset, vnd wie Switer dem Lande den Namen Swiz gegeben). Etterlin presents the three Waldstätte as representing three different stocks or races, the people of Schwyz as the most recent immigrants (from Sweden), the people of Uri representing the original "Goths and Huns", and the people of Unterwalden representing "the Romans". Vetter, Ueber die Sage von der Herkunft der Schwyzer und Oberhasler aus Schweden und Friesland, 1877, p. 10.
- Helvetia in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
- Marco Marcacci, Confederatio helvetica (2002), Historical Lexicon of Switzerland.