Names of the Romani people

Distribution of the Romani people in Europe based on self-designation.

The Romani people are also known by a variety of other names; in English as gypsies or gipsies (seen by some as a slur, as discussed below) and Roma, in Greek as γύφτοι (gífti ) or τσιγγάνοι (tsingánoi), in Central and Eastern Europe as Tsingani (and variants), in France as gitans besides the dated bohémiens, manouches, in Italy as zingari and gitani, and in Spain as gitanos.

Self-designation also varies: In Central and Eastern Europe, Roma is common. The Romani of England call themselves (in Angloromani) Romanichal, those of Scandinavia (in Scandinavian romanidialect) Romanisæl. In German-speaking Europe, the self-designation is Sinti, in France Manush, while the groups of Spain, Wales and Finland use Kalo/Kale (from kalo meaning "black"). There are numerous subgroups and clans with their own self-designations, such as the Kalderash, Machvaya, Boyash, Lovari, Modyar, Xoraxai, Lăutari, etc.

In the English language (according to OED), Rom is a noun (with the plural Romá or Roms) and an adjective, while Romany is also a noun (with the plural Romanies) and an adjective. Both Rom and Romany have been in use in English since the 19th century as an alternative for Gypsy. Romany is also spelled Romani, or Rommany.[1][2][3][4][5]

Sometimes, rom and romani are spelled with a double r, i.e., rrom and rromani, particularly in Romania in order to distinguish from the Romanian endonym (români). This is well established in Romani itself, since it represents a phoneme (/ʀ/ also written as ř and rh) which in some Romani dialects has remained different from the one written with a single r.[6]

Roma is a term primarily used in political contexts to refer to the Romani people as a whole.[7][8] Still, some subgroups of Romani do not self-identify as Roma, therefore some scholars avoid using the term Roma as not all Romani subgroups accept the term.[9]

Because all Romanies use the word Romani as an adjective, the term began to be used as a noun for the entire ethnic group.[10]

Today, the term Romani is used by some organizations — including the United Nations and the US Library of Congress.[6] However, the Council of Europe and other organizations use the term Roma to refer to Romani people around the world, and recommended that Romani be restricted to the language and culture: Romani language, Romani culture.[11][12][13]


The demonyms of the Romani people, Lom and Dom share the same etymological origin,[14][15] reflecting Sanskrit ḍoma "a man of low caste, living by singing and music"[16][17]

Gypsy and gipsy

The English term gipsy or gypsy[18] is a common word used to indicate Romani people, Tinkers and Travellers, and use of the word gipsy in modern-day English is so pervasive (and is a legal term under English lawsee below) that some Romani organizations use it in their own organizational names. However, according to many Romani people and academics who study them, the word has been tainted by its use as a racial slur and a pejorative connoting illegality and irregularity,[19][20][21][22][23][24][25] and some modern dictionaries either recommend avoiding use of the word gypsy entirely or give it a negative or warning label.[26][27][28][29][30][31]

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) states a 'gipsy' is a

member of a wandering race (by themselves called Romany), of Indian origin, which first appeared in England about the beginning of the 16th c.

According to the OED, the word was first used in English in 1514, with several more uses in the same century, and both Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare used this word.[32]

This exonym is sometimes written with a capital letter, to show that it designates an ethnic group.[33] The Spanish term gitano, the French term gitan and the Basque term ijito have the same origin.[34]

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the name was written in various ways: Egipcian, Egypcian, 'gypcian. The word gipsy/gypsy comes from the spellings which had lost the initial capital E, and this is one reason why it is often spelled with the initial g in lowercase.[35] As time elapsed, the notion of 'the gipsy/gypsy' altered to include other associated stereotypes such as nomadism and exoticism.[36] John Matthews in The World Atlas of Divination refer to gypsies as "Wise Women."[37] Colloquially, gipsy/gypsy is used refer to any person perceived by the speaker as fitting the gypsy stereotypes.[38]

