Where does the word "German" come From?

Almanlar, Niemcy, Tyskar, the Germans or simply "Die Deutschen"

Alemannia Aachen Fanatic
Alemannia Aachen Fanatic. sodapix @getty-images

The name for Italy is easily recognizable as Italy in almost every language. The US are the US, Spain is Spain and France is France. Of course, there are little differences here an in pronunciation according to the language. But the name of the country and the name of the language stay pretty much the same everywhere. But the Germans are called differently in several regions of this planet.

German people use the word "Deutschland" to name their country and the word "Deutsch" to name their own language.

But almost nobody else outside of Germany - with the exception of the Scandinavians and the Dutch -  seems to care much about this name. Let’s have a look at the etymology of the different words to name "Deutschland" and let's also examine which countries use what version of it.

Germany like the neighbors

The most common term for Germany is… Germany. It comes from the Latin language and because of the ancient prestige of this language (and later the prestige of the English language), it has been adapted to many other languages in the world. The word probably simply means "neighbor" and has been established by the ancient leader Julius Cesar. Today you can find this term not only in Romance and German languages but also in different Slavic, Asian and African languages as well. It also denoted one of the many Germanic tribes that lived west of the river Rhine.

Alemania like all men

There is another word to describe the German country and language and it’s Alemania (Spanish).

We find derivations in French (=Allemagne), Turkish (=Almania) or even Arabic (=ألمانيا), Persian and even in Nahuatl, which is the language of the indigenous people in Mexico.
It is not clear, though, where the term comes from. One possible explanation is that the term simply means "all men".  The Alemannian were a confederation of Germanic tribes that lived on the upper Rhine river which today is rather known under the name "Baden Württemberg".

The Allemannian dialects can also be found in the Northern parts of Switzerland, the Alsace region. Later that term has been adapted to describe all Germans.

Funny fact aside: Don't be fooled. Even nowadays many people are rather identifying with the region that they grew up in than with the whole nation. To be proud of our nation is considered nationalist and rather right wing, which - as you can think - due to our history, is something that most people don't want to be associated with. If you hitch a flag in your (Schreber-)Garten or on your balcony, you (hopefully) won't be too popular among your neighbors.

Niemcy like dumb

The term "niemcy" is used in many Slavic languages and means nothing else but "dumb" (=niemy) in the sense of "not speaking". The Slavic nations started to call the Germans that way because in their eyes the Germans were speaking a very weird language, which the Slavic people couldn’t speak nor understand. The word "niemy" can, of course, be found in the description of the German language: "niemiecki".

Deutschland like a nation

And finally, we come to the word, that the German people use for themselves.  The word "diot" comes from old German and means "the nation".

"Diutisc" meant  "belonging to the nation". Directly from that come the terms "deutsch" and "Deutschland". Other languages with Germanic origins like Denmark or the Netherlands also use this name adapted to their language of course. But there are also a couple of other countries, that have adopted this term to their own languages like e.g. Japanese, Afrikaans, Chinese, Icelandic or Korean. The Teutons were another Germanic or Celtic tribe residing rather in the area that is Scandinavia today. That might explain why the name "Tysk" is prevalent in those languages.

It is interesting to note, that Italians uses the word "Germania" for the country Germany, but to describe the German language they use the word "tedesco" which derives from "theodisce" that then again is practically of the same origin as "deutsch".


Other interesting names

We’ve already talked about so many different ways to describe the German nation and its language, but those were still not all of them. There are also terms like Saksamaa, Vokietija, Ubudage or Teutonia from Middle Latin. If you’re interested in learning more about the ways the world refers to Germans, you should definitely read this article on wikipedia. I just wanted to give you a quick overview of the most popular names.

To conclude this rough overview, I have a little question for you: What is the opposite of "deutsch"? [Hint: The Wikipedia article above contains the answer.]