Why is China Named “China”?

Every country has a name.

The origin of some names are quite obvious. For example, the United States of America are fifty united states in North America. Some names are more confusing like Iceland and Greenland. Iceland is a flourishing, nature-filled land in the North Atlantic and Greenland is blanketed in ice and mostly uninhabitable besides the coastline. So, what’s with the name switch? Iceland’s name comes from part of a tactic used by Norse settlers to deter visitors from visiting Iceland. Conversely, Greenland was named Greenland to attract new settlers.

But what about the origins of China’s name?

China’s traditional Chinese name is 中国 as in “middle kingdom”. This name is derived from ancient China’s ethnocentric view of the world. The ancient Chinese knew nothing of the world that existed beyond the mountains to the west, the desert to the north and the seas to the south and east. Therefore, they viewed their land as the center of the world.

Modern China’s official name is 中华人民共和国 or the “People’s Republic of China”. This name was first adopted in 1949 after the Chinese Civil War.

However, the origin China’s English name is unknown.

Multiple theories exist regarding the creation of China’s English name. The first of which cites a 1555 translation of a Portuguese book by Englishman, Richard Eden, as the first to use the word “China”. The Portuguese word for China was derived from the Persian word Chīnī. The other, more widely accepted, theory cites the first Chinese dynasty, the Qin (pronounced “Chin”) as the reason for China’s name. The phonetic similarity between Qin and China is currently regarded as the probable origin of the word “China”.

China is not the only country whose English name is somewhat based on the relationship between English phonetics and vernacular. Some include: Spain (España), Mexico (Estados Unidos Mexicanos), Brazil (Brasil), the Netherlands (Nederland), and Italy (Italia).

Each and every country on Earth has a name and meaning in vernacular, but the story of each nation’s English name is without a doubt unique.




There are 52 comments

  1. Maggie Guo

    The origin of the English and Chinese name of the country, “China” was very interesting. The fact that the Chinese name reflects the ancient China’s ethnocentric view of the world literally is very intriguing. I also think the relationship between English phonetics and vernacular and the English name of China is very unique. Thank you for the great article!

  2. 安世璘

    Also, is there any relationship between the pottery ‘china’ and country “China”? Is it simply because china was first imported by Europe from China? Just a question I always wondered regarding of the names..

  3. Logan C

    This is so cool! I always wondered why countries were given the name they were and now I have an idea for why China is named ¨China¨!

  4. Pritesh Patel

    This article is very interesting. I thought it was cool how the English name and Chinese name origin are very different. The relationship between English phonetics and vernacular and the English name of China was very intriguing.

  5. Kelly M.

    It’s quite interesting to learn about why China was named as it was. But why were Iceland and Greenland named so differently from their characteristics?

  6. Jye Shang

    After I have read this, i realized that there is a huge correlation between the China name and ethnocentric. I now see the significance in the name “China”.

  7. Kevin Liu

    I never thought the name of the country have so many meaning under it. Really want to study about the meaning of the country’s name

  8. Hitomi Honda

    This article is especially interesting to me because I never gave this topic much thought. It was a definitely an enjoyable and informative read! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Matthew L.

    What an intriguing article, Nicholas. As a geography and history buff, I especially related to this piece. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Eric wang

    That’s a great article that taught me about why China is called China, I had no idea why it was called China even though I lived there for many years and now I know why China is called China! Learned a lot!

  11. Ashley Silverstein

    It is very interesting that each place has a different meaning and there is a story behind the name of the place. I now know it is derived from ancient China’s ethnocentric view of the world. This is very cool!!

  12. Ashley K

    Wow so interesting to read about the origin of the name of China! I loved reading about the history of where China derived its name from.

  13. Nikki W

    I think that this article is very interesting! I never knew that the origin of China’s name was unknown. I am glad I read this this article and learned something new about the history of China.

  14. Nathan Davis

    What an interesting article. I never really thought about why China is called China and it turns out the reason in very fascinating.

  15. caroline strauss

    This is very informative. There is so much meaning under such a simple name. I definitely learned a lot about China’s name.

  16. Alynah Ratansi

    It’s very fascinating to learn about why China was named as it was. I never knew the significance of the country until I read this article.

  17. Jake Moreh

    It was very interesting to learn about how and why China was named “China”. It makes me appreciate the Chinese culture even more.

  18. Daryn N.

    Wow. So interesting. I happened to know the Greenland and Iceland story already, but it was cool to find out how China got its name.

  19. Jeffrey Z

    I did not know that China was called “中国” because it literally translated to middle kingdom. This name makes so much more sense now.

  20. Richard R

    I was always curious as to why China was named “China” in English. I didn’t know there were multiple theories on the topic.

  21. Justin Cui

    Huh, interesting how we still don’t 100% know how China got its name and how there are theories behind it. The one in this article seems to be very reasonable.

  22. Jessica Chen

    I didn’t know that 中华人民共和国 was first adopted in 1949. I also learned that China’s traditional Chinese name means middle kingdom in English.

  23. Kaydence

    I learned that China is called 中国 because ancient Chinese people believed that their country was the center of the world. I didn’t know that China is mostly called China because of the Portuguese word, Chīnī.

  24. Pratim Chowdhary

    I thought that this article was very interesting. It brought up a question that I had never really thought about. From this article I learned that China is name China because of the Qin Dynasty. I also learned that the first time the name China was mentioned was by Richard Eden.

  25. Jeff Qasemi

    I’ve always known about China’s past ethnocentric ideologies but, I always wondered how China was derived from (zhong guo). It’s interesting however, it’s only theoretical as to its source. Hopefully, with more time we may we the true source of this name.

  26. Stephanie Cen

    I love how the name is compared to other nation’s names. It was also interesting how the Chinese name originated from “middle country”.

  27. Mathew Liang

    This article has given me some knowledge that I never really thought about and it is very interesting because you always just hear a country’s name but you never question its origin so it is cool to see the origin of where china came from

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