MAP: What Every Country Calls Itself

It’s sort of funny how people refer to countries not by what its people call them (United States of America, Deutschland) but by different names under their own languages (Estados Unidos, Germany).

Mental Floss does a good job of making the reasons for this digestible. One factor, among several, accounting for the differences across languages: global exploration sort of functioned like a massive, historical game of telephone.

As explorers traipsed around the globe and discovered new places, they often had no idea what to call them, so they asked the locals. The names got passed along on trade routes or through diplomacy, spoken and heard by people who didn’t share the same language. Somewhere along the way, a name got garbled or misunderstood or even purposefully changed to accommodate the sounds of one language or another.

For the sake of your vocabulary, the term for what a country calls itself is “endonym.” The endonym map below, from the bluntly-titled, shows each state by the name it goes by, in its alphabet. Head over to the website to zoom in closer.

A couple of worthy caveats apply. First, some countries feature multiple languages within their borders. True enough. A cartographer can only do so much. “This map depicts endonyms of the countries of the world in their official or national languages. In cases where a country has more than one national or official language, the language that is most widely used by the local population is shown,” the creator writes.

the map also includes some countries that might not be internationally recognized: “The map includes disputed territories if they have established de facto sovereignty over their area, regardless of international recognition.”