Why the world calls us ‘Albania’ and the origin of ‘Shqiperi’

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 13, 2017 13:56

Story Highlights

  • Albanians are one of the few peoples of Europe and even other continents, who are known by two national names, one used internally, i.e. the name they call their people, and the other being the name the world known them with. The Albanian calls himself shqiptar, his own country Shqipëri, Shqipni, but the people is known around the world since ancient times as Albanais, Albanese etc. and the country as Albanie, Albania. This double naming has its own reasons. It is related to some circumstances of the ethnographic character which are specific for Albania and its historical past.

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Eqrem Çabej

Eqrem Çabej

By Eqrem Çabej*

Albanians are one of the few peoples of Europe and even other continents, who are known by two national names, one used internally, i.e. the name they call their people, and the other being the name the world known them with.

The Albanian calls himself shqiptar, his own country Shqipëri, Shqipni, but the people is known around the world since ancient times as Albanais, Albanese etc. and the country as Albanie, Albania. This double naming has its own reasons. It is related to some circumstances of the ethnographic character which are specific for Albania and its historical past.

Considering the facts, it can first of all be noticed that shqiptar dominates as a national name in Albania and Shqipëri, Shqipni as the country’s name, but on the other hand in the old Albanian communities in Italy and Greece this name is not used.

The Albanians of southern Italy and Sicily, successors of people who moved from Albania during the first wars with the Ottomans flying Gjergj Kastrioti (Skanderbeg)’s flag in the XV and XVI centuries call themselves and in general their people and old homeland arbëresh and this homeland Arbër, Arbëri.

These were the names used until recently by the predecessors of those Albanians who moved a little earlier in the XIV and XV centuries from Albania to Greece, who also don’t use the name currently dominating in Albania; they also regularly use arbëresh for “shqiptar,” arbërishte for “shqip” language, arbërisht for “shqip” language.

The data clearly indicates that the current shqiptar, Shqipëri, Shqipni name, was not in use yet at Skanderbeg’s time, or at least had not been generalized yet, and that this is however newer compared to the first name. That means that the old traditional name of the country and people was arbën, arbër, arbëresh. And because this name, as can be observed from a first look, is identical to Albania, Albanese etc., mentioned above, all of these show that in the Middle Ages Albanians called themselves the same as other people are called today.

indo europeanThis ethnographic view is proved and completed through some data, old and new ones, from Albania, and on the other hand through testimony of the languages of neighboring peoples with Albanians, and also with the names of Albania and Albanians in different European Middle Ages sources.

As noticed from the first half of the 19th century, the country’s old name, in addition to the already mentioned Albanian communities, was also preserved in Albania. An Albanian lowland region of the central Western Albania ranging from Kurbin to the plateaus of Durres and Tirana, i.e. the lowland between the Mat and Erzen rivers, is also called Arben presently and mal e arben there is meant for “male e fusha” (mountains and lowlands). A village to the west of the Shkodra Lake is called Arbnesh and Arbenesh is also the name of the Albanian linguistic island found near the town of Zadar, Dalmatia, founded in the first half of the 18th century by people from the village in case. Arbanë is also a village near Tirana.

In the southern part of the country, Arbër and Arbëri are known as different regions of the mountain region of Laberia between the cities of Vlora, Gjirokastra and Delvina and their residents as arbëreshë and arbënorë. In other Albanian regions, the same name in different forms (arbën, arbër, arbëresh, arbnuer, arbëror) is used by people in an ethnic meaning, to differentiate Albanians from Aromanians or members of any other Balkan population. As can be seen, the ancient name, was over time, replaced by the new name shqiptar, Shqipëri, but has still survived in different regions of the country.

The fact that it was used nationwide, in the whole Albanian linguistic territory, is proved among others by folklore verse such as “Dalin zojat arbëneshe të anëve të Kosovës” (Arbnesh ladies go to Kosovo regions). On the other hand, the country’s historical sources complete this picture even for the past. In the literary monuments of old Albanian, ranging from the 16th to 18th centuries, the country is regularly mentioned as Arbënë, the people as arbënesh, arbëruer and its language as arbënisht.

The internal data regarding the national name of Albania and its people, complies with external resources, and testimony of other Balkan Peninsula languages and peoples. The presence of this name is also observed there, and over time it was transmitted from Albania to those peoples.

In the folk Serbo-Croatian, the Albanian is called arbanas, and in its Middle Ages documents as arbanasin. The Albanian is called arbananu even in folk Bulgarian, arbanas in old Romanian and among the Aromanians of Albania and Macedonia arbines, arbinesi, all deriving from the Albanian language arbenesh and its versions. Elaborating on the historical Middle Ages sources, the documents in Latin of the pre-Angevin Dynasty Western countries which had political relations with some regions of Albania, Albanians are known as arbanenses, and later as albanenses and their country as Albania, the same as today.

Looking at the internal and external evidence, with a summarizing look, it is figured out that the early traditional name of the Albanian people and its country is arbën, arbër with its variations and that this name dominated in Albania until the first centuries of Ottoman rule.

Meanwhile, this name traces its roots at ancient times.

