Appendix D: Amber Etymology Plus* 

* This appendix gives a general statement about the derivation of the term amber plus a list of terms applied to amber in several languages.  Compilation of this list was prompted by questions posed and suggestions made by respondents from several countries.  Adding the list seems warranted because of amber's diverse roles in the history of several cultures and its widespread geographical occurrence.  Some readers will consider its inclusion to be a superfluity, and even some of the readers whose questions and suggestions prompted its compilation may consider it "over-kill." -- So be it.

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ETYMOLOGY:  Amber, the English designation for the fossil resin used as a gemrock, is noted in most English-language dictionaries to have the following general etymology:  Middle English ambre >  Old French ambre > Medieval Latin ambra (or ambar), from the Arabic 'anbar, which originally referred to ambergris and only later also to amber.   Despite this indication of consensus, it seems only prudent  to mention the fact that alternative etymologies have been published. Two examples are:  Munro (1981) summarizes information supporting the Persian designation kahrobâ as the root;   [and]   Eugenion Ragazzi (2000) writes:  " 'amber' is believed to derive from the Arabic word 'Haur Rumi' that means 'Roman poplar tree':  the following corrupted terms were Haurum, Habrum, Hambrum and finally Ambarum and Amber.  This origin is not surprising, since in the mythology, after the death of Phaeton on the river Eridano, his sisters, the Eliades, were transformed into poplars, and they weeped tears of amber!!"   In addition, attention is directed to the historical review about amber, as recorded in translated ancient documents, that is on the web site;   several of the included statements -- especially those from Pliny the Elder's work Naturalis historia -- may also pertain to the origin of the term amber as applied to the fossil resin.

AMBER in SEVERAL LANGUAGES:  Names applied to amber are listed alphabetically, by language, in the fourth paragraph under this subheading.  Names based on or referring only to succinite, and some of the additional  terms given in glossaries (e.g., Bayliss, 2000 & Fourestier,1999) and on internet web sites (e.g., are not included in that paragraph or on Tables 1 and 2.   Remarks about several additional terms are, however, treated in the "Post Script- ..." that follows the tables.

Anyone reading this list is forewarned that a few of terms have not been documented as applying to amber, the fossil resin, rather than to, for example, amber, the color. This is so because the sources from which I took some of the designations do not give parts of speech, full definitions, or examples of the terms used in context.   Although I was able to determine the correct term from several native speakers, to date some of this procedure is no complete.  Each term for which I have seen neither documentation nor clarification of its use is preceded with a boldface question mark (i.e., ?).  In addition, a few of the listed terms may apply only to non-fossilized resin, despite the fact they have been indicated as designations for amber;  those, which in my opinion, seem most likely to be so restricted are followed by appropriate notes enclosed in brackets and are not included on Table 1 or Table 2.

Transliterations and native scripts are given for the amber equivalent(s) for most of the listed languages for which non-Roman scripts are currently the so-to-speak norm; others, the uses of which are documented, will be added as they are found or sent to me [along this line, attention is directed to the compilation of alphabets of virtually all of these, as well as several other, languages given on].  It also seems prudent to mention my inability to find any designations for amber in some languages that probably have it as a part of their vocabulary.  On the other hand, the words proposed for amber in Esperanto and Interlingua, the most widely  recognized artificial international languages, were found and are included.

