Germany in German is Deutschland and the language is Deutsch. I'm used to words being anglicized, but why is there a complete replacement in this case?

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    As a note, this is not at all a unique case with the name of Germany in English. French and German names for other countries often differ greatly from their native names.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 0:40
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    @Noldorin: But it is not very common to call a neigbouring Western-European country by a name derived from an entirely different IE root. Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 3:28
  • Tim Osterholm on his Table of Nations website brought forth an interesting theory that the word German originated long ago from the ancient Assyrian city of Kerman. The word Deutsh is also linked with Assyria. It seems that during the fall of Ninevah, this group of people migrated north to escape from the invading Babylonians (and Scythians too perhaps). Coming from a civilized area to the more primitive tribes of ancient Germany perhaps gave them an influence there out of proportion to their numbers.
    – user14214
    Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 4:05
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    Related question on History: Why are Germans referred to so differently in different languages?
    – unor
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 22:29

4 Answers 4


Germany did not officially unite as a singular country until 1871. Before that, there were a number of different regions like Bavaria, Prussia, the Hanseatic League, Saxony, and so on. There was also a long period of time when this region was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Before this, the peoples that eventually became Germany were grouped into various tribes.

Because of the lack of a single unifying name or country, the Germans ended up being named various things in different regions.

Here is a list of the names for Germans/Germany, grouped together by their origin. In summary:

  1. From the Old High German diutisc meaning "of the people" (e.g. Deutschland).
  2. From Latin Germania, probably meaning "neighbor" (e.g. Germany).
  3. From the name of the Alemanni tribe (e.g. Allemagne).
  4. From the name of the Saxon tribe (e.g. Saksa).
  5. From the Protoslavic word němьcь, meaning "foreigner", literally "unable to speak" (e.g. Německo).
  6. From the Germanic word Volk, meaning "folk" or "people" (e.g. Vokietija).
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    Note that the Latin Germania from which Germany is derived probably had its origin ultimately as a Celtic loanward. (For example, how the Gauls would refer to the Germans/non-Celtic tribes.) Also, Germany certainly did exist as a concept (if not a country) before the 19th century - the King of Germany was a title the Holy Roman Empire (also called the German Empire) held.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 0:43
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    @Noldorin: I didn't mean to suggest that there was no connection between any of the sub-parts of present-day Germany, but the connections were much looser, and it wasn't really an official country until that 1871 unification. I still think that what I describe is a key contributor to the number of completely different names for Germany.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 2:53
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    @Noldorin: Interesting, I had no idea idea that "Germania" came from Celtic. I suppose the Celts met the Germans before the Romans did, having spread all over Europe much earlier. Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 2:59
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    @Kosmonaut: Your theory has merit. An older, single state is more likely to get a stable name. I suppose the same could be said about the decentralized Netherlands/Low Countries/Holland/The Dutch. As for Spain, one might conjecture that 500 years of unity were enough. But what about Italy? Could it be that the ancient memory of Roman Italy - the last time it ever was a unity - was enough to give it a name much more stable than that of Germany? That is somewhat doubtful, though it is not impossible. Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 3:10
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    And yes, Italy had had a constant name throughout history thanks to the Roman hegemony over Europe in antiquity (even over the parts of Germania and Scythia it did not conquer). The name "Italia" has truly ancient origins ("land of the bull god" if my memory serves me) - it was without doubt the 2nd country in Europe. In fact, the Romans even spread their own name for Greece (Graecia) in favour of Hellas.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 17:45

Wikipedia has a huge article on the subject. The two passages most related to your question are:

The name Deutschland and the other similar-sounding names above are derived from the Old High German diutisc, or similar variants from Proto-Germanic *Þeudiskaz, which originally meant "of the people". This in turn comes from a Germanic word meaning "folk" (leading to Old High German diot, Middle High German diet), and was used to differentiate between the speakers of Germanic languages and those who spoke Celtic or Romance languages. These words come from *teuta, the Proto-Indo-European word for "people" (Lithuanian tauto, Old Irish tuath, Old English þeod).


The name Germany and the other similar-sounding names above are derived from the Latin Germania, of the 3rd century BC, a word of uncertain origin. The name appears to be a Gaulish term, and there is no evidence that it was ever used by the Germanic tribes themselves. Julius Caesar was the first to use Germanus in writing when describing tribes in north-eastern Gaul in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico; he records that four northern Belgic tribes, namely, the Condrusi, Eburones, Caeraesi and Paemani, were collectively known as Germani. In 98, Tacitus wrote Germania (the Latin title was actually: De Origine et situ Germanorum), an ethnographic work on the diverse set of Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire. Unlike Caesar, Tacitus claims that the name Germani was first applied to the Tungri tribe.

It should be noted that English does have the word Dutch, coming from the same source as Deutsch. It's just that nowadays it refers to, well, Dutch, rather than German. See Etymonline for further details:

Dutch late 14c., used first of Germans generally, after c.1600 of Hollanders, from M.Du. duutsch, from O.H.G. duit-isc, corresponding to O.E. þeodisc "belonging to the people," used especially of the common language of Germanic people, from þeod "people, race, nation," from P.Gmc. *theudo "popular, national" (see Teutonic), from PIE base *teuta- "people" (cf. O.Ir. tuoth "people," O.Lith. tauta "people," O.Prus. tauto "country," Oscan touto "community").

As a language name, first recorded as L. theodice, 786 C.E. in correspondence between Charlemagne's court and the Pope, in reference to a synodical conference in Mercia; thus it refers to Old English. First reference to the German language (as opposed to a Germanic one) is two years later. The sense was extended from the language to the people who spoke it (in German, Diutisklant, ancestor of Deutschland, was in use by 13c.).

Sense narrowed to "of the Netherlands" in 17c., after they became a united, independent state and the focus of English attention and rivalry. In Holland, duitsch is used of the people of Germany. The M.E. sense survives in Pennsylvania Dutch, who immigrated from the Rhineland and Switzerland.

  • Good quotes. Note that "Duitsch" is written with a capital, and that its modern spelling is "Duits", though the old form is still occasionally used by some. Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 3:17

The names for Germany in different languages are quite varied. English: Germany. Dutch: Duitsland. Polish: Niemcy. Spanish: Alemania. Wikipedia has a nice explanation of where these different names come from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_Germany


I'd back up. Why would you think that the name would be the same? These are different languages. The names of numbers, of trees, of colors, etc., differ by language. So it is not surprising that the names of countries differ.

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    Improper nouns, sure. But proper names are usually fairly stable. If you went to Germany, would you expect them to translate "Rob" into their native language, and call you "Rauben"? :)
    – Alex
    Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 22:03
  • Lots of proper names of people are translated. Christopher Columbus is one good example. Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 19:12
  • But it usually gets translated to something obviously similar like "Christophe Colomb" or "Cristóbal Colón" or "Kristophara Kolambasa".
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 7:53
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    @Dan: There's a certain amount of irony when you call the original name a translation, and assume one of the translations in original.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 15:34
  • Terms (describing whatever) aren't changed very much and just adjusted to another language in the process of assimilating them. If the other people speaking this other language already have a term for something, they have no need to assimilate the foreign one. Germany is located in the middle of a lot of other relevant countries and their languages. The dozen or so peoples surrounding Germany developed their own names for the Germans, from their point of view. Ireland, as a counter example, did not have so many different views on it, and thus not so many different names to suffer.
    – Alfe
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 15:14

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