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.