Fish, fowl and Alexander the Great

Currencies are always in the news. But where do their names come from? Here is a selection of the stories behind the money that we use around the world.

The World Today Updated 25 January 2019 Published 12 February 2016 1 minute READ

Alan Philps

Former Editor, The World Today, Communications and Publishing

Dollar (US)
Can be traced back to the town of Joachimsthal, now in the Czech Republic, the source of silver used to mint coins known as joachimstaler, shortened to thaler, which ended up in the New World as dollar.

Sterling (UK)
One idea is that the term came from fish, once the currency of the North Sea. A Baltic herring was called an ‘easterling’ in England, which soon became a ‘sterling’ as tithes and taxes were paid with it. Another idea is that it came from the Middle English ‘sterre’ – star – because of the design on the coin.

Rouble (Russia)
The rouble is thought to come from a Russian word meaning ‘to chop’ or ‘hew’.

Real (Brazil)
The Brazilian currency, the rial of Iran and the riyal of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman all come from the word ‘royal.’

Lek (Albania)
The lek was named after Alexander the Great, whose name is shortened to Leka in Albanian. There is a claim that Alexander was born not in Macedon (modern-day Greece) but in Illyria, a region that includes Albania.

Pula (Botswana)
The pula, named by the public after a contest, is the Setswana word for ‘rain’, a precious commodity in a largely desert country.

Dobra (São Tomé and Principe)
From the Portuguese word meaning ‘to fold’

Kwacha (Zambia)
Derived from the Nyanja word for ‘dawn’, alluding to the Zambian nationalist slogan of a ‘new dawn of freedom’. It is divided into 100 subunits called ngwee, which means ‘bright’.

Colón (Costa Rica and El Salvador)
The colón is named after Christopher Columbus known as Cristóbal Colón in Spanish

Lari (Georgia)
Means ‘hoard’ in the Georgian language.

Quetzal (Guatemala)
Takes its name from tropical bird whose feathers were once so prized that they were used locally as money.