I was inspired by the other question "Why are the German and French languages so different?". But while, for me, the answer was obvious (the Romans did not conquer most parts of today's Germany and so on), another question came into my mind and its answer is less obvious.

Firstly, take for example Germany's close neighbour France. What are Frenchmen called in other European languages?

  • German: Franzosen
  • Italian: Francesi
  • Dutch: Fransen
  • Polish: Francuzi
  • Russian: французы (frantsuzy)
  • Norwegian: Fransk

You get the point. All of these are extremely similar to each other. But now look how the Germans are called in other languages:

  • French: Allemand
  • Italian: Tedeschi (reads: Tedeskee)
  • Dutch: Duitsers
  • Polish: Niemcy
  • Russian: немцы (nemtsy)
  • Norwegian: Tysk

Why are there so many different varieties compared to e.g. French?

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    It might be an interesting note that during Crusades, most of the Western Crusaders were known as Faranji or Franki by Middle Eastern however Germans were explicitly known as Alemani. Germans are still known as Alemani to Mid-Easterners if I am not wrong
    – NSNoob
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 6:40
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    The Slavic word (e.g. in Czech: Němec, Německo - German, Germany) has the root meaning "mute" - which is an exaggeration of the fact that they can't speak our (Slavic) language.Quite generally, Germany is called by so many different names because the Germans have been 1) important for a very long time, 2) omnipresent (tending to spread over a big part of Europe). So various other nations have associated them with some Germanic tribes that lived at various moments, and that depends. Some picked the old Germanic tribes, other the Allemanni tribe, and so on. Commented May 26, 2016 at 6:42
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    At the end, this big diversity is due to the "essence of the German nation" to be very old, going back to the Roman Empire. On the contrary, the French nation was "newly established" some 1,000+ years ago, and its birth was sharp and all other languages recorded it in the same way. Incidentally, a Czech slur for Germans is "Skopčák" whose meaning is actually less insulting than "Němec" - "S kopce" means "down the hill". It means that the Germans generally lived in the hills - Sudetenland - or were going down the hill when visiting the Czech lands. Commented May 26, 2016 at 6:44
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    @LubošMotl "The Slavic word (e.g. in Czech: Němec, Německo - German, Germany) has the root meaning "mute" - which is an exaggeration of the fact that they can't speak our (Slavic) language." That's an ancient tradition that long predates Slavic words for Germans. The Romans would mock people who didn't speak a language intelligible to them, joking that all they did was go around saying "bar bar bar" all the time, and that's where we get the word barbarian from. Commented May 26, 2016 at 17:30
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    Actually, there's an error in the examples. In Polish, it's not "niemiecki" (which means: german language) but "Niemcy" (which means, the Germans). The genesis of that name is actually the same as what LubošMotl said. In polish, there is a word "niemy" (mute), and the suffix "-cy" is sometimes used to form a word meaning a group of people, i.e. głupi - głupcy (foolish - fools,foolish people), similar niemy - niemcy. However, nowadays the language is different and "Niemcy" means precisely a nation, while "mute people" is now "niemi". Almost nobody knows or senses the hidden "mute" in Niemcy Commented May 27, 2016 at 19:00

3 Answers 3


The Wikipedia article on this is quite detailed.

In short, Germany was never conquered by the Roman Empire, so several tribes maintained their identity as well as the Germanic language. On top of that, you have Germany's central location, out of all those factors the different names emerged based on mostly 5 different origins.

  1. Deutsch - from the Germanic language, this is what Germans call themselves as well as most other Germanic languages (English being a notable exception). The Tysk of the Norse language also stems from this. That's also valid for Italian, as "tedesco" is derived from Þiudiskaz (of the people), the same root word of "Deutsch". Curiously, Italians then call the country "Germania", following instead the etymology in the next point.

  2. German - from the Latin Germania, this is what Germans were called in the roman empire and thus it's pretty widespread. As this is the name the English used as well, it disseminated through English colonialism to many other languages. English also has the word Dutch, which was originally used to describe Germans, but nowadays only refers to residents of The Netherlands.

  3. Allemagne - from the Alamanni tribe in what is today southwestern Germany. As people in the time between the collapse of the Roman empire and the creation of the Carolingian empire (ca. 500-800) mostly came in contact with one of the many Germanic tribes some names for Germany were derived from that one tribe. This term is mostly used in the regions south and west of Germany, i.e. France and Iberia, probably through the Moors it spread towards Arabia as well. Also of note is, that there is a Latin word for the tribe, which explains how it could survive in the Latin languages spoken in western Europe.

  4. Saksa - from the Saxon tribe in northern Germany (on a modern map of Germany, they lived in Schleswig-Holstein, the northern part of Niedersachsen and the western part of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern). Same explanation as above. This mostly applies to states around the Baltic, as the Saxons had a lot of contact with tribes in this area..

  5. Nemet - The protoslavic word for foreigner forms the final category and defines the name of Germany in many eastern European languages, their tribes came into contact with Germanic ones and the name stuck. Another theory would be, that it's named after the Nemets tribe, which I think is unlikely, due to the geography between Slavic tribes and the Nemets. The Slavs lived in eastern Germany, while the Nemets were one the westernmost Germanic tribes.

For France, this is very different. Germany remained splintered into many small states until 1871. France on the other hand was essentially formed from nothing early in the middle ages, the term Francia, later becoming France was simply natural, the name for the original inhabitants of France, the Gaul, is nowhere to be found. While Germany consisted of dozens of small states loosely arranged in the Holy Roman Empire, so the identities of the regions inhabitants from ancient times remained intact, whereas France essentially didn't exist until the beginning of the middle ages.

