How countries got their Names
It’s easy to look back at the history of a country that’s been around for a few hundred years and come to understand how it came to the point where it’s at right now. The United States, for instance, have a relatively short history when compared to other countries, and it’s not difficult to understand why they’re called the ‘United States.’ It’s a clear term that derives from the 50 states which together form what we know as ‘North America.’ But the fact remains that not all countries have as short a history as the USA.
Some countries like Poland have had periods of time through which they disappeared for a brief interval of some years, be it due to conquering or subjugation, but even Poland has a longer and more complicated history than we often care to consider.
Though in the case of Poland, the answer is much simpler – The Poles got their names from the West Slavic tribe of Polans (Polanie), who inhabited the Warta river basin in the 6th Century, thought to descend from Germany and Russia. In Polish, the word ‘Pole’ translates to ‘fields,’ which is mainly what they inhabited. Hence the eventually link to their modern-day name.
Japan-how it got its name and why it’s often called the land of rising sun
One of the more interesting countries to study under this regard is Japan, or the ‘Land of Rising Sun’ as it’s often known. But why is Japan called the land of the rising sun? In Japanese, the land is referred to as Nihon (Nippon) – though both this and Japan translate to have about the same meaning, that being ‘Where the Sun Rises.’ The name derives from having once been recognized by the Chinese as the direction ‘where the sun rises.’ Indeed, even to this day on the majority of modern maps, Japan is the farthest country to the East.
Upon its English naming, the Western maps were yet incomplete. It was Marco Polo, the famed Italian explorer (who has an entire blindfold game named after him) who made initial contact between the worlds of the East and West, thus introducing Japan to the Western world during his stay in China. It was there where he learned that the Chinese referred to Japan as ‘Ji-pang’ or ‘Zu-pang’, which can be translated as “the sun’s origin.”
Japan itself changed its name to Nihon (Nippon) in about the 7th Century, to distance itself from its partially Chinese descent, as before it had been known as Wa (Yamato), written by the Chinese initial of 倭. Japan is to this day recognized as the farthest country to the East – and given that East is the direction in which the sun rises, they had decided to embrace this as their official worldwide title.
In the Japanese language itself, “Nippon” is typically written as 日本. 日 means “Sun” or “Day” and 本 can have multiple meanings, but in the given context would define the meaning of “origin.” Japan has persevered, known as the Land of Rising Sun for centuries, and will likely continue to be known this way. In our modern day, however, it’s easy to forget how deep a country’s roots can go.