Name of Germany

Because of Germany's geographic position in the centre of Europe and its long history as a disunited region of distinct tribes and states, there are many widely varying names of Germany in different languages, perhaps more than for any other European nation: for example, in German the country is known as Deutschland, in Scandinavian languages as Tyskland, in French as Allemagne, in Polish as Niemcy, in Finnish as Saksa, and in Lithuanian as Vokietija.

List of names

In general, the names for Germany can be arranged in six main groups according to their origin:

1. From Old High German diutisc or similar:a 2. From the Latin Germania or Greek Γερμανία: 3. From the name of the Alamanni tribe:
4. From the name of the Saxon tribe: 5. From the Protoslavic němьcьb 6. Unclear origin:c

Other forms:


  • ^a Diutisc or similar, from Proto-Germanic *Þeudiskaz, meaning "of the people", "of the folk"
  • ^b Němьcь ‘a foreigner, lit. a mute, e.g. who doesn't speak Slavonic’[3] or unlikely from the name of the ancient Nemetes tribe.[4][5] See below.
  • ^c Possibly from the name of the Scandinavian Vagoth tribe or a Baltic word meaning "speak" or "war cry"

Names from Diutisc

Further information: Theodiscus

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 tauta, Old Irish tuath, Old English þeod).

Also the Italian for "German", tedesco (local or archaic variants: todesco, tudesco, todisco) comes from the same Old High German root, although not the name for "Germany" (Germania) .

The opposite of diutisc was Old High German wal(a)hisc or walesc, meaning foreign, from the Celtic tribe of the Volcae. In German, welsch is still used to mean foreign, and in particular of Southern origin; in English the word was used to describe the "Welsh" and the name stuck. (It is also used in several other European regions where Germanic peoples came into contact with non-Germanic cultures, including Wallonia (Belgium), Valais (Switzerland), and Wallachia (Romania), as well as the "-wall" of Cornwall.)

The Germanic language which diutisc most likely comes from is West Frankish, a language which died out a long time ago and which there is hardly any written evidence for today. This was the Germanic dialect used in the early Middle Ages, spoken by the Franks in Western Francia, i.e. in the region which is now France. The word is only known from the Latin form theodiscus. Until the 8th century the Franks called their language frengisk; however, when the Franks moved their political and cultural centre to the area where France now is, the term frengisk became ambiguous, as in the West Francian territory some Franks spoke Latin, some vulgar Latin and some theodisc. For this reason a new word was needed to help differentiate between them. Thus the word theodisc evolved from the Germanic word theoda (the people) with the Latin suffix -iscus, to mean "belonging to the people", i.e. the people's language.

In Eastern Francia, roughly the area where Germany now is, it seems that the new word was taken on by the people only slowly, over the centuries: in central Eastern Francia the word frengisk was used for a lot longer, as there was no need for people to distinguish themselves from the distant Franks. The word diutsch and other variants were only used by people to describe themselves, at first as an alternative term, from about the 10th century. It was used, for example, in the Sachsenspiegel, a legal code, written in Middle Low German in about 1220:

Iewelk düdesch lant hevet sinen palenzgreven: sassen, beieren, vranken unde svaven

(Every German land has its Graf: Saxony, Bavaria, Franken and Swabia).

The Teutoni, a tribe with a name which probably came from the same root, did, through Latin, ultimately give birth to the English words "Teuton" (first found in 1530) for the adjective German, (as in the Teutonic Knights, a military religious order, and the Teutonic Cross) and "Teuton" (noun), attested from 1833.

Names from Germania

The name Germany and the other similar-sounding names above are all 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 AD 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. The name Tungri is thought to be the endonym corresponding to the exonym Eburones.

19th-century and early 20th-century historians speculated on whether the northern Belgae were Celts or Germanic tribes.[6] Caesar claims that most of the northern Belgae were descended from tribes who had long ago crossed the Rhine from Germania. However many tribal names and personal names or titles recorded are identifiably Celtic. It seems likely that the northern Belgae, due to their intense contact with the Gaulish south, were largely influenced by this southern culture. Tribal names were 'qualifications' and could have been translated or given by the Gauls and picked up by Caesar. Perhaps they were Germanic people who had adopted Gaulish titles or names. The Belgians were a political alliance of southern Celtic and northern Germanic tribes. In any case, the Romans were not precise in their ethnography of northern barbarians: by "German(ic)" Caesar meant "originating east of the Rhine". Tacitus wrote in his book Germania : "The Treveri and Nervii affectionate very much their German origin, stating that this noble blood separates them from all comparison (with the Gauls) and the Gaulish laziness".[7]

The OED2 records theories about the Celtic roots of the Latin word Germania: one is gair, neighbour (a theory of Johann Zeuss, a German historian and Celtic philologist) – in Old Irish gair is "neighbour". Another theory is gairm, battle-cry (put forward by Johann Wachter and Jacob Grimm, who was a philologist as well as writer of fairy tales). Yet another theory is that the word comes from ger, "spear"; however, Eric Partridge suggests *gar / gavin, to shout (as Old Irish garim), describing the Germanic tribesmen as noisy. He describes the ger theory as "obsolete". A last theory is that the word comes from hari, her meaning "army". The word "German" would then mean "man at arms".

