Etymology refers to the study of the history of words and names. The origin of certain name places, such as England (for example), tells an important story about the ancient heritage of the land and the people that once inhabited it.
England’s name originally comes from the term “Land of the Angles”, which was translated to Engla Land in Old English. The Angles were an ancient Germanic (or Saxon) tribe, one of the few that occupied the region now known as England during the Early Middle Ages (a period that stretched from about 400 to 1000 of our Common Era, or CE). This tribe hailed from an area in the Bay of Kiel known as the Angeln Peninsula. This is situated in the Baltic Sea.
Replica of a decorated gold and silver Anglo-Saxon
helmet found at the Sutton Hoo archeological
site in East Anglia
The first time any mention of the name for modern-day England was used was in the first century of our Common Era. In this instance, Tacitus used the Latin word, Anglii. The first time the word “England” was used in reference to the bottom part of the Great Britain area was in 897 CE. The first time it was spelt as it is today was in 1538. When used in conjunction with another term (such as Saxon, representing the ancient Germanic tribes), this word becomes Anglo- (that is, Anglo-Saxon).
Another name for England is “Albion”, which was originally used to refer to the entire area of Great Britain. The origin of this term is not clear. It could be from the Latin word meaning ‘white’ (albus), which would refer to the iconic White Cliffs of Dover. These are the first sight to greet many ocean-bound travellers arriving in England for the first time. Alternatively, there could have been an island called Albiones, since one was mentioned in Massaliote Periplus, which was a merchant’s handbook in ancient times. Today, the term Albion is still sometimes used in reference to England in poems and classic literary works.
Loegria is another name for the country of England. This name is usually used in a romantic context and refers to the Welsh word “Lloegr”, which hails from the legend of King Arthur.
England’s history is a complex one. Peering into the many names it has been given and their origins reveal elements of this rich heritage, peeling away the layers to uncover a land of extraordinary origins.