Learn the original name for each country, translated into English
This is a wonderful map. I came across it yesterday. The maps looks at an indigenous word for each country. It then translates that word into English. Click on the map or here so you can zoom in and have a look around. This is a fun way to learn about places in the world and learn English at the same time.
You can see the original research here. There's already been a dispute about Spain. The research says Spain may come from the Punic word 'span' or 'tepan' which means 'rabbits'. However it may also come from 'sphan' meaning north (of Carthage). Or, it may comes from the Basque 'ezpaña' meaning 'lip' or 'extremity', a reference to it's location on the edge of Europe. Ivan Garcia @ivangaragu on twitter disagrees. He thinks Hispania comes from the Phoenician 'span' meaning 'to coat with metal plate'.
With Spain we have three 'original' words for it, depending on where you were from. The truth may be that the sound of a place came before the meaning. The sound of a place may have stuck through the ages. For example the sound of a place may have been each local dialects word for 'home'. As successive invaders or traders passed through the land, they would pick up what the locals would call their 'home' and it would sound like a word in their own language. In that way a local word for 'home' that had a bit of 'span' in it, becomes, centuries later, the land of many rabbits.
Wales is an interesting example. I wonder what the 'welsh' called themselves originally. It is unlikely that they called themselves 'the land of the foreigners'. But you could see how Anglo-Saxon tribes occupying what is now England, would look to what is now Wales and feel that those occupying that land where not like themselves. Wales has a strong link to Rome. If you go to Wales, you can still see Roman features in the Welsh: black hair and Roman noses. They also developed a culture based on their Celtic druids. They were altogether foreign to the Germanic sensibility of the Anglo-Saxons.
My other favourite indigenous names include:
Mexico: In the navel of the moon
Argentina: Land beside the silvery river
Botswana: Those who went away (how sad!)
Italy: Sons of the Bulls
Albania: Land of Eagles
Kazakhstan: Place where one stands (i.e. 'home')
Thailand: Land of the free (sorry America - but it's Thailand that has never been conquered).
Nauru: I go to the beach