Borders have changed and moved over time throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Many of the countries currently embroiled in conflict, while boasting ancient heritage, are also relatively young geo-political realities.
While the borders and governments may have shift, a lot of the historic names have stuck around for thousands of years.
Here’s a quick look at the origins of 10 Arab country names.
1. Snowcapped Lebanon
The name originates from the Semitic root “lbn,” meaning “white.”
This likely referred to the region’s snowcapped mountains. Lebanon has appeared in different texts, including the Bible and the Epic of Gilgamesh, dating back to the third millennium BC.
2. Aegyptus, Egypt
The evolution of the name Egypt traces it’s way back to the ancient Egyptian for “House of the Ka of Ptah.” Ptah was one of Egypt’s earliest gods.
The Greeks, when pronouncing this ancient name, changed the word to Aegyptus. The word appeared in Greek literature referring to an Egyptian king, the Nile river and the country itself.
3. Which two seas are you referring to, Bahrain?
Of course, in Arabic, Bahrain means “the two seas.”
But, it is disputed which two seas the name is actually referring too. The seas could be the bay east and west of the island, the seas to the north and south or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground.
Historically, Arabs referred to the island as Awal.
4. Land of God, Morocco
The English name Morocco come from Spanish and Portuguese transliterations of Marrakech, which means “Land of God.”
In some languages, Marrakesh is still the official name of Morocco. Of course, Marrakesh is also one of the largest cities in Morocco. During different periods in history, the city was also the capital of the kingdom.
5. Lay me down, Tunisia
Tunisia stems from Tunis, which comes from a Berber origin and means “to lay down” or “encampment.”
Tunis is the largest city and capital of modern-day Tunisia. Interestingly, before the country was known as Tunisia, the area was called Ifriqiya or Africa. This from where the entire continent eventually derived its name.
6. On the shores of Iraq
Iraq means “shore,” “bank” or “edge.”
It was originally used to delineate Mesopotamia between “Iraqi Arabi” (Arabian Iraq) and “Iraqi ‘Ajami” (Foreign Iraq).
Although the name has been in use since before the sixth century, there are several theories about its origin. One of these theories traces the name to the Sumerian city of Uruk. This city was mentioned in the Bible as Erech.
7. Jordan, the descender
Jordan is believed to have come from the Semitic word “yarad” meaning “the descender.”
Some also believe the name is a derivative of Indo-European words: “yor” (year) and “don” (river). Others believe it could come from the Arabic word “wrd” meaning “to come to.”
8. The right way for Yemen
Many believe that Yemen stems simply from “al-yamin” or “on the right side.”
One study suggests this meaning because the south is on the right when facing the sunrise.
Another theory claims the name is a derivative of “yumn,” meaning “felicity.” This is because Romans used to call it Arabia Felix (Fruitful Arabia), due to its fertile ground.