Please keep the preceding explanations and disclaimers in mind while going through the following designations:   Afrikaans - barnsteen; Albanian - qehribá ;   Arabic - kahramaan ( )  &   'anbar ) ;   Armenian - ?sat' (  [ + h'ambar?];   Azeri(Azerbaijani)-  or   kæhræba;    Basque - anbar;   Belarus(i)an - ~ burshtin (  );   Bengali -  ??? ( );   Bosnian - see Serbo-Croat;   Breton - goularz;   Bulgarian - kehlibar );   Burmese - payin ); Cambodian - ??? );   Catalan - see French & Spanish;   Chinese - hŭpò; (  );   Croatian - see Serbo-Croat;   Czech - jantar;   Danish - rav;   Dutch - barnsteen [ + amber] ;   English - amber  & ambre;  also, the Oxford English Dictionary (1971) has three entries, hereafter underlined, that include words that have been used for amber:  Amber - - ambra, aumber, aumbur, ambyr,... awmer & awmbur;  Karabe;   [and]  Lamber  (noted as "Obs[olete]. Chiefly north[ern]. dia[lect.]") - - lambre, laumb(e)re, lambur, lawmer, lammer, lamar, lamer & lamour.  [Two additional things seem noteworthy:  1. glær is said to be the Old English word meaning amber as well as being the root-word for glass and glaze (;  see, however, statements about this under glass in the Oxford English Dictionary (1971);  [and]  2. the Anglo-Saxon word ómber does not refer to amber (it is the word for a certain dry measure).];   Esperanto - ambro ;   Estonian - merevaik ;   Farsi -  kahrobâ (   );   Filipino - see Tagalog;   Finnish - meripihka ;   French - ambre  [ + karabé];;   Gaelic - see Irish, Manx  & Scottish(Gaelic);   Georgian(Mkhedruli) - karva/qarva );   German - Bernstein, Agtstein & Luchstein (Old German - cf. Latin, lyncurium) [ + Brennstein?];   Greek - kechrimpari ( ), ilektron / êlektron )  &  pterygophoron( ) [ i.e., "feather-attractor" - used in the 1st century A.D. by Dioscuridis, in allusion to amber's electrostatic character];   Gujarati - kerabo )  &  triNamaNi / truNamaNi );  Hawaiian - ? amepela, ? amebera ;  Hebrew - i'nbar (  ) [The designation hashmal (or chasmal) has been interpreted, apparently incorrectly, by some scholars to have meant amber in "Old Hebrew."];   Hindi - ambara ( ) [var. - aMbara )],  kaharuvA )  &  tR^iNamaNi( );   Hungarian - borostyánkő & gyantar;  Icelandic - raf  &  gleri;   Indian - see Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil & Urdu;  Indonesia - batu ambar [batu ≃ stone];   Interlingua - ambra;  Irish(Gaelic) - ómra ;  Italian - ambra [ + karabé]  Japanese - kohaku [Kanji] (  ),  [Hiragana] ( )  &  [Katakana] (   );  Korean - ho-pak );  Kannada -  shilaaraaLa, ambaru, hAlumaDDi ( ??? );  Kurdish - kareba  ( in Kurdish-Arabic script  -  ;   Latin -  ambra [Medieval Latin]; electrum [cf .Greek êlektron / ilektron]; glaesum /glesum [Roman Latin];  lacrima Heliandum [see Heliades tears under REMARKS subheading]; lyncurium / ?langurium? [see Demonstratus' solidified lynx urine under REMARKS subheading]Latvian - dzintars ;   Lithuanian - gintaras ;  Macedonian - kilibar ( ) Malayalam ? kunthirukkam / chenjalyam [may refer to non-fossilized resin];  Maori kano pàkà [ possibly refers to color];   Manx (Gaelic - i.e., Goidelic) - ombyr ;   Mongolian - khüw ) -- [Use of cyrillic script is post-Russian takeover of the region.];   Myanmar(ese) - see Burmese  Norwegian - rav ;   Persian - karabe (see Farsi);   Philippines language - see Tagalog;   Phoenician - yainitar;   Polish - jantar  &  bursztyn ;   Portuguese - âmbar  [ + karabé];   Prussian(i.e., Old Prussian) - glêsîs [used in historic Baltic - i.e., Soudinoi / Sudovian / Jatvingian / Yotvingians / Yatvingians documents (Ptolemy, 2nd century A.D.); cf. Latin(Roman Latin)];  Romanian - chihlimbar  [ + ambra];  Russian(Mokshan) - yantarj ( );   Sanskrit - a.ngArakamaNi  ( [=gem of pearl, coral, ... or amber ])  &  shUkApuTTa  [=a gem, perhaps amber]);  Scottish(Current+) - amber, ambir  & ambre;  (Gaelic) òmar [ + lammer ]; Serbo-Croat - cilibar(ski) (  ) [ + jantar  (  )];   Slavic - ambra ( );   Slovak - jantár ;  Somali(Cushitic) -  ámbar;   Spanish - ámbar [ + cárabe] Swahili(Bantu / Kiswahili) kaharabu Swedish - bärnsten ;  Syrian - kahraba;  Tagalog (Filipino/Pilipino) - dagtâ [= resin, sap];  Tamil(Dravidian) - ampar;  Thai - ching peh )  &???  ( );   Tibetan - ka su ra )  & spös shel )Transylvanian - ambrã Turkish - kehribar (   )  Ukrainian - burshtyn ) [ + Russian - yantar )] ;   Urdu - ambar (   )  Vietnamese - hổ phách (I have been told early missionaries got many Vietnamese to use Roman letters to represent their oral language, which is closely related to Chinese and formerly was expressed with Chinese-like script - cf. transliteration of Chinese);   Welsh - gwefr, amfer  &  ambr ;  Yiddish - burschtin [ + ?agdsten - see Post Script ...];   Zanzibar(ese) - see Swahili.   

TABULATIONS:  Apparent and possible relationships among several of the preceding designations follow.

Table 1. Four common designations applied to amber, the fossil resin.  Languages listed under the four designations, given as the boldface column headings, currently use or have used terms that are identical to the heading word, cognates of that word, or words with apparently the same or similar connotation of their root-word.  Comments about the probable root-word of each group are given as footnotes in the appropriate columns.  Languages in which two or more designations for amber have found noteworthy use are listed in more than one group.