In English, the word "German" is first attested in 1520, replacing earlier uses of Almain, Alman and Dutch. In German, the word Germanen today refers to Germanic tribes, just like the Italian noun "Germani" (adjective: "germanici"), and the French adjective "germanique", The English words "german" (as in "cousin-german") and the adjective "germane" are not connected to the name for the country, but come from the Latin germanus, "genuine"; just like Spanish "hermano", that is "brother", that is not cognate by any mean to the word "Germania".

Names from Alemanni

The name Allemagne and the other similar-sounding names above are derived from the southern Germanic Alemanni, a Suebic tribe or confederation in today's Alsace, parts of Baden-Württemberg and Switzerland.

The name comes from Proto-Germanic *Alamanniz which may have one of two meanings, depending on the derivation of "Al-". If "Al-" means "all", then the name means "all men", suggesting that the tribe was a confederation of different groups. If "Al-" comes from the first element in Latin alius, "the other", then it is related to English "else" or "alien" and Alemanni means "foreign men", similar to the Allobroges tribe, whose name means "the aliens".

In English, the name "Almain" or "Alman" was used for Germany and for the adjective German until the 16th century, with "German" first attested in 1520, used at first as an alternative then becoming a replacement. In Othello ii,3, (about 1603), for example, Shakespeare uses both "German" and "Almain" when Iago describes the drinking prowess of the English:

I learned it in England, where, indeed, they are most potent in potting: your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander—Drink, ho!—are nothing to your English. [...] Why, he drinks you, with facility, your Dane dead drunk; he sweats not to overthrow your Almain; he gives your Hollander a vomit, ere the next pottle can be filled.

Andrew Boorde also mentions Germany in his Introduction to Knowledge, c. 1547:

The people of High Almain, they be rude and rusticall, and very boisterous in their speech, and humbly in their apparel .... they do feed grossly, and they will eat maggots as fast as we will eat comfits.

Through this name, the English language has also been given the Allemande (a dance), the Almain rivet and probably the almond furnace, which is probably not really connected to the word "almond" (of Greek origin) but is a corruption of "Almain furnace". In modern German, Alemannisch (Alemannic German) is a group of dialects of the Upper German branch of the Germanic language family, spoken by approximately ten million people in six different countries.

Among the indigenous peoples of North America of former French and British colonial areas, the word for "Germany" came primarily as a borrowing from either French or English. For example, in the Anishinaabe languages, three terms for "Germany" exist: ᐋᓂᒫ (Aanimaa, originally Aalimaanh, from the French Allemagne),[8] ᑌᐦᒋᒪᓐ (Dechiman, from the English Dutchman) and ᒣᐦᔭᑴᑦ (Meyagwed, Ojibwe for "foreign speaker"), of which Aanimaa is the most common of the terms to describe Germany.

Names from Saxon

The names Saksamaa and Saksa are derived from the name of the Germanic tribe of the Saxons. The word "Saxon", Proto-Germanic *sakhsan, is believed (a) to be derived from the word seax, meaning a variety of single-edged knives: a Saxon was perhaps literally a swordsman, or (b) to be derived from the word "axe", the region axed between the valleys of the Elbe and Weser. This region was traditionally considered by the Romans to be the region the real Germans (with a bad reputation[9]) came from. The Saxons were considered by Charlemagne, and some historians, to be especially war-like and ferocious.

In Finnish and Estonian the words that historically applied to ancient Saxons changed their meaning over the centuries to denote the whole country of Germany and the Germans. In some Celtic languages the word for the English nationality is derived from Saxon, e.g., the Scottish term Sassenach, the Breton terms Saoz, Saozon and the Welsh terms Sais, Saeson. "Saxon" also led to the "-sex" ending in Wessex, Essex, Sussex, Middlesex, etc., and of course to "Anglo-Saxon".