Use in English law

Gipsy has several developing and overlapping meanings under English Law. Under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, gipsies are defined as "persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin, but does not include members of an organised group of travelling showmen, or persons engaged in travelling circuses, travelling together as such."[39] This definition includes such groups as New Age Travellers, as well as Irish Travellers and Romany.[40][41]

Gipsies of Romany origins have been a recognised ethnic group for the purposes of Race Relations Act 1976 since Commission for Racial Equality v Dutton 1989 and Irish Travellers in England and Wales since O'Leary v Allied Domecq 2000 (having already gained recognition in Northern Ireland in 1997).[42]

List of names


In much of continental Europe, Romanies are known by names related to the Greek term τσιγγάνοι (tsinganoi):

Slavic Germanic Romance Other

The name originates with Byzantine Greek ἀτσίγγανοι (atsinganoi, Latin adsincani) or ἀθίγγανοι (athinganoi, literally "untouchables"), a term applied to the sect of the Melchisedechians.[43][44][45] The Adsincani appear in an 11th-century text preserved in Mt Athos, The Life of Saint George the Athonite (written in the Georgian language), as "a Samaritan people, descendants of Simon the Magician, named Adsincani, who were renowned sorcerers and villains". In the text, emperor Constantine Monomachos employs the Adsincani to exterminate wild animals, who were destroying the game in the imperial park of Philopation.[46]


Because many Romanies living in France had come via Bohemia, they were referred to as Bohémiens.[47] This term would later be adapted by the French to refer to a particular artistic and impoverished lifestyle of an individual, known as Bohemianism.


