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 secrets behind the name of a country. Who knows? It may inspire you about the naming of your own business venture. To begin with:


Barbados is a country that bears very original name with funny meaning. The Portuguese word Barbadas is the source word in Barbados 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 and 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 what’s in the naming of El Salvador. Originally the land was called Provincia del Nusetro Senor Jesus Crristo, el Salvador del Mundo. In translation it 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, that explains only 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 with words for forest and woodland – probably similiar to Finnmark and Telemark.

denmark naming


Japan is a country which name is very special. 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 the the country or the group of people that are in question. In this case Japan is an exonym. The truly Japanese names for Japan are NIppon and Nihon.

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

japan naming explained highnames

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

According to the linguists the English word Japan comes from the Portugues 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 derives from the Latin Mons Vaticanus.  The lands surrounding the hill were called ager vaticanus. If we dwell upon deeper in the words we’ll get to the Latin verb vaticinari – it means “to prophesy”. 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 ground 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 languages – 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 curios 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?