What’s in the name of a country? Often there is a secret meaning behind a country’s name. But we rarely think about it. That’s why we started our series of articles that explain the hidden meaning behind the name of some countries. Who knows? It may inspire you about the name of your own business venture. So, without further ado:


Barbados is a country that bears a very original name with a funny meaning. The Portuguese word “Barbadas” is the root of the name, and it means “Bearded ones”. Earlier the word “Barbadas” was used in other forms – Barbada, Barbuda, Barbadoes. The first use of the name dates back to 1519. It was used on a map painted by the Genoese cartographer Visconte Maggiolo. There are two main theories that explain why of all the words in the dictionary the land was called with the name Barbuda. The first theory suggests that the appearance of the island’s fig trees inspired the naming of the land. The other theory explains the naming with the beards of the indigenous people.

El Salvador

The Spanish word for “Saviour” is the root of the name of El Salvador. Originally the land was called “Provincia del Nusetro Senor Jesus Crristo, el Salvador del Mundo”. In English this means “Province of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World”. The province was part of the Spanish Kingdom of Guatemala.


There are still disputes about the etymology of Denmark’s name. First there is a popular legend about a mythological king that was named King Dan. However, the legend only explains the first part of the word. If we dwell into dictionaries the only clue we’ll find about the first part of the name is a word that means “flat land” – the German “Tenne” (threshing floor), the English word “den” (low ground). The second part of the name (-mark) has separate roots that are related to the words for forest and woodland – probably similar to Finnmark and Telemark.

denmark naming


Japan is a country with a very special name. To begin with explaining what is the meaning of exonym: it is a name for a geographical region or group of people that is used only outside of the country or  group of people in question. In this case Japan is an exonym, since the actual Japanese names for Japan are Nippon and Nihon.

The meaning of both Nippon and Nihon is “the sun’s origin”, i.e. the place where the sun is born/created. Also this is where “the land of the rising sun” comes from (you have probably heard someone in a movie or in a book to refer to Japan as “the land of the rising sun” at least once).

japan naming explained highnames

If we deconstruct the Japanese names (Nippon and Nihon) we get to the word nichi – its meaning is related to the words “sun” / “day”. The other word we get from the deconstruction is hon – it means “base” and “origin”. Gathered together the words mark a common meaning – “home of the sun”, “origin of the sun”.

According to linguists, the English word “Japan” comes from a Portuguese recording of the Mandarin Chinese name for the country – Cipan. The literal meaning is “sun origin”.


The Latin “Civitas Vaticana” is the base for the name of Vatican. The Italian origin is “Città del Vaticano”. The name of the hill on which the Vatican is situated derives from the Latin “Mons Vaticanus”. The lands surrounding the hill were called “ager vaticanus”. If we dwell deeper, we’ll get to the Latin verb vaticinari – it means “to prophesize”. It’s meaning is related to the fortune-tellers on the streets in this area during the Roman age.

vatican naming explained


The name of Portugal originates from “Portus Cale”. The Latin background is strongly present here again. “Portus” in Latin means “port”. However, there are still debates about the meaning of “Cale”. Some scholars are convinced that the roots of the word lay in the Greek language – more specifically in the word “kallis” that means “beautiful”. Another opinion on the matter is that “Cale” derives from the Latin word “calere” – it means “to heat”.

By the time of the Middle Ages the region of Portus Cale became known as Portucale. As the time went by, the natural evolving of the language transformed the name into Portugale and then Portugal.

portugal naming explained

Are you curious to read more about the names of countries and where they derive from? Then go and read another one of our articles dedicated to countries naming.

What is the the origin of the names of Argentina, Australia, Canada and Iceland?