Today, I learned that the island of Greenland is called 'Groenland' in French. In Spanish and Italian, it is the same. The Wikipedia page did not explain why it is not 'Pays Verte' or something like that. Even more interesting, 'Groenland' is the Dutch name.

  • You might as well ask why it's Islande while you're at it :) I too was surprised by these names that feel like they should be decomposed in translation but aren't.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 23:45

1 Answer 1


The Wiktionnaire provides an etymology which shows that in various languages, instead of using a translation, the Viking name has been retained unchanged (or little changed).

Du vieux norrois Grœnland, lui-même composé de grœnn (« vert ») et de land (« terre »). Ce nom fut donné par Erik le Rouge, un chef viking venu d’Islande, vers 985. La végétation verte à l’endroit où il débarqua en serait l’origine. L’idée qu’il ait pu donner ce nom afin d’attirer des colons, quoique répandue, est contestée.
Groënland \ɡʁɔ.ɛn.lɑ̃d\ masculin Variante orthographique de Groenland.

One likely reason for not choosing a translation is that "Terre verte" or "pays vert" are also possible occurrences as two separate words (ref. 1, ref. 2).

For instance there is in France a region with the alternative name "Pays vert" (Corrèze).

Quand, pour la première fois, j'entrais dans « le Pays vert », surnom de la Corrèze, je sus tout de suite que je revenais aux émerveillements de ma jeunesse. Tout de suite, en effet, je « reconnus » ces prairies, ces bocages, ces forêts.

  • I see, it is not Dutch but Old Norse and it happens to be 'Groenland' as well.
    – rutgerw
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 14:38
  • In German it is also Grönland, although the translation "greenland" would be Grünland and totally feasible and not clash with anything else. Similarly Iceland is Island rather than Eisland. Many place names are simply not translated but the original is used. the letters ö or oe are just the same sound of the Norse ø which doesn't exist as a letter in German and France.
    – uUnwY
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 19:55

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