Meanings Behind The Names Of 6 Middle Eastern Nations


What is today Syria was once ruled by Ottoman Turks from 1516–1918 and gained independence in 1944.

The name Syria is derived from the ancient Mesopotamian kingdom of Assyria that occupied the region between 721–633 BCE. According to Biblical accounts, the Syrian region has been coveted since the time of the Pharaohs, with disputes stretching beyond the reign of King Solomon and into the era of the "Kings of Assyria."

Do you know which country is located on two continents? Flip to the next slide to find out.


The republic between three seas (the Black, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean) is divided between two continents: 95% of Turkey's mass is in Western Asia, and 5% of the country is in Southeast Europe.

For centuries, Turkey was the cornerstone of the Ottoman Empire until it became a republic in 1923. The name originates from an ethnic self-designation that emerged around the sixth century meaning "abode of the Turks." (The eponymous bird we all know and love was first imported from Madagascar via Turkey!)

Turn to the next slide to learn the true identity of Persia.


Like Turkey, Iran is derived from a self-designation meaning "land of the Iranians," though the name may also mean "compatriot."

Located between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, Iran was denoted by its Greek-derived name Persia for centuries, but in 1935 the government of Reza Shah Pahlavi returned the region to its indigenous name, Iran. Pahlavi called the country the Imperial State of Iran. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the country has been the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Turn the page to see which country is named for being a desert oasis.


Also a republic in Southwest Asia, Iraq is located between Saudi Arabia and Iran, centering around the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

The name is thought to be from the Arabic araqa meaning "perspiration, deeply rooted, and well-watered." The name likely reflects the lush river-land emerging from Iraq's desert. Though the title may also originate from the Sumerian word uru meaning city, from the ancient city of Uruk in southern Iraq.

Can you guess which country is guarded by a giant beast that is part woman and part lion? Find out on the next slide.


Officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, the country is located in Northeast Africa on the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

With a rich history that dates back over 5,000 years, Egypt is home to the Great Pyramids of Giza and the legendary Sphinx, an enormous stone statue of a winged lion with a woman's head. Though 96% of its land is desert, the life-giving Nile River runs through the country. Its name originates in the Greek name Aigyptos meaning "the river Nile, Egypt."

Our next country borders Egypt . . .


Israel became a country in 1948. After World War II, this small region in Southwest Asia on the Mediterranean Sea was granted to the Jewish people as a homeland by the United Nations.

The name Israel (meaning "struggle with God" in Hebrew) appears later in Biblical history when it was given to Jacob after he successfully wrestled with an angel. Though Egypt and Israel share a fraught Biblical history, Egypt was the first Arab nation to make peace with the Jewish state after 1977.

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