Especially non-European nations -- I'm under the impression that the names given to these countries, e.g. "the Maurya Dynasty", "the Qin Dynasty", "the Akkadian Empire", "the Old Kingdom of Egypt", etc. are modern inventions, not the names given by the countries themselves.

There seems to be a rather clear shift in naming once you enter the Middle Ages -- France is referred to as France, Travancore as Travancore, etc.

I know the answer for some of them, like the Greek city-states, for instance, or the empires created by them, like Macedonia. And then there's China, which generally believed in unification, so kingdoms were just considered candidates to rule the nation. But in places where fragmentation is the norm but so are territorial changes, like India, the Near East and the West, this isn't so clear.

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    the Maurya Dynasty", "the Qin Dynasty", "the Old Kingdom of Egypt" - are the names of stages in existence of old countries, not countries themselves. Akkad was the name of the only country in the list. Of course, after an adaptation in pronunciation.
    – Gangnus
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 14:41
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    The question is too broad: it requires a separate answer for every country.
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 22:13
  • For example, "Ancient Greece" could not be called this name when it existed. It was called Ἑλλάς. But the part in Asia was called Ionia. And it was neither a nation nor a state. It consisted of many states, each with a separate name.
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 22:18
  • Feel free to ask about specific countries, but 20,000 years across the entire globe is simply too broad.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 12:37

1 Answer 1


For many of the civilisations that had systems of writing the name that they used for their own country is preserved in the ancient texts themselves.

For example, the ancient Egyptians thought of their country as being composed of two parts: kmt or "Khemet" (meaning "The Black Land" - a reference to the fertile strip along the Nile), and dšrt or "Deshret" (meaning "The Red Land" - referring to the deserts beyond that fertile strip). They referred to themselves as Kmtyw or "The people of the Black Land" from at least the Old Kingdom, and possibly much earlier.

We also know that kmt comprised two parts - the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt, possibly first unified by King Narmer, and commemorated on the Narmer Palette. Later kings were described as "nsw-bity" or "King of Upper and of Lower Egypt".

[kmt / dšrt / Kmtyw etc. are transliterations from the hieroglyphs. As with some other languages in antiquity, the written forms of the ancient Egyptian language did not include vowels, so transliterations are often written with added letters (often the letter "e") to aid pronunciation]

As another example (one you mention in the question), the Akkadian Empire apparently referred to themselves as "akkadattu" in the Akkadian language.

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