The Chinese Wikipedia article describes the name of Russia, and many of its historical Chinese exonyms.

按照俄语发音“Россия”,其名称应翻译为“羅西亚”。元朝时根据蒙古语译为「斡羅思」[b],到清朝初年许多文献中曾称为「羅剎」[c],但在以国家相称时则多译为「鄂羅斯」[d]或「俄羅斯」。清乾隆年间官修《四库全书》时将其正式统一为“俄羅斯”或简称“俄国”,自此沿用至今。[12] 日本漢字與朝鮮漢字則將俄羅斯稱為「露西亞」(日语:ロシア roshia */?,韓語:노서아 noseoa */?[e]),此譯名較為接近俄語原始發音。

However, while the "罗斯" part corresponds to the "Rus" part of the name, the "俄" part seems to have no corresponding phoneme, either in Russian or any of the other language I have looked up.


5 Answers 5


the "俄" part seems to have no corresponding phoneme, either in Russian or any of the other language I have looked up.

Yes it's peculiar in Chinese. It's related to the Mongolian.

Reference: 郭文深.俄罗斯国家名称变迁考——从“罗刹”到“俄罗斯”

Summarize it in short:

From Yuan Dynasty, the Mongolian translated 罗斯 as oros (but not ros) followed by the Mongolian pronunciation habit, and then translated into Chinese character as 斡罗斯. In Mongolian, there's no words started from [r], such words are usually borrowed words. Then for these words, in order to make it conform to Mongolian pronunciation rules and incarnate Mongolian vowel harmony, the strong vowel of the first syllable will be brought forward. Then 罗斯"ros" became oros, then 斡罗斯.

In Qing dynasty, the Manchu didn't have direct contact with the Russian, they used the translation (especially the transliteration) of the Mongolian which is the intermediary between them. For Chinese characters they used 鄂罗斯 and 俄罗斯, until the Emperor QianLong unified them into 俄罗斯.

  1. “俄罗斯”不是从英文或俄文来的。可能是从蒙古文Oros来的。
  2. 在中国元明朝时称俄罗斯族为“罗斯”或“罗刹国”.当时蒙古族人用蒙语拼读俄文“ROCIA”时,在“R”前面加一个元音.因此,“ROCIA”就成了“OROCCIA”.满清政府时,蒙语的“OROCCIA”转译成汉语时,就成了“俄罗斯”.

  1. The name of "Éluósī" does not come from English or Russian. It may come from Mongolian Oros.
  2. During the Chinese Yuan and Ming dynasties the Russian ethnic group was called "Luósī" or "Luóchàguó". At that time as Mongol people read Russian "ROCIA" phonetically in Mongol, they added a vowel before the "R". So, "ROCIA" became "OROCCIA". During the Manchurian Qing government, as Mongol "OROCCIA" was translated into Chinese, it became "Éluósī".

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  • 4
    I advice you translate you answer to English to serve more people.
    – ltux
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 13:13
  • :),My English is poor,I'll try to translate.
    – andrew
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 4:36
  • Wow do you speak Mongolian language?
    – Lucius Hu
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 20:51
  • Well it's a great answer now! Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 5:01

After some searching, it seems that the name comes from the Mongolic/Tungusic language family group, of which Manchu is a member. This explains why the Qianlong Emperor decreed that the country be called by its Manchurian exonym. However, the reasons behind the appending of the "o" phoneme are unclear.

The "Oros" name is reflected in the languages of many other languages in the family which have a more extant distribution than Manchu, which is almost extinct. For example, Mongolian and Buryatian render it as Орос (Oros).

This paper from the (unfortunately paywalled) Northwestern Journal of Ethnology seems to suggest that the term comes from the Mongolian/Manchurian language family.

The word"oros", derived from Mongolian language, had been recorded in official historic materials from early times that it was used to refer to a sovereign State in Manchu language.

  • Manchu is almost extinct but Xibe/Xibo is pretty closely related and so far is still alive in northwest China. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 5:02

斡羅思 is most probably the origin, which is from the Mongolian word Oros.


Some believe Oros is the exclamation O + Ros.

  • 1
    +1 for the nice citation. However, is there any citation for the O+ros claim?
    – March Ho
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 11:31

Because most chinese speakers (and APAC natives) cannot properly pronounce a strong 'r/R' sound. Therefore, they use their closest match: /ə/

  • Actually, I don't think you can say any consonants without saying a vowel too. That's why they are called consonants = with sounds. B = be, C = see, D = dee, R = are or er, depending on the word. I like saying a Spanish rrrrrrr , that makes Chinese friends laugh! Rrrrrrrrrrrusia!
    – Pedroski
    Commented May 25, 2020 at 1:13

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