November 04, 2017

List of UN country names in Chinese and their meanings

Recently I made a video which was a part of my Experimental Chinese videocourse teaching Mandarin Chinese without characters and without tones to complete beginners and someone asked a question about the story behind the word 美国 (the Chinese name for USA) in the comments. A discussion followed and since I love etymology, I thought it would be a good idea to write an article about the names of all countries in Chinese. (All UN member countries to be precise)

There are 4 types of country names in Chinese:
  1. Names that have a meaning in Chinese (中國,日本,冰島)
  2. Phonetic transcripts with no meaning in Chinese (斯洛伐克,捷克)
  3. Names that are a combination of 1. and 2. ( 安地卡及巴布達, 白俄羅斯)
  4. Abbreviations 
    1. Abbreviations of longer 2. type country names(印尼, 阿根廷)
    2. Abbreviations of longer 3. type country names(美國,德國,法國,澳洲 etc.)
1. Names that have a meaning in Chinese

中国  China (Zhōngguó)

中 means 'center' and 国 means 'country'. The most common way of translating this name is Middle kingdom, it is however not entirely correct. The term 中国 originally referred to kingdoms (plural) on the central Chinese plain in Ancient China that were collectively related to each other through the same Ancient Chinese culture and related languages. Equally, they were labeled Central kingdoms as opposed to the barbarian states and nations around them. Only later the name shifted from Central kingdoms to Middle kingdom.

冰岛 Iceland (Bīngdǎo)

冰 means 'ice' and 岛 means 'island'. Ice island = Iceland

日本 Japan (Rìběn)

日 means 'sun' and 本 means 'root, origin'. The origin of the sun. 

黑山 Montenegro (Hēishān)

黑 means 'black' and 山 means 'mountain'. Montenegro in English means Black mountain.

獅子山 (Shīzi shān)

獅子 means 'lion' and 山 means 'mountain'. Sierra Leone in English means Lion mountain.

2. Phonetic transcripts with no meaning in Chinese

Characters for these names of these countries are chosen so that they are phonetically close to the pronunciation of the country name in English or occasionally other languages. They are however not related to the name of the country through meaning. Additionally, Chinese has only about 300 - 400 syllables and the pronunciation does not always match perfectly. Respectful or neutral characters are chosen.

荷兰 Holland (Hélán)

荷 lotus
兰 orchid

尼加拉瓜 Nicaragua (Níjiālāguā)

尼 buddhist nun
加 to add
拉 to pull
瓜 melon fruit

不丹 Bhutan (Bùdān)

不 bù no, not
丹 dān red

3. Names that are a mix of 1. and 2.

卢森堡 Luxembourg (Lúsēnbǎo)

卢 lú 'rice bowl
森 sēn 'forest'

Lúsēn = Luxen-

堡 castle, fortress = bourg

马绍尔群岛 Marshall Islands (Mǎshào'ěr qúndǎo)

马 mǎ 'horse'
绍 shào 'to continue'
尔 ěr 'you'

Mǎshào'ěr = Marshall

群岛 archipelago

新西兰 New Zealand (Xīn Xīlán)

新 xīn 'new'

西 xī 'west'
兰 lán 'orchid'
Xīlán = Zealand

4. Abbreviations

4.1 Abbreviations of longer 2. type country names

The full name of Indonesia in Chinese is 印度尼西亚 (Yìndùníxīyà) which is just a phonetic transliteration of the name Indonesia with the characters having no meaning relation to the name (Although one could argue that 印度 stands for India, which is the real origin of the Indo- part of the name Indonesia). 

印 to engrave
度 degree  
尼 buddhist nun
西 west
亚 second

印度尼西亚 is however too long and since it is a very frequently mentioned country, it was shortened. Two characters from the name 印度尼西亞 specifically 印 and 尼  were chosen and the country Indonesia is called 印尼 in Taiwan.

4.2 Abbreviations of longer 3. type country names

美国 United States of America (Měiguó)

The original full name of the United States of America in Chinese was 亚美理驾合众国 (Yàměilǐjià hézhòngguó) a combination of a phonetic transcription of 'America' and the word 'Federated nation' in Chinese:

亚 second
美 beautiful
理 inner essence
驾 to harness

Yàměilǐjià = America

合众国 Federated nation

As with Indonesia, since USA is a very frequently mentioned country, the name was shortened to

美国

With the character 美 'pretty' chosen respectfully from the name 亚美理驾 and the character 国 'country' added as the second character. The name 美国 thus effectively means 'pretty country' as well.

