What do other Europeans call Switzerland?

September 1, 2011, 11 Comments

Schweiz, Suisse, Svizzera, Svizra. Switzerland has four names in its four national languages, and that’s not counting the domestic versions of the country’s official name, Confoederatio Helvetica (pictured above). But how do other European nations refer to the land of the Swiss? I decided to take a look at the names used for Switzerland in different European languages – book research really can take you off in odd directions! – and compiled a list:

  • Albanian          Zvicer                               
  • Basque              Suitza                               
  • Bulgarian         Швейцария (Švejcàrija)         
  • Catalan             Suïssa                              
  • Croatian           Švicarska                        
  • Czech                 Švýcarsko                       
  • Danish               Schweiz                           
  • Dutch                 Zwitserland                    
  • Esperanto         Svislando                        
  • Estonian            Šveits                                
  • Finnish              Sveitsi                               
  • Greek                  Eλβετία                             
  • Hungarian        Svájc                                 
  • Icelandic           Sviss                                 
  • Irish                    An Eilvéis
  • Latvian              Šveice
  • Lithuanian       Šveicarija
  • Maltese             Żvizzera
  • Norwegian       Sveits
  • Polish                 Szwajcaria
  • Portuguese      Suíça
  • Romanian        Elveția
  • Russian             Швейцария (Švejcàrija)
  • Slovenian        Švica
  • Serbian             Швајцарска (Švajcarska)
  • Spanish            Suiza
  • Swedish           Schweiz
  •  Turkish           İsviçre
  • Welsh                Swistir

What’s interesting about that list is that only three European languages  – Greek, Irish (Gaelic) and Romanian – use a version of the ancient name, Helvetia. All the others are more or less recognisable as variations on the domestic German, French, Italian or Romansh, ie all roughly derived from Schwyz, the canton that helped start the country and gave it its modern name. Please tell me if any are wrong; I had to use quite a few different sources to assemble the names, so mistakes may have crept in!

If we look at Switzerland’s biggest neighbour, we see a completely different picture. Germany has six different types of name, depending on the root. For example, in its own language it is Deutschland , in French Allemagne, in Italian Germania, in Polish Niemcy, in Finnish Saksa and in Lithuanian Vokietija. What a muddle! It might be at the heart of Europe, but Germany is certainly not the same thing to different European nations. Perhaps that explains much of 20th-century history in Europe?

This uniformity of names might just be one reason why Switzerland has such a prominent place in people’s minds; there’s no misunderstanding where is being talked about. And when it comes to adjectives, the English one is gaining prominence over the domestic languages in Switzerland. Maybe English is trendy for marketing, maybe it’s easier to have one adjective rather than four, or maybe English is slowly becoming the fifth (unofficial) language and the main one spoken across the linguistic divides.

Whatever the reason, Switzerland has Swiss things popping up everywhere: Swiss international airline, Swisscom telecoms company, Swiss Re insurance, Swiss Market Index (SMI), Swiss Life insurance, Swissmem association, Swissport airport services, and so it goes on. It seems that, no matter what they call their own country, Switzerland’s inhabitants are happy to be known simply as Swiss.

11 Comments on "What do other Europeans call Switzerland?"

  1. Fons Tuinstra (@fonstuinstra) Thursday September 1st, 2011 at 03:33 PM · Reply

    I missed Chinese: 瑞士

    • swisswatching Thursday September 1st, 2011 at 03:38 PM · Reply

      Thanks – although Chinese isn’t a European language! That’s why Japanese, Arabic, Tagalog etc aren’t there as well.

    • Barbara Buri Sunday October 23rd, 2011 at 08:27 PM · Reply

      瑞士 written in the official Pinyin is “ruishi” (sounds something like “rey-sh”). Doesn’t sound like Switzerland at all untill you here a Chinese from the South of China pronounce it, then it sounds roughly like “Swiss”!

      • Paul Thursday March 1st, 2018 at 04:44 PM · Reply

        I think the Chinese Mandarin name for Switzerland comes from the ancient Roman province of Rhaetia, which overlaps significantly with modern Switzerland:

  2. Ela Wednesday September 14th, 2011 at 07:32 PM · Reply

    “This uniformity of names might just be one reason why Switzerland has such a prominent place in people’s minds; there’s no misunderstanding where is being talked about.”
    Except when people mistake it for Sweden.. 😉

    • Ela Thursday September 22nd, 2011 at 10:43 AM · Reply

      Agreed, but I’ve also had English friends ask me about “Sweden” a few times.. It might just be that they both start with “Swee” and then people tend to choose the shorter option, which unfortunatly is Sweden.. 😉

  3. Stephan Thursday September 26th, 2013 at 10:24 AM · Reply

    Well, I don’t think Sweden and Switzerland are that confusing, but Swedish and Swiss is. And the Greeks, by the way, call everything by its old name, if they have been around that long. E.g. Gallia, Brettania, Persia, etc. But what’s more amazing to me, is that almost no countries refer to Greece by its Greek name (Hellas, Ellada, etc, rather they use its Roman name). But as far as knowing what Switzerland is exactly and who the Swiss are, and knowing what it means, I think the Swiss would need to figure that out first before the rest of us could figure it out.

  4. Abbie Monday November 2nd, 2015 at 08:29 PM · Reply

    fun post! I do find people forget how close it is to the rest of europe, I guess people think of only the alps and not that it’s just next to germany and france!

    • Pier Tuesday November 17th, 2015 at 10:24 AM · Reply

      Switzerland is not just next to France and Germany but to Italy too. The border between Switzerland and Italy is longer than that between Switzerland and France or Switzerland and Germany. Furthermore, the European big city that lies closest to Switzerland is Milan; only 50 km of flat land separate MIlan from Switzerland.

  5. Lilian Fernandez Sunday December 30th, 2018 at 07:15 PM · Reply

    Love everyone’s comments. Very refreshing and educational. I was real confused about Swiss or Swedish lol. Being Guatemalan sometimes I get confused with Guadalajara or Guamnese!

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