In a previous post about the power of naming, I referenced the fact that we oftentimes don’t call nations by the names they use for themselves.
I just found out there’s actually a word for what an ethnic group or nation calls itself: It’s called an ENDONYM, and there’s an entire map of them at endonymmap.com:
On the actual website, you can zoom in and explore the map, but here’a a sample screenshot:
The website’s Answers, Errata and Discussion section is equally interesting:According to endonyms.com, “A map of this nature taps into some deep notions of personal identity and can arouse strong nationalist passions. Indeed, I’ve received many (mostly polite) questions and comments asking why a particular language was used for a label, where a particular name came from or why certain features were included or excluded from the map.”
Check out that section for more discussion about how/why certain names were selected (and myriads left out).
So why don’t we refer to countries by their endonyms in the first place? That’s probably fodder another blogpost (here’s an entire discussion on Germany for example), but for the moment, it’s important to note that pretty much every language does this.
My favorite example from my old Czech teacher in Prague: The Czech word for German, “Němčina,” has the same root as němý – which means “mute.” There are no written records, so we can’t be entirely sure, but it does appear that some Slavic tribes ran into some Germanic tribes a long time ago, tried to talk to them, and when they couldn’t understand their Slavic tongue, decided to call them “people that can’t speak.” (The “něm” root still forms the word for “German” in many Slavic languages.)
Does anyone else know reasons we call particular countries by names we do? In an increasingly globalized world, should we start referring to countries by their actual endonyms? Or, as the endonymmap.com discussion section illustrates, would that be an even bigger political land mine?
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