德国 Germany (Déguó)

Country name originated similarly to the Chinese name of USA. The original name for Germany was 德意志联邦共和国 (Déyìzhì liánbāng gònghéguó) a combination of a phonetic transcription of 'Deutsch' and the word 'Federative republic' in Chinese:

德 virtue
意 idea
志 ambition

Déyìzhì = Deutsch

联邦共和国 = Federative republic

As with Indonesia and USA since Germany is a very frequently mentioned country, the name was shortened to

德国

With the character 德 'virtue' chosen respectfully from the name 德意志 and the character 国 'country' added as the second character. The name 德国 thus effectively means 'virtuous country' as well.

法国 France (Fǎguó)

Country name originated similarly to the Chinese names for USA and Germany. The original name for France was 法兰西国家 (Fǎlánxī guójiā) a combination of the phonetic transcription of 'Francia' and the word 'country' in Chinese:

法 rule, law
兰 orchid
西 west

Fǎlánxī = Francia

国家 country

As with USA and Germany, since France is a very frequently mentioned country, the name was shortened to

法国

With the character  'rule, law' chosen respectfully from the name 法兰西 and the character 国 'country' added as the second character. The name 法国 thus effectively means 'country of law' as well. 

List of all UN countries and their Chinese names*

Country name Simplified Chinese Pinyin Name type
Afghanistan 阿富汗 Āfùhàn
2
Albania 阿尔巴尼 ā'ěrbāníyǎ
2
Algeria 阿尔及利 ā'ěrjílìyǎ
2
Andorra 安道尔 āndào ěr
2
Angola 安哥拉 āngēlā
2
Antigua and Barbuda 安提瓜和巴布 ān tí guā hé bā bù dá
3
Argentina 阿根廷 āgēntíng
4.2
Armenia 亚美尼亚 yàměiníyǎ
2
Australia 澳大利 àodàlìyǎ
2
Austria 奥地利 àodìlì Probably 2
Azerbaijan 阿塞拜疆 āsèbàijiāng
2
Bahamas 巴哈 bāhāmǎ
2
Bahrain 巴林 bālín
2
Bangladesh 孟加拉国 mèngjiālā guó 3 Hokkien
Barbados 巴巴多斯 bābāduōsī
2
Belarus 白俄罗斯 bái'èluósī
3
Belgium 比利 bǐlìshí 2 French
Belize 伯利兹 bó lìzī
2
Benin 贝宁 bèi níng
2
Bhutan 不丹 bù dān
2
Bolivia 玻利维亚 bōlìwéiyǎ
2
Bosnia and Herzegovina 波斯尼亚和黑塞哥维那 bōsīníyǎ hé hēisāigēwéinà
3
Botswana 博茨瓦 bócíwǎnà
2
Brazil 巴西 bāxī
2
Brunei 文莱 wén lái 2 Hokkien
Bulgaria 保加利 bǎojiālìyǎ
2
Burkina Faso 布基纳法索 bù jī nà fǎ suǒ
2
Burundi 布隆迪 bùlóngdí
2
Cabo Verde 佛得角 fú dé jiǎo
3
Cambodia 柬埔寨 jiǎnpǔzhài 2 Hokkien
Cameroon 喀麦隆 kāmàilóng
