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The Greeks I've met say something that to my ears sounds like 'Elatha'.

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What you are hearing is most likely the correct Greek pronunciation of Elláda (Ελλάδα). This is the modern Greek word for the name of their country, ultimately derived from the Ancient Greek Hellás (Ἑλλάς).

The English name for the country, "Greece", derives from the Latin name "Graecia". Wiktionary gives a fairly full etymology:

From Latin Graecia < Ancient Greek Γραικός (Graikos), a character in Greek mythology, the son of Thessalos, the king of Fthia, from whom Ἑλλάς (Hellas, “Greece”) and Ἕλληνες (Hellenes, “the Greeks”) got their names.

Although this entry explains the etymology of the name "Greece", it is admittedly slightly confusing about the etymology of "Hellas". This page gives a hypothetical etymology:

Etymology: From Ancient Greek (Hellas "Greece"), from prefix - (el-ελ "sun, bright, shiny", (elios, "sun")) + (las-λας "rock, stone"). : "The land of the sun and the rock".

I would not however want to comment on the veracity of this source. All that is known for sure is that Hellas originally referred to a small area within Ancient Greece and only later came to refer to all Greece. This Yahoo answer gives some handy details.

  • @cindi: Indeed, I'll edit that in. It's a mistake in the original Wiktionary entry. – Noldorin Aug 18 '10 at 8:09
  • Also, answer is updated now. – Noldorin Aug 18 '10 at 8:17
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    @warren - It wasn't that they were not living in Palestine; it was that they were living among non-Jewish communities (most notably in Alexandria, in Ptolemaic Egypt) and were assimilating into the surrounding Hellenistic culture - shaving, dressing in Greek fashions, attending the gymnasium, etc. – MT_Head May 26 '11 at 6:52
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    Exactly, @MT_Head is right. Nothing special about the Jews here, just the Greeks (and their associated culture). – Noldorin May 27 '11 at 15:28
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    The AllWords etymology for Hellas is almost certainly not true. It would require an awful lot of tinkering and reworking to get the words for ‘sun’ and ‘stone’ to fit into what we have in Ἑλλάς. The ‘sun’ word is usually borrowed as helio-, but its Homeric form is ἡέλιο- hēélio- and in Cretan it’s ἁβέλιο- habélio- (both from Proto-Greek *hāwéli̯o-, from PIE *seh₂-u̯él-i̯o-, derived from *séh₂-u̯ōl ‘sun’, which also gives Latin sōl), and there is no sane way to get *hel- from *hāwel- in (Proto-)Greek. The ‘stone’ word is not λας las as they write, but λᾶας lā.as, → – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 19 '15 at 12:00
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Greece, as the name of a country, was more used by outsiders than Greeks, at least in the Hellenistic period. Most of them would think of themselves as Athenians or Corinthians, and Hellas was not the place where they lived, but the area where people spoke Greek as opposed to barbarian languages; similar to mediaeval Christendom. (The Greek colonies in Italy were referred to as 'Megale Hellas' or Greater Greece). It was only when Greece became part of the Roman Empire that a name was needed for the geographical area, and unsurprisingly the Roman word Graecia was used. It appears that Germany had a similar history: Why does Germany's English name differ from its German name?

protected by RegDwigнt Feb 13 '12 at 17:41

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