Names from Slavic regions

The Slavic exonym nemets, nemtsy derives from Protoslavic němьcь, pl. němьci, 'a foreigner' (from adjective němъ 'mute' and suffix -ьcь).[3] It literally means a mute or a dumb, but then interpreted as those who can't speak like us; a foreigner. Interestingly, one of the etymologies of the word Slav derives it from slovo, meaning word or speech. In this view, Slavs would call themselves the speaking people, as opposed to their Germanic neighbors, the mutes (a similar idea lies behind Greek barbaros, barbarian). At first němьci may have been used for any non-Slav foreigners, later narrowed to just Germans. The plural form became the country name in Polish Niemcy and Silesian Ńymcy. In others languages the country name derives from adjective němьcьska (zemja) meaning 'German (land)' (f.i. Czech Německo). Belarusian Нямеччына (Nyamyecchyna) and Ukrainian Німеччина (Nimecchyna) are also from němьcь but with the help of suffix -ina.

Another theory[4][5] claims that Nemtsy derives form the Rhine-based, Germanic tribe of Nemetes mentioned by Caesar[10] and Tacitus.[11] But this etymology is dubious from phonological (nemetes could not become Slavic němьcь) and geographical point of view.[3]

Also the Russian for "German", Немецкий (Nemetskiy) comes from the same Slavic root, although not the name for "Germany" (Германия, Germaniya).

Over time, the Slavic exonym had been passed on to some non-Slavic languages. The Hungarian name for Germany is Németország (from the stem Német-). The popular Romanian name for German is neamț, used alongside the official term, german, which was borrowed from Latin. The Arabic name for Austria النمسا an-Nimsā was borrowed from the Ottoman Turkish and Persian word for Austria, "نمچه" – "Nemçe", from one of the Balkan Slavic languages (in the 16–17th centuries Austria was the biggest German-speaking country bordering on the Ottoman Empire).

Names from Baltic regions

In Latvian and Lithuanian the names Vācija and Vokietija contain the root vāca or vākiā. Lithuanian linguist Kazimieras Būga associated this with a reference to a Swedish tribe named Vagoths in a 6th-century chronicle (cf. finn. Vuojola and eston. Oju-/Ojamaa, 'Gotland', both derived from the Baltic word; the ethnonym *vakja, used by the Votes (vadja) and the Sami, in older sources (vuowjos), may also be related). So the word for German possibly comes from a name originally given by West Baltic tribes to the Vikings.[12] Latvian linguist Konstantīns Karulis proposes that the word may be based on the Indo-European word wek ("speak"), from which derive Old Prussian wackis ("war cry") or Latvian vēkšķis. Such names could have been used to describe neighbouring people whose language was incomprehensible to Baltic peoples.

Names from East Asia

The Chinese name is probably a phonetic approximation of the German proper adjective. The Vietnamese name is based on the Chinese name. The Japanese name is a phonetic approximation of the Dutch proper adjective. The Korean name is based on the Japanese name. This is explained in detail below:

The common Chinese name (simplified Chinese: 德国; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Déguó) is a combination of the short form of Chinese: ; pinyin: déyìzhì, which approximates the German pronunciation [ˈdɔʏtʃ] of Deutsch ‘German’, plus guó ‘country’.

The Vietnamese name Đức is the Vietnamese pronunciation (đức [ɗɨ́k]) of the character that appears in the Chinese name.

Japanese language ドイツ (doitsu) is an approximation of the Dutch word duits meaning ‘German’.[13]

It was earlier written with the Sino-Japanese character compound (whose has since been simplified to ), but has been largely superseded by the above-mentioned katakana ドイツ. The character is sometimes used in compounds, for example (dokubun) meaning ‘German literature’, or as an abbreviation, such as in 独日関係 (dokunichi kankei German-Japanese relations?).

The (South) Korean name Dogil (독일) is the Korean pronunciation of the former Japanese name (see previous section). The compound coined by the Japanese was adapted into Korean, so its characters 獨逸 are not pronounced do+itsu as in Japanese, but dok+il = Dogil. Until 1980s, South Korean primary textbooks adopted Doichillanteu (도이칠란트) which approximates the German pronunciation [ˈdɔʏtʃ.lant] of Deutschland.

The official North Korean name toich'willandŭ (도이췰란드) approximates the German pronunciation [ˈdɔʏtʃ.lant] of Deutschland. Traditionally Dogil (독일) had been used in North Korea until 1990s.

Use of the Chinese name (in its Korean pronunciation deokguk, 덕국) is attested for the early 20th century. It is now uncommon.


The terminology for "Germany", the "German states" and "Germans" is complicated by the history of many different states in which German was the dominant language. Not until 1871 was there a nation state called Germany.