2
Canada 加拿大 jiānádà
2
Central African Republic 中非 zhōng fēi
4.3
Chad 乍得 zhàdé
2
Chile 智利 zhìlì
2
China 中国 zhōngguó
1
Colombia 伦比亚 gēlúnbǐyǎ
2
Comoros 科摩 kē mó luó
2
Congo 刚果 gāngguǒ
2
Costa Rica 哥斯达黎加 gēsīdálíjiā
2
Côte d'Ivoire 科特迪瓦 kētèdíwǎ 2 French
Croatia 罗地亚 kèluódìyà
4.2
Cuba 古巴 gǔbā
2
Cyprus 塞浦路斯 sāipǔlùsī
2
Czech Republic 捷克 jiékè
4.2
Democratic People's Republic of Korea cháoxiǎn ?
Democratic Republic of the Congo 刚果民主共和国 gāngguǒ mínzhǔ gònghéguó
3
Denmark 丹麦 dānmài
2
Djibouti 吉布提 jíbùtí
2
Dominica 多米尼加 duōmǐníjiā
2
Dominican Republic 多明尼加共和国 duō míng ní jiā gònghéguó
3
Ecuador 厄瓜多尔 èguāduō'ěr
2
Egypt 埃及 āijí
2
El Salvador 萨尔瓦多 sà'ěrwǎduō
4.2
Equatorial Guinea 赤道几内 chìdào jǐnèiyǎ
3
Eritrea 厄立特里 èlìtèlǐyǎ
2
Estonia 爱沙尼亚 àishāníyǎ
2
Ethiopia 埃塞俄比 āisāi'ébǐyǎ
2
Fiji fěijì
2
Finland fēnlán
2
France 法国 fǎguó
4.3
Gabon 加蓬 jiāpéng
2
Gambia 冈比亚 gāngbǐyǎ
2
Georgia 鲁吉亚 gélǔjíyà
2
Germany 德国 déguó
4.3
Ghana jiānà
2
Greece 希腊 xīlà 2 Greek
Grenada 格林纳达 gélínnàdá
2
Guatemala 危地马拉 wēidìmǎlā
2
Guinea 几内 jǐnèiyǎ
2
Guinea-Bissau 几内亚比绍 jǐnèiyǎ bǐ shào
2
Guyana 亚那 guīyǎnà
2
Haiti 海地 hǎidì
2
Honduras 洪都拉斯 hóngdūlāsī
2
Hungary 匈牙利 xiōngyálì
2
Iceland bīngdǎo
1
India 印度 yìndù
2
Indonesia 印度尼西 yìndùníxīyà
2
Iran 伊朗 yīlǎng
2
Iraq 伊拉克 yīlākè
2
Ireland 爱尔兰 ài'ěrlán
2
Israel 以色列 yǐsèliè
2
Italy 意大利 yìdàlì
2
Jamaica 买加 yámǎijiā
2
Japan 日本 rìběn
1
Jordan 约旦 yuēdàn
2
Kazakhstan 萨克斯坦 hāsàkè sītǎn
2
Kenya 肯尼 kěnníyǎ
2
Kiribati 基里巴斯 jīlǐbāsī
2
Kuwait 科威特 kēwēitè
2
Kyrgyzstan 吉尔吉斯斯坦 jí'ěrjísī sītǎn
2
Laos lǎowō
2
Latvia 拉脱维亚 lātuōwéiyǎ
2
Lebanon 黎巴嫩 líbānèn
2
Lesotho 莱索托 láisuǒtuō
2
Liberia 利比里 lìbǐlǐyǎ
2
Libya 利比 lìbǐyǎ
2
Liechtenstein 列支敦士登 lièzhīdūnshìdēng
2
Lithuania 立陶宛 lìtáowǎn
4.2
Luxembourg 卢森堡 lúsēnbǎo
3
Madagascar 马达加斯加 mǎdájiāsījiā
2
Malawi 马拉维 mǎ lā wéi
2
Malaysia 马来西亚 mǎláixīyà
2
Maldives 马尔代夫 mǎ'ěrdàifū
2
Macedonia 马其顿 mǎqídùn
4.2
Mali 马里 mǎlǐ
2
Malta 马耳他 mǎ'ěrtā
2
Marshall Islands 马绍尔群岛 mǎshào'ěr qúndǎo
3
Mauritania 毛里塔尼 máolǐtǎníyǎ
2
Mauritius 毛里求斯 máolǐqiúsī
2
Mexico 墨西哥 mòxīgē
2
Micronesia 密克罗尼西亚 mì kè luó ní xī yà
2
Moldova 摩尔多瓦 mó'ěrduōwǎ
2
Monaco 纳哥 mónàgē
2
Mongolia 蒙古 ménggǔ
Montenegro 黑山 hēishān
1
Morocco 摩洛哥 móluògē
2
Mozambique 莫桑比克 mòsāngbǐkè
