Linguistics can be tricky, and how words develop over time can be an interesting window into our collective history. Just think about the names of countries. Why do English speakers say Germany instead of Deutschland, as the Germans do? Or why do Spanish speakers use Estados Unidos de América instead of United States of America?
It all comes down to two words—exonym and endonym. An exonym is the common name of a geographical region used only outside of the place or linguistic community. “Germany” and “Estados Unidos de América” are both exonyms. An endonym, on the other hand, is the common name for a geographic region used within the place and linguistic community—making “Deutschland” and “United States of America” endonyms.
If you were ever curious about what citizens of a particular country call their homeland, the Endonym Map will help you out. It lists the endonym of each country written either in the official or national language. For countries where more than one language is spoken, the most widely used language was selected. If you’re wondering why so many of the endonyms are in English, it’s because roughly one-third of all countries use English as an official language, with Spanish, Arabic, and French following in popularity.
To get into detail, the Endonym Map’s website also has a list of all the languages used, as well as errors that will be updated in future editions. For instance, the British Virgin Island should only be labeled as the Virgin Islands, as “British” is not part of its official designation. There is also some confusion in Africa, where official languages aren’t always what’s most commonly spoken. In South Africa, English is the predominant language of government and news, but Zulu is actually spoken by more people and so the Zulu name for the country, iRiphabliki yaseNingizimu Afrika, should have been used on the map.
There are also cases where countries officially change their names. This occurred in 2011 when Fiji officially changed their name from the Republic of the Fiji Islands to the Republic of Fiji. But even with these minor errors, it’s fascinating to tour the world through the native names of each country. Explore the world map in high resolution via the Endonym Map website and if you like what you see, you can purchase prints on Zazzle.