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    furthermore, deutsch was a culture not a something associated with a country, since the HRE included many parts that were not deutsch like italian, czech, polish, french, and probably many more.
    – Armin
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 8:41
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    The Koreans ended up with dogil because it's the Sino-Korean reading of the Japanese 独逸/ ドイツ doitsu, which is more clearly a loan of Deutsch.
    – jogloran
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 5:18
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    @VladimirF - almost all Slavs - which includes almost everyone called Vladimír and Luboš – would transcribe ц as "c" or related (tc?) but that doesn't work for the Germanic and mostly Romance language speakers who tend to pronounce "c" as "k". By this decimation of "c", the letter became unusable for an unequivocal transcription, so they write it as "ts" or "tz" which is a similar sound although it's more composite than "c". Commented May 27, 2016 at 10:11
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    In the United States there is still today a cultural group called the Pennsylvania Dutch, who are mostly descended from German immigrants fleeing war & persecution in the early 18th century. So at least in one idiomatic usage, "Dutch" can still mean "German" in English. Commented May 27, 2016 at 17:50
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    It is worth noting that French language, while it uses “Allemagne” for the country name, has two synonyms for the adjective: “allemand” and “germanique”. The latter is mostly found in formal contexts.
    – spectras
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 4:51

Why Germany is known in world in a diverse way?

I believe this has to do with different nature of encountering Germans when it came to other nations.

Germany has a more important strategic location than France does. France is in the Western most reach of the Continent while Germany is in the center and had more dealings with Slavs in the East, Latins in the South, Nordics in the North and Frisian/Dutch in the West. They have also traditionally dominated/or played an very important role in global affairs since ancient times. (This does not imply that France did not play a similar role).

France was a nation for most of the time ever since Franks captured Gaul but Germans were separated into small states for most part of their history until the unification of 1871, which ironically also materialized after defeating the French in Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Which is why different nations came to know them by names of different factions or tribes.

Etymology of different names for Germans

France was ruled by Franks who also conquered Other German tribes which also included a very large tribe named Alemanni who settled in Eastern Direction of Frankish realm, along the Swiss border and beyond, precisely the Alsace Lorraine region. Thus French came to know the people East of the Rhine as Allemand.

Italians call the Germans Tedeschi but it derives from Theodiscus which shares the same root as original word Deutsch. I thought it had something to do with Teutonic but that's not the case.

Dutch are Germanic people themselves and among all other Germanic languages, Dutch is closest to German. Therefore they use Duitsers which is very close to original word Deutsch.

The Slavic name Niemecki (And other variants) for Germans comes from name of yet another Germanic tribe, the Nemetes who lived in region of Lake Constance. Luboš Motl has pointed out another theory for this word which I quote:

"The Slavic word (e.g. in Czech: Němec, Německo - German, Germany) has the root meaning "mute" - which is an exaggeration of the fact that they can't speak our (Slavic) language".

But I am more inclined to believe the Nemetes theory because the theory presented by Lubos is suspiciously similar to how Arabs used to mock Non-Arabs by calling them Ajam which basically means mute. Nevertheless, Luboš Motl's theory has more evidence than the one I presented does but well someone had to present it.

The Scandinavian name Tysk for Germans is derived from old Norse word þýzkr which means the People. German word Deutsch is also derived from the root word þeudō which also means the people. Which is why Nordics call the Germans Tysk and Germany Tyskland.

A map describing the local name for Germany in different nations of Europe, Near East, Caucasus and North Africa:

enter image description here

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    The problem with the Nemetes theory is, that they lived far away from the slavic tribes. The marcomanni, goths or vandals/lugiens would be much more likely to be chosen as names for germans. Take a look at this map upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e0/… The vandals/lugiens are pretty much right where present day poland is. While the Nemets sit right on the roman border. Why would slavic people name germans after a tribe so far to the west?
    – Dulkan
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 11:37
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    But I am more inclined to believe the Nemetes theory That's just your personal opinion. Yet in Russian philology "немец"="mute" (historical term for any foreigner) is considered no.1 theory. Consult, for example, Vasmer etymological dictionary.
    – Matt
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 12:26
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    Also note that "nemets" is direct antonym of "slav". When "nemets" is "mute", slav is literaly "worder" - it uses same root as word "slovo" for word. You can even find explanation about "nemets" in wiki article about Slavs. Commented May 26, 2016 at 13:56
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    @OlegV.Volkov Interesting bit of info Oleg. That's also like Arab and Ajam which are also antonyms to each other. Ajam means mute while Arab means well someone who is fluent in speaking.
    – NSNoob
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 14:03
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    Dear @NSNoob - I upvoted your answer but the claim that "Ajam" in Arabic for non-Arabs (or Persians) means "mute" is also true! And the fact that both Slavs and Arabs looked at the foreigners in this way (you don't speak our language, so you're basically mute) reinforces both related theories, instead of weakening them. I don't want to identify the three groups too closely ;-), but gypsies are also using "Rom" for themselves which basically translates as "human", while others are "gadžo" (a village bumpkin). It's biologically natural to partly dehumanize those whom I don't understand. Commented May 27, 2016 at 10:17

German.Stackexchange: Is there a reason why Germany (Deutschland) is called so many different things in other European languages?

English.Stackexchange: Why does Germany's English name differ from its German name?

History.Stackexchange: Why do some countries call Germany "Alman" too?

Wikipedia: Names of Germany

Because of Germany's geographic position in the centre of Europe, as well as its long history as a non-united region of distinct tribes and states, there are many widely varying names of Germany in different languages [...]

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