2
Myanmar 缅甸 miǎndiàn
1
Namibia 纳米比亚 nàmǐbǐyǎ
2
Nauru nǎo lǔ
2
Nepal 尼泊尔 níbó'ěr
2
Netherlands hélán
2
New Zealand 新西 xīnxīlán
3
Nicaragua 尼加拉瓜 níjiālāguā
2
Niger 尼日尔 nírì'ěr
2
Nigeria 尼日利 nírìlìyǎ
2
Norway 挪威 nuówēi
2
Oman 阿曼 āmàn
2
Pakistan 巴基斯坦 bājīsītǎn
2
Palau pà láo
2
Panama 巴拿 bānámǎ
2
Papua New Guinea 巴布亚新几内亚 bābùyǎ xīn jǐnèiyǎ
3
Paraguay 巴拉圭 bālāguī
2
Peru bìlǔ
2
Philippines 菲律 fēilǜbīn
2
Poland bōlán
2
Portugal 葡萄牙 pútáoyá
Qatar 卡塔尔 kǎtǎ'ěr
2
Romania 罗马尼亚 luómǎníyǎ
2
Russian Federation 罗斯 èluósī 2 Mongolian
Rwanda 卢旺达 lúwàngdá
2
Saint Kitts and Nevis 圣基茨和尼维斯 shèng jī cí hé ní wéi sī
3
Saint Lucia 卢西亚 shèng lú xīyǎ
3
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 圣文森特和格林纳丁斯 shèngwénsēntè hé gélín nà dīng sī
3
Samoa 萨摩亚 sàmó yǎ
2
San Marino 马力诺 shèngmǎlìnuò
3
Sao Tome and Principe 圣多美和普林西比 shèng duō měihé pǔ lín xī bǐ
3
Saudi Arabia 沙特阿拉伯 shātè ālābó
2
Senegal 塞内加尔 sài nèi jiā'ěr
2
Serbia 塞尔维亚 sài'ěrwéiyǎ
2
Seychelles 塞舌尔 sāi shé ěr
2
Sierra Leone 塞拉利昂 sèlālì'áng
2
Singapore 新加坡 xīnjiāpō 2 Hokkien
Slovakia 斯洛伐克 sīluòfákè
4.2
Slovenia 斯洛文尼 sīluòwénníyǎ
2
Solomon Islands 罗门群岛 suǒluómén qúndǎo
3
Somalia 马里 suǒmǎlǐ
4.2
South Africa 南非 nánfēi
4.3
South Korea 韩国 hánguó
1
South Sudan 苏丹 nán sūdān
3
Spain 西班牙 xībānyá
2
Sri Lanka 斯里兰卡 sīlǐlánkǎ
2
Sudan 苏丹 sūdān
2
Suriname 苏里南 sūlǐnán
2
Swaziland 斯威士 sī wēi shì lán
2
Sweden 瑞典 ruìdiǎn 2 Hokkien
Switzerland 瑞士 ruìshì 2 Hokkien/French
Syria 叙利 xùlìyǎ
2
Tajikistan 塔吉克斯坦 tǎjíkè sītǎn
2
Tanzania 坦桑尼 tǎnsāngníyǎ
2
Thailand 泰国 tàiguó
4.3
Timor-Leste 东帝汶 dōngdìwèn ?
Togo 多哥 duō gē
2
Tonga 汤加 tāngjiā
2
Trinidad and Tobago 特立尼达和多巴哥 tè lì ní dá hé duō bā gē
3
Tunisia 突尼斯 túnísī
2
Turkey 土耳其 tǔ'ěrqí
2
Turkmenistan 库曼斯坦 tǔkùmàn sītǎn
2
Tuvalu 图瓦卢 tú wǎ lú
2
Uganda 乌干达 wūgāndá
2
Ukraine 乌克兰 wūkèlán
4.2
United Arab Emirates 阿拉伯联合酋长国 ālābó liánhé qiúzhǎngguó
3
United Kingdom 英国 yīngguó
4.3
United States of America 美国 měiguó
4.3
Uruguay 乌拉圭 wūlāguī
2
Uzbekistan 乌兹别克斯坦 wūzībiékè sītǎn
2
Vanuatu 瓦努阿 wǎnǔ'ātú
2
Venezuela 委内瑞拉 wěinèiruìlā
4.2
Viet Nam 越南 yuènán
1
Yemen 也门 yěmén
2
Zambia 赞比亚 zànbǐyǎ
2
Zimbabwe 津巴布 Jīnbābùwéi
2

*As used in Mainland China

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