History

What Does Slav Mean? Origin of the Word Slav Explained

dictionary

Everyone knows who Slavs are, though, the origin of the word Slav is shrouded in mystery. There are several theories that explain the etymology of the word, but neither of them has been proven 100% correct.

Slovo=Word

One of the theories states that Slav derives from the word “slovo”. This may seem to be the case if you look at the morphological similarities. However, this explanation completely lacks logic.

How can anyone identify a whole nation by a word that means “word”?

Some reason for this could exist if this term had a deeper meaning, and the only connotation tied to it in this case would be religious in nature. This might explain the strangeness of the arrangement if not for the fact that Slavs were pagans and had no concept of “holy word”.

Slava=Glory

This case seems more believable because calling a nation “glory” would indeed be glorious. This is, however, hardly possible with Slavs, because they were a group of tribes. This is why there couldn’t be any national spirit to bring them together under this magnificent name.

Sclavus=Slave

This theory is, by far, the most popular. It is also the one that is the easiest to refute. There is some irrefutable logic behind this name. Thousands of Slavs were enslaved by Romans and Arabs. This, however, cannot define a nation, regardless of what some linguists claim.

This theory can be easily refuted by the fact that it’s historically impossible for the Slavs to be named by a Latin word. The first records of this name appeared around the sixth century in Byzantine records, and their historians were known to record the tribes they met in their travels using the name used by people themselves. The term used in those historical documents is “Sklavini”, written in Greek.

Even today some of the Slavic countries retain the names with the original root “slav”. This alone is proof enough that the name was invented by the people that lived in the region, instead of being borrowed from some other language.

Pravoslavny=Worshipper of Law

One of the more recent theories is that this name derives from a compound “pravo-slavny”. A great number of traditional Slavic names that end with “slav” give credence to it. In this case, the word will mean “worshipper”.

The most serious argument in favor of this theory is the fact that for many years, the strongest point of contact for Slavic tribes was religion. This is something that unified them, and definitely could be used as a term to define them as one nation.

What do you think is the origin of the word Slav?

About the author

Meet the Slavs

Posts by the Meet the Slavs Team.

Meet the Slavs is your most comprehensive online resource about Slavic people, their cuisine, culture, history, mythology, and more.

1 Comment

Click here to post a comment

  • Slovo can mean a letter and script by association. It’s not holy in a religious sense but in can be spiritual in the meaning of worship of mystical belief systems that predated monotheism, i.e. of the pagan rituals that most of our contemporary holidays such as Easter and Christmas have roots in. Slava is a celebration, especially of recurring natural phenomena, such as solstices, and celestial bodies in general that later became the worship of saints. Slava does NOT mean glory on it’s own in a way that it could be applied to people;only individuals or entities can be glorious in that meaning. Yes it is true the name Slav had it’s own origin, but that name also became an exonym or a foreign name based on association, as they were likely grouped together as peoples in a slave “hunting ground”. Pravoslavni came to mean orthodox, or relating to the religion that existed as one before the split happened in Christianity. In this compound, the prefix Pravo- can mean genuine, original, of the source or real.