Nations Which Owe their Name to the Greek Language

It is estimated that at least 5,000 words — and most likely many more — used in almost all languages spoken today across the world stem from the Greek language. Perhaps a bit more surprisingly, some of the very names of the world’s countries are derived from Greek words.

Argentina: The name of the second largest country in South America comes from the Latin “argentum,” which in turn has its roots in ancient Greek word Άργυρος (Argyros). When the Spaniards first arrived in today’s Argentina, they expected to find gold. Instead, they found that all the indigenous people used silver for their silverware and jewelry. It didn’t take long for them to realize that the mountains in the area were full of deposits of the precious metal.

Azerbaijan: This name comes from the ancient Greek name “Atropatis.” Atropatis was actually a Persian nobleman who founded the city of Atropatini after the death of Alexander the Great. Although the territories he occupied mostly belong to Iran today, the ancient city itself is considered to belong to Azerbaijan’s cultural heritage.

Egypt: The ancient philosopher Strabo argued that Egypt (Αίγυπτος) was a composite word. Specifically, it derives from the word Αγαίον (Aegean) and Υπτίως (yptios) meaning below, or “the country below the Aegean Sea.”

Ethiopia: From the ancient Greek Αιθίωψ, this is a composite name originating from the verb αίθω (aitho, or “burn”) and the word όψις (opsis, “face”) meaning burnt face, describing what they believed to be the sunburned skin of the North African country’s inhabitants.

Georgia: Most probably, this country was named after the martyr St. George. Nevertheless, the actual origin of the name itself is from the word Γεωργία, which means agriculture and farming.

Eritrea: Ethiopia’s neighboring country was named Ερυθραία after the Red Sea (Ερυθρά Θάλασσα).

Indonesia: Both Indonesia, as well as all the island archipelagos ending in “nesia” (Polynesia, Micronesia, etc.), have borrowed the ending of their names from the ancient Greek word Νήσος (Nesos) which means “island.”

Malta: Greeks are known to have inhabited this tiny Mediterranean island as early as 700 BC. They gave it the name “Mελίτη῾῾ (Μeliti), from the Greek meli, or honey, which is thought to be because of the well-known honey produced on the island far back into antiquity. Up until the Byzantine years,  Malta was referred to by the nickname “The land of honey” in many texts.

Monaco: In ancient times, the port of Monaco was inextricably linked to the worship of the mythical hero Hercules and it was often referred to as “Hercules Monoikos.” In fact, at that time there was a small temple dedicated to Hercules, which was not customary for only a semi-god, which was therefore called Monoikos, or “single house.”

This amazing theory is also confirmed by the fact that even today, the name for Monaco’s main port is “Port Hercules.”

Scotland: Although it is not widely accepted, one theory posits that the name of Scotland came from the ancient Greek word Σκότος (skotos), meaning “darkness.”

It is said that Minoan and Mycenaean merchants who reached the coast of Britain, as far north as present-day Scotland, were impressed by the lack of light in the area, describing it as Skotia, or “the land of darkness.”

The Philippines: When Spanish explorer Rui Lopez de Villalobos arrived by ship on the  large Pacific archipelago, he decided to name two of its major islands in honor of his monarch, King Philip II (1537-1598). Over the years, the name “The Philippines” has been used for all the islands belonging to the archipelago.

Of course, the name Philippos itself is an ancient Greek one, meaning “lover of horses.” Philippos II was the father of Alexander the Great.


Then there is the entire continent which derives its very name from Greece. According to Greek mythology, Ευρώπη, Europe, was the daughter of Phoenician King Agenoras and Queen Telephassa. Europe was a beautiful maiden with soft, white skin and Zeus naturally fell in love with her.

The Greek god Zeus disguised as a bull, abducting the goddess Europa

Transforming himself into a bull with golden horns, he enticed Europe to ride on his back and carried her thus to the island of Crete, where they then secreted themselves away to enjoy their love.

In addition, even our globe’s North Pole and South Pole were named after the Greek word Πόλος (Polos), originating from the high, cylindrical crown the Greek goddesses Rhea, Cybele and Hera were described as wearing. The word came to mean an axis or pivot, from which we get the modern word pole.

Finally, the name Atlantic Ocean was first used during the era of Herodotus in ancient Greece, approximately 450 BC. In Greek this means the “sea of Atlas.” Atlas was the Greek god of both navigation and astronomy. The earliest writings which mention the Atlantic Ocean are attributed to the Greek philosopher Plato.