Why Are There Two Georgias?

There are two places in the world that people commonly refer to as “Georgia.” One is the U.S. state of Georgia, and the other is the Republic of Georgia, a post-Soviet country sandwiched between Russia and Turkey. While the state of Georgia can trace its roots back to the British colonists of the early 1700s, the history of the Republic of Georgia spans several millennia. However, that doesn’t mean that the state was named after the country, nor does it mean that the country was named after the state, so what’s the deal? These two places have almost nothing in common, and they are on opposite sides of the globe, so how did they both come to have the same name? To help you better understand this strange situation, this article will quickly go over the origins of each place’s name and discuss what people might call the Republic of Georgia in the future.

Origin of the Country’s Name

Citizens of the Republic of Georgia don’t even refer to their own country as Georgia in their native language. Instead, they call the country “Sakartvelo,” which roughly means “land of the Kartvelians.” So, why do most foreign languages refer to the nation as Georgia? It all started with the Persian Empire. In the early 1500s, the Safavid Persians invaded the area covering the modern Republic of Georgia and called it “Gurğān.”

One theory posits that European pilgrims in the Middle East heard the term and mispronounced Gurğān, and it eventually became Georgia when English speakers started using the term. Other theories claim that Georgia comes from a Greek term for agricultural workers. Whatever the case may be, since the English language has much cultural significance in the modern era, the Republic of Georgia accepted this exonym and started to use it in international contexts. As a result, many countries have adopted the term in their respective languages.

Origin of the State’s Name

In 1732, a man named James Oglethorpe sought to establish a new colony south of the colony of Carolina in North America. He was granted royal approval under the condition that the new colony would be named after the reigning monarch of Great Britain, King George II. Thus, the area became the Province of Georgia when James Oglethorpe and his crew of British colonists arrived in 1773. When the Province of Georgia declared independence from the British crown in 1776, they kept the name but referred to themselves as a state instead of a province. The state has been called Georgia ever since, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the name of the Republic of Georgia.

What Is the Future of the Republic of Georgia’s Name?

In the early 2000s, Georgian ambassadors started pushing other nations to abandon the Russian exonym “Gruziya” in favor of Georgia due to the tense history between the Republic of Georgia and its northern neighbor. Since then, Israel, South Korea, and Japan have modified their official names for the Republic of Georgia to better resemble Georgia in each country’s respective official language. In recent times, some countries have even started referring to the Republic of Georgia by some variation of Sakartvelo, the country’s name for itself.

In 2018, Lithuania began to officially refer to the Republic of Georgia as “Sakarvelas,” and in 2019, Ukraine’s former president encouraged his country’s foreign ministry to refer to the Republic of Georgia as Sakartvelo. Will other countries follow suit? Only time will tell. The term Sakartvelo may become more popular in the future, but Georgia, the most prevalent exonym for the Republic of Georgia, might be here to stay for a very long time.