The etymology of Romania

As mentioned in previous articles, on the 1st of December Romania celebrates Great Union Day — this year, the 104th.

To join in the celebration, I thought I would share some interesting bits about the country’s name. The following are taken from Wikipedia and are presented under the Wikimedia commons.

  • The name “Romania” comes from the Latin word “Romanus” which could be translated as “citizen of the Roman Empire.”
  • The earliest preserved document written in the Romanian language is a 1521 letter. This document, known as Neacșu’s Letter, notifies the mayor of Brașov about an imminent attack by the Turksis. In it, the first occurrence of “Romanian” in a Romanian text can be found. Also, the letter calles Wallachia the Romanian LandȚeara Rumânească (Țeara < Latin Terra = land). As in the case of the ethnonym “român/rumân”, Romanian documents use both forms, Țara Românească and Țara Rumânească, for the country name, though the first version was preferred in Wallachia.
  • A common Romanian area called The Romanian Land, encompassing Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania, is mentioned by the chronicler Miron Costin in the 17th century.
  • In the first half of the 18th century the erudite prince Dimitrie Cantemir systematically used the name Țara Românească for designating all three Principalities inhabited by Romanians.
  • The etymology of “România” didn’t follow the Romanian pattern of word formation for country names, which usually adds the suffix “-ia” to the ethnonym by keeping its accent, like in “grec” → “Grecia”, “Bulgar” → “Bulgaria”, “rus → “Rusia”, etc. Since it is a self-designation, the word “România” has an older history, coming from “românie” which in turn resulted as a derivation of the word “român” by adding the suffix “-ie” with an accented last syllable, like in “”moș → moșie”, “domn” → “domnie” or “boier” → “boierie” (lord → lordship). Initially, “românie” may indeed have meant “Romanianship” (just like “rumânie” meant “serfdom” before disappearing), as suggested by Nicolae Iorga‘s theory of the “Romaniae”, i.e. self-organized communities of romanophone peasants all across medieval Europe.
  • The name “România” as common homeland of the Romanians is first documented in the early 19th century.
  • The name “România” as common homeland of the Romanians is first documented in the early 19th century.
  • Historical Romanian documents display two variants of “Romanian”: “român” and “rumân“. For centuries, both spelling forms are interchangeably used, sometimes in the same phrase. Historically, the variant rumân was preferred in Wallachia and Transylvania, with român only common in Moldavia. This distinction was preserved in local dialects even by the mid-20th century: rumân was the preferred form in Transylvania and Oltenia, while român was used in northern and eastern parts of Western Moldavia. Both variant were attested in contact zones such as Bukovina and southern Moldavia, as well as in most of Muntenia; the later occurrence may either be an old phenomenon insufficiently attested in older documents, or it may be a more recent innovation due to the cultural influence of standard Romanian.
  • In the Middle Ages the ethno-linguistical designation rumân/român also denoted common people. During the 17th century, as serfdom becomes a widespread institution, common people increasingly turns into bondsman. In a process of semantic differentiation in 17th-18th centuries the form rumân, presumably usual among lower classes, got merely the meaning of bondsman, while the form “român” kept an ethno-linguistic meaning. After the abolition of the serfage by Prince Constantine Mavrocordato in 1746, the form “rumân” gradually disappears and the spelling definitively stabilises to the form “român”, “românesc”.
  • In English, the name of the country was originally borrowed from French “Roumania” (<“Roumanie”), then evolved into “Rumania”, but was eventually replaced after World War II by the name used officially: “Romania”.
From where Romania actually got its name?

Happy National Day, Romania!

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