See also


  1. Definition at
  2. Definition at Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
  3. Definition at
  4. Definition at
  5. Definition at
  6. 1 2 Hancock, Ian F (2002). We Are the Romani People, Pg XXI. ISBN 978-1-902806-19-8. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  7. p. 13 in Illona Klimova-Alexander's The Romani Voice in World Politics: The United Nations and Non-State Actors (2005, Burlington, VT.: Ashgate
  8. Rothéa, Xavier. "Les Roms, une nation sans territoire?" (in French). Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  9. p. 52 in Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov's "Historical and ethnographic background; Gypsies, Roma, Sinti" in Will Guy [ed.] Between Past and Future: The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe [with a Foreword by Dr. Ian Hancock], 2001, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press
  10. Hancock, Ian F (2002). We Are the Romani People, Pg XX. ISBN 978-1-902806-19-8. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  11. Hancock, Ian F (2002). We Are the Romani People, Pg XIX. ISBN 978-1-902806-19-8. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  12. Nicolae, Valeriu; Slavik, Hannah (2007-07-01). Roma diplomacy, Pg 16. ISBN 978-1-932716-33-7. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  13. Roma, Sinti, Gypsies, Travellers...The Correct Terminology about Roma at In Other WORDS project - Web Observatory & Review for Discrimination alerts & Stereotypes deconstruction
  14. The Institute for Middle East Understanding
  15. Online Etymology Dictionary - Douglas Harper
  16. McArthur, T. (ed.) The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-214183-X
  17. Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1899)
  18. From the Oxford English Dictionary (second edition, 1989; online version December 2011) Etymology section for the word gipsy:
    From the quotations collected for the dictionary, the prevalent spelling of late years appears to have been gipsy. The plural gypsies is not uncommon, but the corresponding form in the singular seems to have been generally avoided, probably because of the awkward appearance of the repetition of y.
  19. Randall, Kay. "What's in a Name? Professor take on roles of Romani activist and spokesperson to improve plight of their ethnic group". Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  20. Weyrauch, Walter Otto (2001). Gypsy law: Romani legal traditions and culture Check |url= value (help). University of California Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-520-22186-4.
  21. Bhopal, Kalwant; Myers, Martin (2008). Insiders, Outsiders and Others: Gypsies and Identity. Univ of Hertfordshire Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-902806-71-6. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  22. Klímová-Alexander, Ilona (2005). The Romani voice in world politics: the United Nations and non-state actors. Non-state actors in international law. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-7546-4173-5. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  23. Tebbutt, Susan (1998). Sinti and Roma: Gypsies in German-Speaking Society and Literature. Oxford: Berghahn Books, Inc. p. x. ISBN 1571819215.
  24. Liégeois, Jean-Pierre (2007). Roma in Europe (3rd ed.). Strasbourg: Council of Europe Pub. p. 159. ISBN 9287160511.
  25. Totten, Samuel; Jacobs, Paul R. Bartrop ; with contributions by Steven Leonard (2008). Dictionary of genocide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 371. ISBN 0313329672. Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  26. The new Partridge dictionary of slang and unconventional English (Reprint. ed.). London [u.a.]: Routledge. 2007. p. 943. ISBN 0415259371. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  27. Merriam-Webster's pocket guide to English usage. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. 1998. p. 178. ISBN 0877795142.
  28. Garner, Bryan A. (2009). Garner's modern American usage (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 405. ISBN 0195382757.
  29. Baskin, [by] H.E. Wedeck with the assistance of Wade. Dictionary of gypsy life and lore. New York: Philosophical Library. ISBN 0806529857.
  30. Garner, Bryan A. A dictionary of modern legal usage (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 400. ISBN 0195384202.
  31. Dictionary of race, ethnicity and culture (1. publ., [Nachdr.]. ed.). London: Sage. 2002. p. 291. ISBN 0761969004. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  32. Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition 1989. "Gipsy, gypsy, n."
  33. Hancock, Ian (1995). A Handbook of Vlax Romani. Slavica Publishers. p. 17. ISBN 0-89357-258-6.
  34. "gitan" (in French). Dictionnaire de l'Académie française. Retrieved 2007-08-26. Emprunté de l'espagnol gitano, gitana, altération de Egiptano, proprement « Égyptien », car on attribuait aux bohémiens une origine égyptienne.
  35. Hancock, Ian F. (2002). We are the Romani people. Univ of Hertfordshire Press. p. xxi. ISBN 978-1-902806-19-8.
  36. Hancock, Ian The ‘Gypsy’ stereotype and the sexualisation of Romani women
  37. Matthews, John (6 October 1994). "9". The world atlas of divination: the systems, where they originate, how they work. Headline Book Publishing. p. 81. ISBN 0-7472-7928-4.
  38. Hancock, Ian. "PERSPECTIVES The Struggle for the Control of Identity". Roma Participation Program. pp. 1–8. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
  39. Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (c.62) The UK Statute Law Database.
  40. Ravi Low-Beer Challenging Gypsy planning policies occasional discussion paper number 1, Traveller Law Research Unit, Cardiff Law School, P O Box 427, Cardiff CF1 1XD. Retrieved 2008-10-09.
  41. Thomas Acton. Human Rights as a Perspective on Entitlements: The Debate over ‘Gypsy Fairs’ in England, Essex Human Rights Review Vol. 1 No. 1. July 2004, pp. 18-28, ISSN 1756-1957. See footnote 5 page 19 (page 2 of the PDF document).
  42. Traveller Law Research Unit, Cardiff University, (From March 1995 to December 2002). Retrieved 2008-10-09. Archived from original 2008
  43. White, Karin (1999). "Metal-workers, agriculturists, acrobats, military-people and fortune-tellers: Roma (Gypsies) in and around the Byzantine empire". Golden Horn. 7 (2). Retrieved 2007-08-26.
  44. Bates, Karina. "A Brief History of the Rom". Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  45. Not Available, Not Available (July 1994). "Book Reviews" (PDF). Population Studies. 48 (2): 365–372. doi:10.1080/0032472031000147856.
  46. P. Peeters, 'Histoire monastiques géorgiennes', Analecta Bollandiana, 36-37, 1917-19.
  47. Achim, Viorel (2004). The Roma in Romanian History. Budapest: Central European University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-963-9241-84-8. OCLC 54529869.
  48. ijito in the General Basque Dictionary.
  49. ijito in the Harluxet dictionary.
  50. buhame in the General Basque Dictionary.
  51. in the Harluxet dictionary
  52. kaskarot in the General Basque Dictionary.

External links

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