As already known, astronomer and geographer Claudius Ptolemy of Egypt’s Alexandria, in the second century A.D. in his new world map marked the name of the Albanoi tribe and the Albanopolis town as a central Albanian region close to between present-day Durres and Dibra to the east of Lesh.

The Albanian language Arbën, Arbër regularly derive from this name, as evidence, among others that Albanians are indigenous, autochthonous in the present-day settlements and that there has been a continuation, a linguistic continuity at least since ancient times.

As mentioned, Arbën is the origin of the name of Albania and Albanians among the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula and other parts of Europe. Historically, this name, based on the joint testimony by Ptolemy, the Middle Ages sources of different countries and the present-day popular spread, it is very likely that it mainly belonged to the region of a central Albanian population; it was later generalized as a national name nationwide since the pre-Skanderbeg era.

As far as the name shqiptar, Shqipëri, Shqipni is concerned, as a people’s and country’s name, as unveiled above, it was rooted during the Ottoman rule period, after Albanians moved to Greece and Italy. Its spread as a national name and the disappearance of the old name as such, is likely related to the ethnic and social movement of the people during the Middle Ages and the first Turkish era with internal movements, the creation of new families in those historical periods, although the concrete push factors for such a replacement cannot be followed.

One thing that can be said almost for sure, is that shqip was originally the name of the language. As such, this was maybe of older use, maybe in parallel to the name arbën arbër as an ethnic name before expanding its usage by including both the people and the country. It can be noticed that the oldest known Albanian writer Gjon Buzuku of 1555, in addition to ndë Arbanit “in Albania,” mentions shqip “in Albanian language”; likewise Pjeter Budi (1621) mentions shqip and Pjeter Bogdani (1683) in a Latin and shqip grammar. The ethnic use of this name at about year 1700 had been rooted because in the Decisions of the Provincial Council of 1706 in addition to ‘Arbëni’ “Albania” and i Arbëneshi “the Albanian,” there is also mention of the gjuhë e Shqipëtarëvet (Albanian language). The idea that the name Albanian existed in northern Albania since the 16th century and was identical to the family name of Schivipudar, Schepuder, Schapudar, Scapuder of a resident of Drisht town near Shkodra, mentioned between 1368 – 1402 in the Ragusa archives, remains a hypothesis that deserves to be further traced.

Regarding the source of the two names arbën and shqip, it should be taken into consideration that many of the peoples’ names, be they old or new, known by history, remain of unknown meaning and source. An important preliminary condition in this field of research is the identification of the initial form of the respective name. Regarding this, on the old national name of Albanians, it can be surely confirmed that from its two forms, arb- and alb-, the former is the real form, as identified by local testimony and Balkan folk evidence mentioned above. That is why the search for the alb- root with the claimed meaning of ‘mountain’, the comparison with topical names Alba- of Italy and other regions, with the Alps name etc., have no solid basis. On the other hand, considering the arb- form and its meaning ‘field, plain” which is preserved in ‘mal’ and arben’ mentioned above, we can bring this name closer to the Latin arvum “farmland, field,” old Greek aroura “farmland” with the Celtic word of Middle Irish arbor, plural form arbanna “grain.” The name of Arben can have an ancient relation to the Arbe island in Dalmatia.

As far as the name shqip, shqiptar, Shqipëri Shqipni is concerned, where the verb shqipëroj, shqipëlloj (explain) of folk language derives from, this name remains of dubious origin.

Thoughts that it could have derived from shqipe (eagle), with the Albanians owing their name to this bird since the Skanderbeg era and connecting this naming with Plutarch’s words, that after his victory against the Macedonians, Pyrrhus was nicknamed “an eagle,” are not scientifically founded considering the forms of these two names.

In fact, among old Albanian authors, shqip, written in this form, is obviously different from the name of the bird, which they regularly write as shqype, unveiling that we are dealing with two completely different words. Its proximity to qipi “haystack” with the presumption of an earlier meaning of “gathering, people” is also non-convincing.

There is also doubt on other interpretations of this name such as “mountain resident” and “pushkatar” from new Greek skippetto(n) “rifle” (from Italian schioppetto), a word that was first identified for Greek in the 16-17 centuries. Lastly, the explanation of the word shqip from Latin excipio remains unconvincing; the Latin word does not mean “understand” but get, put aside, exclude, accept.” This way, the source of shqip remains an open case.


(Published on the “Shqiperia e Re” magazine, 1972 (Translation Tirana Times)

*Eqrem Çabej, 1908-1980 is probably the most distinguished Albanian scholar and historical linguist. Educated in Vienna, in 1972 Çabej became a founding member of the Academy of Sciences. “Despite the isolation in which he lived during the long years of Stalinist dictatorship in Albania, he achieved renown as a linguist and scholar at home and abroad. Eqrem Çabej is the author of over 200 publications many on the Albanian language but also of writings of literature and folklore. His earliest scholarly publications of substance date from the mid-1930s. He is remembered in particular for his two-volume critical edition of Meshari i Gjon Buzukut, 1555 (The Missal of Gjon Buzuku), 1555, Tirana 1968, and his seminal etymological research,” says Robert Eslie.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 13, 2017 13:56