Sometimes a country can betray more about herself than the intended outward appearances. With our national symbols and names who would think that the Romanian national anthem had the line “Wake up, Romanian” or that the Greek national anthem has 158 verses?
What’s in a name?
First impressions are important, particularly to the people visiting a place for the first time. For instance, the odd name of the Canary Islands (Island of the Dogs) derives from the herd of wild dogs that barked at the Romans when they first arrived on Gran Canaria. Here are some others I find have the most unsuspecting origins:
Albania translating as white land (from the Latin albus meaning white)
Austria translating as eastern kingdom (from the word Ostreich)
Estonia comes from Esthes the ancestors of modern Estonians)
Ireland comes from the Gaelic name of the country, “Eire”
Russia comes from the Swedish word “rus” means inhabitants or tribe)
Ukraine translating as border or frontier (from Slavic)
Vatican City comes from the Latin word “vaticinatio” for prophesy)
John Smith Equivalents
“As common as .… Muller or Moshe?” Isn’t it interesting what Christian names and second names appear predominant across the world’s nations? …
Argentina – Juan Pérez
Denmark – Hans & Kirsten Jensen
German – Müller, Meyer, Maier, Meier, Schulz
Finland – Matti Virtanen
France – Jean Martin, Jean Dupont
Greece – Yiorgos, Dimitris, Kostas, Yiannis / Papadopoulos (surname)
Israel – Moshe Cohen
Italy – Mario Rossi
Malaysia – Ahmad (male first name)
Malta – Joe Borg
Mexico – Juan Perez, Juan Hernandez
Netherlands – Jan Modaal (also Jansen, van den Berg, de Boer, de Jong, de Vries)
Philippines – Juan de la Cruz
Polish – Jan Nowak
Portugal – João da Silva
Québec – Canada – Jean Tremblay
Slovenia – Janez Novak
South Africa (Afrikaans) – Jan Kruger, Jan Botha
Spain – Juan Pérez, José López
Swedish – Anna & Kalle Svensson
Ukrainian – Shevchenko (family name)
USA – John Doe
Wales – Davies and Jones (surname)
Thankfully not all of the world’s flags are instantly recognisable or predictable. The Swiss flag is the only national flag in the world that is square. The flag of Lichtenstein had a crown put on it in 1937 to distinguish it from the flag of Haiti.
In national flags, there is a common use of colours to interpret symbolic messages. For instance, blue stands for sky or sea (in Iceland) or lakes (in Finland) or hope (in Armenia) or Turkishness (in Azerbaijan). White stands for hope or peace (or snow as in Iceland and Finland). Yellow stands for wheat or the sun (in Lithuania) or hope (in Bosnia). Black stands for soil (in Estonia) or a horrible past under Russia (in Georgia).
Pray be upstanding!
Some facts about our national anthems can raise our eyebrows equally. The Greek national anthem, for instance, has 158 verses. Also the tune of Liechtenstein’s national anthem is the same as ‘God Save The Queen’. Most amusingly is the story of King Alfonso of Spain a century ago who was tone deaf. Wherever he went, he was accompanied by an advisor called the Anthem Man, whose sole job was to advise The King if any tune was the national anthem, so he could stand up during it.
The title of a country’s officially chosen anthem can be very revealing about its history: the Czech: Kde domov můj (Where is my home?) can be interpreted as a reflection of the many years of shifting borders and invasions. Other interesting titles include in the Netherlands: Het Wilhemus (The William); in Norway: Ja, vi elsker dette landet (Yes, we love this country) and in Romania: Deşteaptă-te, române (Wake Up, Romanian). As for mottos among the more interesting is the one for Luxembourg: Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sin (Luxembourgeois, “We want to stay what we are”) and for Greece: Eleutheria i thanatos Liberty or death).