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How the world's currencies got their names

The Euro is pretty obvious, but other currency names have more interesting origins.

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”?

A recent post on the Oxford Dictionary’s OxfordWords blog explained the origins of the names of the world’s most common currencies.

Here’s where these everyday words come from:


dollar Source: Karel Navarro/AP/Press Association Images

The dollar is the world’s most common currency, used in the US, Australia, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, 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 Source: Xchange

“Peso” literally means “weight” in Spanish.


lira Source: Left overcurrency

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

Source: OxfordWords


mark Source: Wikimedia Commons

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

Source: OxfordWords


rial Source: Britannica

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 Source: South African Reserve Bank

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

Source: OxfordWords

Chinese yuan, Japanese yen and Korean won

yuan Source: Andy Wong/AP/Press Association Images

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 Source: Norges Bank

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, the Estonian kroon (now replaced by the euro), and the Czech Republic’s koruna all derive from the same Latin root.

Source: OxfordWords


dinar Source: TravLang

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 Source: Leftover Currency

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 Source: Britannica

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


ruple Source: Liu Heung Shing/AP/Press Association Images

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

Source: OxfordWords


zloty Source: Bank Polski

“Zloty” is the Polish word for ”golden”.

Source: OxfordWords


forint Source: Xchange

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


ring Source: VINCENT THIAN/AP/Press Association Images

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

Read: We’ve found 73 MILLION old £20 notes behind the couch since the euro arrived

Read: What happens to currencies when they die?

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