Name of the state Period National Diet House of regional representatives Regional states
Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation until 1806 (Did not exist) (Immerwährender) Reichstag (Reichsstände)
Deutscher Bund 1815–1848/1866 (Did not exist) Bundesversammlung (often: Bundestag) Bundesstaaten
Deutsches Reich 1848/1849 Reichstag (Volkshaus) Reichstag (Staatenhaus) Staaten
Norddeutscher Bund 1866/1867–1871 Reichstag Bundesrat Bundesstaaten
Deutsches Reich 1871–1919 Reichstag Bundesrat Bundesstaaten
Deutsches Reich 1919–1933/1945 Reichstag Reichsrat Länder
Bundesrepublik Deutschland since 1949 Bundestag Bundesrat Länder (often: Bundesländer)
Deutsche Demokratische Republik 1949–1990 Volkskammer Länderkammer (1949–1958) Länder (1949–1952), Bezirke (1952–1990)

Pre-modern Germany

Further information: Germania and Theodiscus

Roman authors mentioned a number of tribes they called Germani – the tribes did not use the term. After 1500 these tribes were identified by linguists as belonging to a group of languages, the Germanic languages which include modern languages like German, English and Dutch.

Germani (for the people) and Germania (for the area where they lived) became the common Latin words for Germans and Germany.

Germans call themselves Deutsche living in Deutschland. Deutsch is an adjective (Proto-Germanic *theudisk-) derived from Old High German thiota, diota (Proto-Germanic *theudō) meaning "people", "nation", "folk". The word *theudō was distantly related to Celtic *teutā, whence the Celtic tribal name Teuton, later anachronistically applied to the Germans. The term was first used to designate the popular language as opposed to the language used by the religious and secular rulers who used Latin.

Germany until 1871

The first nation state named "Germany" began in 1871; before that Germany referred to a geographical entity comprising many states populated by German speakers.

Starting with Charlemagne, the territory of modern Germany was within the realm of the Holy Roman Empire. It was a union of relatively independent rulers who ruled their own territories. This Empire was called in German Heiliges Römisches Reich, with the addition from the late Middle Ages of Deutscher Nation (of (the) German nation), showing that meanwhile the former idea of a universal realm had given way to a concentration on the German territories.

In 19th and 20th century historiography, the Holy Roman Empire was often referred to as Deutsches Reich, creating a link to the later nation state of 1871. Besides the official Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation, common expressions are Altes Reich (the old Reich) and Römisch-Deutsches Kaiserreich (Roman-German Imperial Realm).


Napoleon terminated the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Some of the independent German states then joined the Confederation of the Rhine, which remained a military alliance under the control of Napoleon. In 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, the German states created a German Confederation with the Emperor of Austria as president; it was a trading zone rather than a state, and parts of Prussia and Austria were not included.

When Hoffmann von Fallersleben in 1841 wrote the song Das Lied der Deutschen, the national anthem (at least in part) since 1922, he dreamt of a unified Germany (Deutschland über Alles) instead of the separate states. In that time of the emerging national movement, Germany was still merely a geographical term.

In 1866–7 Prussia and her allies left the German Confederation and created a new state called the North German Confederation. The remaining South German countries joined the new confederation in 1870, with the exception of Austria and Liechtenstein.[14]

German Federation
Further information: Reich

In German constitutional history, the expressions Reich (reign, realm, empire) and Bund (federation, confederation) are somewhat interchangeable. Sometimes they even co-existed in the same constitution: for example in the German Empire (1871–1918) the parliament had the name Reichstag, the council of the representatives of the German states Bundesrath. When in 1870-71 the North German Confederation was transformed into the German Empire, the preamble said that the participating monarchs are creating einen ewigen Bund (an eternal confederation) which will have the name Deutsches Reich.

Due to the history of Germany, the principle of federalism is strong. Only the state of Hitler (1933–1945) and the state of the communists (East Germany, 1949–1990) were centralist states. As a result, the words Reich and Bund used more frequently than in other countries, in order to distinguish between imperial or federal institutions and those at a subnational level. For example, a modern federal German minister is called Bundesminister, in contrast to a Landesminister who holds office in a state such as Rhineland-Palatinate or Lower Saxony.

As a result of the Hitler regime, and maybe also of Imperial Germany up to 1919, many Germans – especially those on the political left – have negative feelings about the word Reich. However, it is in common use in expressions such as Römisches Reich (Roman Empire), Königreich (Kingdom) and Tierreich (animal kingdom).

Bund is another word also used in contexts other than politics. Many associations in Germany are federations or have a federalised structure and differentiate between a Bundesebene (federal/national level) and a Landesebene (level of the regional states), in a similar way to the political bodies. An example is the German Football Association Deutscher Fußballbund. (The word Bundestrainer, referring to the national football coach, does not refer to the Federal Republic, but to the Fußballbund itself.)

