I always wondered why all main European countries are spelled in chinese with a Hanzi that identifies them or some about their origins more the 国 morpheme,

Italy has a uncontested importance in European history, nevertheless its name has been just transliterated to 意大利, which IMHO reveals less participation in its codification.

Is it a matter of when the name was transposed to Chinese language? Maybe it's just the minor influence of the country in that period? I tried to search some information but I couldn't find anything (furthermore, my chinese level reading is extremely low).


The information and the page suggested by @user2619 unfolded my research on the topic:

Seems like all the country names were just transliterated at first. The former name of the well know *什么*国 countries was, e.g.,:

美利坚 --> 美国
法兰西 --> 法国
日耳曼 --> 德国
不列颠 --> 英国

Later, above for all countries with more strict relations with China, these names were translated to a form more similar to 中国 possibly as a form of bigger respect.

I was teached at a chinese course that the particular 汉字 characherizing the country was somewhat chosen because of some historical reason. For example 法 for the country which invented the constitution. But chinese people I asked say this is not true and has to do with nothing but phonetic reasons. Then as seen in [1] in some case like 希腊, the sound is taken from the endonym rather than exonym.

  • This it the fact and convention. you just need to accept and remember it Feb 27, 2014 at 3:41
  • 1
    probably relevant (and possibly even a duplicate to a degree): chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/5822/…
    – user3410
    Mar 1, 2014 at 0:37
  • 1
    I want to add that the 德 comes from Deutschland. I believe that Chinese Diaspora have contributed to the naming of countries as well. Since I'm from Malaysia, I can tell you that people either call Malaysia 马来西亚 or 大马.
    – user3992
    Mar 1, 2014 at 13:53
  • There is one interesting case. 葡萄牙(Portuguesa)also called "葡国", but this is not common unless in limited cases (葡国蛋挞 - Portugue egg tarts). Mar 4, 2014 at 10:30
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    德意志 (Deutsche) --> 德国 not 日耳曼 (German), 英格兰 (England) --> 英国 not 不列颠 (Britain)
    – xenophōn
    May 31, 2018 at 7:43

1 Answer 1


It's just historical stuff. European countries that have commerce with China prior to the Ching dynasty and also modern countries after WWII, in general have fancier names.

希腊 for Greece
意大利 for Italy
瑞典 for Sweden
法国 for France
美国 for US
葡萄牙 for Portugal
马来西亚 for Malaysia
日本 for Japan


You just have to accept them as it is. It's hard to find a pattern why.

Edit: http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/countrynames_chinese.htm

There's very few countries which have 国 in their names, it's more of a short form, like 英格兰 for 英国, 美利堅合眾國 for 美国. Others which have 共和国 in their names are People's Republic, like China, whose official name is People's Republic of China.

  • Reading my question again I see why you're both concerned about my acceptance of the fact. :) Yes, I supposed it was a matter of relationship in a particular hystorical moment, but your confirmation is illuminating. Feb 27, 2014 at 7:04
  • This reminds me about learning what Greece is called in Mandarin. When I was younger, I learned both English and Mandarin at the same time, so I realize that most countries have their names sound similar if not the same in both English and Mandarin. I was so confused why Greece was named the way it is cause it sounds nothing like the English spelling.
    – user3992
    Feb 27, 2014 at 9:20
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    If you can somewhat read some chinese, this link has some great explainations on the chinese name origins of some of the countries. They are very different from English. blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_547c338d01000828.html
    – user3992
    Feb 27, 2014 at 12:32
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    I’ve always found the Chinese name for Russia (俄國 èguó) somewhat strange in that it seems to be devoid of positive associations like you find with 美 and 英. There’s probably an interesting story behind the Russian word for China (Kitai) too.
    – neubau
    Feb 28, 2014 at 1:51
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    I prefer using 俄罗斯 instead of 俄國 for Russia. 亦有一說,認為是轉譯自All Russia。 - From Wikipedia 俄 - All, 罗斯 -Russia.
    – user3992
    Feb 28, 2014 at 2:07

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