Financial and Monetary Systems

How the world's currencies got their names

A pile of one pound coins is seen, in central London June 17, 2008. British inflation rose in May to its highest since the Labour government took power in 1997, but expectations of higher interest rates ahead fell sharply because the Bank of England said the rate outlook was uncertain.     REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN) - RTX71FZ

A pile of one pound coins is seen. Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Alex Lockie
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Financial and Monetary Systems

From country to country, monetary units vary nearly as much as the cultures and languages that use them. But have you ever wondered why a dollar is called a "dollar"?

 Currencies of the World
Image: Chartsbin

A recent post on the Oxford Dictionary's OxfordWords blog explained the origins of the names of the world's most common currencies. In the slides below, find out where these everyday words come from.

Dollar

The dollar is the world's most common currency, used in the US, Australia, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, and Singapore and elsewhere.

According to OxfordWords, the Flemish or Low German word "joachimsthal" referred to Joachim's Valley, where silver was once mined. Coins minted from this mine became "joachimsthaler," which was later shortened to "thaler" and which eventually morphed into "dollar."

Peso

"Peso" literally means "weight" in Spanish.

Lira

The Italian and Turkish "lira" come from the Latin word "libra," meaning "pound."

Source: OxfordWords

Mark

Before the euro, the Deutsche mark and the Finnish markka also draw their names from units of weight.

Source: OxfordWords

Rial

The Latin word "regalis," meaning "royal," is the origin for the Omani and Iranian "rial."

Similarly, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen all use a currency called the "riyal." Before the euro, Spain used "reals" as well.

Source: OxfordWords

Rand

Like the dollar, South Africa's rand comes from the Dutch name for the South African area of Witwatersrand, an area rich in gold.

Source: OxfordWords

Chinese yuan, Japanese yen, and Korean won

The Chinese character "圓," meaning "round" or "round coin," is responsible for the name of the Chinese yuan, Japanese yen, and Korean won.

Source: OxfordWords

Crown

Many Scandinavian countries use a currency that derives from the Latin word "corona," meaning "crown."

Sweden's krona, Norway's krone, Denmark's krone, Iceland's króna, and the Estonian kroon (now replaced by the euro), and the Czech Republic's koruna all derive from the same Latin root.

Source: OxfordWords

Dinar

Jordan, Algeria, Serbia, and Kuwait all call their currency "dinar."

This is a pretty straightforward truncation of the Latin word "denarius," which was a silver coin used in ancient Rome.

Source: OxfordWords

Rupee

The Sanskrit word for wrought silver is "rupya," which lends its name to the Indian and Pakistani rupee, as well as Indonesia's rupiah.

Source: OxfordWords

Pound

The British pound is derived from the Latin word "poundus" meaning "weight."

Egypt, Lebanon, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria call their currency pound.

Source: OxfordWords

Ruble

Russia's and Belarus' ruble are named after a measure of weight for silver.

Source: OxfordWords

Zloty

"Zloty" is the Polish word for "golden."

Source: OxfordWords

Forint

The Hungarian forint comes from the Italian word "fiorino," a gold coin from Florence.

The fiorino had a flower, or "fiore" in Italian, stamped on it.

Source: OxfordWords

Ringgit

When coins were minted in precious metals, thieves would shave off small portions of the metal to create new coins.

To combat this, countries began minting coins with jagged edges.

The Malaysian word for jagged is "ringgit," the name of the currency.

Source: OxfordWords

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