As a guide, I also love to travel and explore the world, which is rich with wonders of nature, diversity of culture and full of mysterious questions. While traveling, I always meet curious people that ask me about my country and almost every time when I tell them that I am from Georgia, they think of the state in USA. Well there are some “weirdos” who then ask me whether I am talking about the country or the state, but that happens rarely (almost never). So I usually find myself explaining all geographical, historical, cultural and national aspects of Georgia.
Even after explaining, there are a lot of follow-up questions, like – are the state Georgia and country related? Why do we need two Georgias in the world? Is the song “Georgia on my mind” about the country or the state? and others. So before we get into explaining the origins of name behind country Georgia, let me tell you that we call out country Sakartvelo.
Georgian version – The original name of the country Georgia is Sakartvelo that literally translates as a place of Kartvelian tribes, who were indigenous people of Caucasus region. There is very interesting detail in this name. If we split the name like this – Sak-a-rtvelo, the last part of it rtvel-(o) in Georgian means wine harvesting or Rtveli (check more information about traditions of rtveli).
Ancient Georgians called our country – “the country of wine harvesting” which is pretty logical, since the tradition of winemaking has 8000 years history. In fact, Georgia is the first country to produce wine. (You are welcome!)
Word for wine in Georgian is – Ghvino and many scientists believe that to be the base for the word – Wine and Vino. This is another interesting lingual mystery.
Iberia – Before we get into what was before name Sakartvelo, let me tell you about what was before the country Sakartvelo. In ancient times there were two kingdoms called Kolkheti, (western part of Georgia) and Iberia (eastern part of Georgian kingdom). We consider Iberia to have been a second name for Georgia and even after creation of name Sakartvelo, most of the Georgians still like to call their country Iberia/Iveria, but mainly these names are often used in literature these days to symbolize happy, reunited and perfect country.
For some of you Iberia might remind you of Spain. However we don’t have information about link between these names and places. So here you have another mystery.
(I don’t claim anything, because at the moment we don’t have enough archeological or scientific proofs! I write about legends, mysteries, symbols, questions.)
Greek version – Legend says that Greek people gave us the name Georgia. Since pre-Christian times, Georgian people were land workers. Greek version says that Georgians were given the names of Greek gods of Georgios and Gaia (mythological gods of farming and land/earth) mainly because Georgians were known as land workers. And this way we got – Georgia, so it’s quite interesting that both ancient names like Sakartvelo and Georgia, both are linguistically related to agriculture, makes sense!
Christian version – After converting to Christianity in early 337 AD, old gods were slowly forgotten and the name of Georgia became mainly linked to the name of Saint George. This version is most popular amongst locals and foreigners.
Persian-Turkversion– Georgia in Ottoman Turkish is Gürcistan and Persian Gorjestân. Both of the names have the same root Gurc / Gorg (gurğān), which means wolf and “stan” means country, so the Persian-Turk name of Georgia translates as “the land of wolves”.
Russian version– Russian exonym also derives from gurğān, the Persian name of Georgians, and later becomes Gruzia. Mainly as a part of Russian empire and Soviet times “Gruzia” become the most famous name for us and other versions were forgotten because of long time isolation of Georgia from the rest of the world between 1801-1991. Since 2005 the Georgian Government works actively to remove Russian-derived exonym “Gruzia” from usage around the world, because the word “Gruz” in Russian means load or weight that someone carries.
Lietuva (Lithuania) is the first country that has made a historic decision and changed Georgia’s name in its language. From now on, the official title of Georgia will is Sakartvelo, not Gruzija. Sakartvelo is a Georgian name of the country.