In other German speaking countries, the words Reich (Austria before 1918) and Bund (Austria since 1918, Switzerland) are used too. An organ named Bundesrat exists in all three of them: in Switzerland it is the government and in Germany and Austria the house of regional representatives.

German Empire 1871–1945

The official name of the German state in 1871 became Deutsches Reich, linking itself to the former Reich before 1806. This expression was commonly used in official papers and also on maps, while in other contexts Deutschland was more frequently used.

Those Germans living within its boundaries were called Reichsdeutsche, those outside were called Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans). The latter expression referred mainly to the German minorities in Eastern Europe. Germans living abroad (for example in America) were and are called Auslandsdeutsche.

After the Republic was declared in 1918, Germany was informally called the Deutsche Republik. The official name of the state remained the same. The term Weimar Republic, after the city where the National Assembly gathered, came up in the 1920s but was not used frequently until the 1950s. It became necessary to find an appropriate term for the Germany between 1871 and 1919: Kaiserliches Deutschland (Imperial Germany) or (Deutsches) Kaiserreich.

Nazi Germany

After 1933 the official name of the state was still the same. The expression Drittes Reich (Third Reich), which was introduced by conservative antidemocratic writers in the last years of the republic, was an informal term. Later Hitler renounced the term Drittes Reich (officially in June 1939), but it already had become popular among supporters and opponents and is still used in historiography.[15] It led later to the name Zweites Reich (Second Empire) for the Germany of 1871–1919. The rule of Hitler is most commonly called in English Nazi Germany. Nazi is a colloquial abbreviation for Nationalsozialist.

Greater Germany

In the 19th century before 1871, Germans, for example in the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848–49, argued about what should become of Austria. Including Austria (at least the German-speaking parts) was called the Greater German Solution, a Germany without Austria the Smaller German Solution.

In 1919 the Weimar Constitution postulated the inclusion of Deutsch-Österreich (the German-speaking parts of Austria), but the Allies objected to this. It was realised only in 1938 when Hitler invaded Austria (Anschluss). National socialist propaganda proclaimed the realisation of Großdeutschland, and in 1943 the German Reich was officially renamed Großdeutsches Reich. However, these expressions never became common and popular.

In National Socialist propaganda Austria was also called Ostmark. After the Anschluss the previous territory of Germany was called Altreich (old Reich).

Germany divided 1945–1990

After 1945 Deutsches Reich was still in use for a couple of years; when in 1947 the Social Democrats gathered in Nuremberg, they called their rally Reichsparteitag. In geographical contexts people still spoke of Germany, for example when someone emigrated from Germany to Canada or a bicycle race went through Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Federal Republic of Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany, Bundesrepublik Deutschland, established in 1949, saw itself as the same state founded in 1871 but Reich gave place to Bund. For example the Reichskanzler became the Bundeskanzler, reichsdeutsch became bundesdeutsch, Reichsbürger (citizen of the Reich) became Bundesbürger.

Germany as a whole was called Gesamtdeutschland, referring to Germany in the international borders of 1937. In 1969 the Federal Ministry for All-German Affairs was renamed as the Federal Ministry for Intra-German Relations.

German Democratic Republic

The Soviet Zone established in 1949 a Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR, German Democratic Republic, GDR). Inhabitants of GDR called their state simply DDR and they called West Germany Westdeutschland or BRD. After 1970 the GDR called itself a socialist state of German nation.

Westerners called the GDR Sowjetische Besatzungszone (SBZ, Soviet Zone of Occupation), Sowjetzone, Ostzone, Mitteldeutschland or Pankow (the GDR government was in the Pankow district of Berlin).

Federal Republic of Germany 1990–present

In 1990 the German Democratic Republic ceased to exist. Five "neue Bundesländer" (new federal states) were established and joined the "Bundesrepublik Deutschland" (Federal Republic of Germany). East Berlin joined through merger with West Berlin; technically this was the sixth new federal state since West Berlin, although considered a de facto federal state, had the legal status of a military occupation zone.

The official name of the country is Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland). The terms "Westdeutschland" and "Ostdeutschland" are still used for the western and the eastern parts of the German territory, respectively.

Westdeutschland is also called "alte Bundesrepublik" (old Federal Republic), or "alte Bundesländer" (old federal states).

Ostdeutschland is also called "neue Bundesländer" (new federal states) or "ehemalige DDR" (former GDR).

See also

Germany portal
European Union portal


External links

  • by Tacitus, in English
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