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Name of Sweden

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Name of Sweden

The name of Sweden (Swedish Sverige ) is ultimately derived from the ethnonym of the Swedes. The English name was loaned from Dutch in the 17th century to refer to Sweden as an emerging great power. Before Sweden's imperial expansion, Early Modern English used Swedeland.

The Old English name of Sweden was Sweoland or Sweorice, land or realm of the Sweonas, The Germanic tribes of the Sviar (Old Norse Svíþjóð).[1] The name of the Sviar itself is derived from a Proto-Norse *Swihoniz, presumably a self-designation containing the Germanic reflexive *swe- "one's own, self".[2]


  • Sweden 1
  • Sverige 2
  • Ruotsi 3
  • Names in other languages 4
  • References 5
  • See also 6


The modern English name Sweden is exceptional in being loaned from Dutch.[3] Before the gradual introduction of Sweden in the 17th century, English used Swedeland.

It is based on Middle Dutch Zweden, the Dutch name of Sweden, and in origin the dative plural of Zwede "Swede". It has been in use in English from about 1600, first recorded in Scottish Swethin, Swadne. Country names based on a dative plural in -n became productive in German and Dutch in the 15th century; compare German Italien "Italy", Spanien "Spain", Rumänien "Romania", Ungarn "Hungary".[4]

Outside of Dutch, German and English, the name Sweden has also been adopted in Welsh. The English form in -n has also influenced a number of non-European languages, including Yoruba Swídìn and the Chinese rendition 瑞典 (pinyin Ruìdiǎn), and via the Chinese Hanzi spelling various other languages in the larger Sinosphere (such as Vietnamese Thụy Điển, Southern Min Sūi-tián, etc.).


In Sweden, the form Swerike is attested from the end of the 13th century, Svearike, from the 14th century, as well as the Icelandic Svíaríki and the Old Gutnish Suiariki.

In those days the meaning was restricted to the older Swedish region in Svealand and did not always include Götaland, the land of the Geats. The word rike translates to "realm" and also appears in the name of the legislature, Riksdag (c.f. Danish rigsdag, German Reichstag).

Towards the end of the 15th century, the form had changed to Swerighe both in Swedish and Danish, like bakare ("baker") to bagare and mik ("me") to mig. 17th-century spellings include Swerghe, Swirghe, Swirge.

Much is made about the difference between the medieval forms Svearike and Sverige. Although, medieval Swedes were unlikely to see it as anything else but a matter of pronunciation.

A hypothesis due to Ivar Modéer and popularized by Jan Guillou proposes that the form Svearige is a loan from Danish with different connotations than the native Sverige.


A naming that stems from a completely different root is the one used in some Finnic languages, in Finnish Ruotsi, in Estonian Rootsi, in Northern Sami Ruoŧŧa, probably derived from various uses of rōþs-, i.e., "related to rowing" in Old Swedish, cf. Rus.

Names in other languages

The name of Sweden was latinized as Suecia adopted in various Romance and Slavic languages, including Spanish Suecia, Catalan Suècia, Portuguese Suécia, Russian Швеция Shvetsiya, and in non-European languages influenced by such languages, In these languages, there is frequent confusion between the names of Sweden and of Switzerland (Spanish Suiza, Catalan Suïssa, Russian Швейцария Shveytsariya). There is a historical tradition going back to at least the 15th century to the effect that Schwyz (the settlement which gave its name to Switzerland) was indeed named after the Swedes. Ericus Olai in his Chronica regni Gothorum (c. 1470) notes the similarity in toponymy, Swycia, quasi Suecia. This tradition was taken seriously in 19th-century scholarly reception of the Swiss Swedish origin legend, especially in Swedish romantic nationalism (e.g. Erik Gustaf Geijer's 1836 History of the Swedes), but is not now considered likely.

Chinese uses 瑞典 to represent a phonetic approximation of the name (Cantonese seoi6din2, pinyin ruìdiǎn). Also in China, there has been frequent confusion with the name of Switzerland 瑞士 (Cantonese seoi6si6-2, pinyin ruìshì), beginning with the same character 瑞 ruì (meaning "auspicious"), to the point where the Swiss and Swedish consulates in Shanghai launched a campaign to help Chinese tourists distinguish between the two countries in 2013.[5]

In Arabic, the name is rendered as Suwayd سويد, the pertaining adjective being سويدي suwaydi "Swedish", which happens form a homonym with a pre-existing Arabic name Suwayd "black, dark, swarthy" (c.f. Sudan) and the nisba pre-existing in various parts of the Arab world (such as Riyadh's as-Suwaidi district).


  1. ^ Hellquist, Elof (1922). Svensk etymologisk ordbok. Stockholm: Gleerups förlag. p. 917. 
  2. ^ Hellquist, Elof (1922). Svensk etymologisk ordbok. Stockholm: Gleerups förlag. p. 915. 
  3. ^ Alongside the name Netherlands itself, and arguably the name of New Zealand
  4. ^ J. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "Spanien": "der im mhd. übliche nom. sing. wurde dann nhd. nach der analogie von Baiern, Thüringen u.s.w. (dat. plur. des bewohnernamens) umgebildet", with citations from Keller (ed.), Fastnachtspiele aus dem fünfzehnten Jahrhundert (1853) and Valentin Schumanns Nachtbüchlein (1559).
  5. ^ Soo Kim, Chinese confuse Sweden with Switzerland, The Telegraph, 12 November 2013.

See also

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