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Where do the names for the world currencies come from?

Posted by: Megan Troster

There are around 180 world currencies currently in circulation, but have you ever stopped to think about where the currency names came from? Let’s take a look at how some of the world’s major currencies got their names.

British pound sterling

The British pound sterling is the world’s oldest currency still in use today, with its origins dating as far back as 5th Century, Anglo-Saxon England. The word ‘pound’ refers to its weight. In 5th Century England, the pound weighed the equivalent of one pound of weight in silver. The word pound comes from the Latin ‘pondo’ which represents a pound weight of 12 ounces.
The ‘sterling’ part of the name refers to the solid sterling silver adopted by King Henry II in 1158. Prior to this, the silver used for coins was made of 99.9% fine silver, which meant the coins would wear down rapidly. The new stirling silver which the King introduced however, was 92.5% silver with the rest being made up of other metals, usually copper, which made the coins much more durable. This was used to mint British coins until 1816.
Other currency names which are based on weight include the Spanish peso used across most of South America, the Russian ruble, the Israeli shekel and the dinar which is found in many Arabic countries.


A Belgian history teacher called Germain pirlot, sent a letter to Jacques Santer, the then President of the European Commission to suggest this currency name. It was adopted in 1995 and the idea was very self explanitory – euro was simply short for Europe. The currency itself was based on the European Currency Unit (ECU) used by the European Community member states. The euro was almost called the ECU before it was installed into circulation on January 1, 1999.

United States dollar

The dollar, dating back to the 16th Century, is one of the most common currency names in the world. The word refers to the location from which the metal used for the currency was mined. It was adopted as the name of the US currency in 1792. The coins were minted with silver from mines in St Joachimsthal (now in the modern-day Czech Republic), so became known as Joachimstalers. The short name for these coins was ‘thalers’ which morphed into ‘daler’ in Dutch. The name for the Dutch coin became ‘leeuwendaler’ – meaning ‘lion daler’ – due to a lion being printed on one side. These coins were commonly known as ‘dalers’ so when the US established its own currency, it adopted the name ‘dollar’. This term was already in use across the 13 colonies thus overtaking the British named ‘pound’.


The franc, still used today in Switzerland and many West and Central African countries, was the former currency of France, Belgium and Luxembourg. The franc’s origin dates back to the 14th Century during the reign of Jean le Bon, when the latin ‘Francorum Rex’ meaning ‘King of the Franks’ was inscribed on gold coins. This term was used on different coins over the centuries and became the official name of the French currency in 1795.

Money plays a big part in every-day life, no matter what your profession, so now you know a little bit more about where it all comes from. Money does make the world go round after all... or so they say.



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