~Amber 1

Gaelic (Irish)
Gaelic (Manx)
Gaelic (Scottish)
Latin (Medieval)

1 widely thought to have the Arabic "anbar" - which originally referred to ambergris - as their root-word; see, however, the first paragraph under REMARKS subheading. 

~Bernstein 2


2 apparently from low German "boernen" (= burn), which relates to amber's being easily ignited;  ancient Germans burned amber as incense.

~Jantar 3


3 probably (but not yet documented by me) from the locality Jantarny (=Palmicken), which is on the Baltic Sea, west-northwest of Kaliningrad (= Königsberg).

~Karabe 4

Azeri (Azerbaijani)

4 apparently from Persian Kahraba, which translates roughly to electricity and is based on amber's electrostatic property of attracting straw, feathers, etc.  On the basis of their meanings, the Greek (êlektron / ilektron & pterygophoron), Latin (electrum) and Welsh (gwefr) also belong to this group.  And, the Gujarati (triNamaNi / truNamaNi) and Hindi (tR^iNamaNi), which appear probably to relate to the Sanskrit trnagrâhin (= "grass-catching"), seem to belong here.

Table 2. Languages with designations for amber the bases of which differ from those given in Table 1. 
Notes about probable and possible origins of a few of these designations are given as footnotes.  As more information is found, some of these terms may be found to belong in one of the groups given on Table 1;  if so, they will be deleted from this table and added to the appropriate column in Table 1.

Arabic - kahramaan
Armenian - sat'
Breton - goularz
Burmese - payin
Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese -
     hupò /kohaku/ho-pak/
hổ phách
Danish/Icelandic/Norwegian - rav/raf/rav 1
Estonian/Finnish - merevaik/meripihka 2
Georgian (Mkhedruli) - qarva
German/Yiddish - agtstein/agdsten?
Greek - kechrimpari?
Hindi - kaharuvA .
Hindi - tR^iNamaNi - - see footnote, Table 1, column 4
Icelandic/Old English/Old Prussian/Roman Latin -
     gleri/glær/glêsîs/glaesum 3
Latin - lacrima Heliandum 4
Latin/Old German - lyncurium/Luchstein 5
Malayalam - Kunthirukkam
Mongolian - khüw
Sanskrit ? - see footnote, Table 1, column 4.
Thai - ching peh
Tibetan - ka su ra 
Tibetan - spös shel 6
1 Pliny, the Elder (Book xxxvii) reported that Roman troops nicknamed one of the east Frisian islands Glaesaria (=Amber island), based on the Old Prussan word glêsîs, whereas the native's name for the island was Austeravia.   Thus, one idea suggested as the origin of rav (etc.) is "the word RAV as in AUSTERAVIA [my emphasis] still is the Danish [etc.] word for 'amber' nowadays." ( Falk and Torp (1910), however,  indicate that rav is based on the "nordfries. [north Friesian] reaf ," and, along this line, the present-day Danish dictionary "Nudansk Ordbog" indicates that  rav comes from the old Icelandic term raf that, in turn, appears to relate to ræv (= fox), and thus appears to have arisen as the designation for amber because of its brownish foxlike color.  Yet another alternative (my strictly  tentative suggestion) is that use of the term rav as a designation for amber may have been based on the myth in which amber was derived from Freya's tears -- in Old Norse, rav means drizzle, which might also have referred to tears.
2 stone from the sea
3 relates to sparkle and transparency
4 Heliades-tears
5 lynx urine (hardened)
6 apparently from pö-she -- "Tibetans called this gem [i.e., amber] pö-she, which meant perfumed crystal." (

Anyone who sees corrections or additions they think should be made to the preceding non-English designations for amber (the noun for fossil resin), PLEASE send them, along with documentation, to me. 

POST SCRIPT- ADDITIONAL TERMS: Names for and information about some additional designations I have recently found recorded as applying to amber are given here. (Names noted in some publications as applying to amber have been found to be natural hydrocarbons with ordered structures (etc.) that satisfy the requirements set for minerals so their names and data about them are reviewed by the Commission on New Minerals and Mineral Names of the International Mineralogical Association.  Thes names are NOT included in the following list.)  

The following terms -- except for those recorded as CHINESE ... , which are listed last -- are given in alphabetical order.

* References to "(Dana, 1892...)" are given in lieu of his cited original/basic references, which I have not checked.  Also, it seems only prudent to mention that several hydrocarbons, which are similarly described in Dana's compilation, are not included on the above list because I have not seen them recorded as referring to amber as such.


Acknowledgments: The listed designations were found in printed and online dictionaries, glossaries and other publications and/or sent to me by correspondents. Individuals from several countries provided information used to verify the fact that the designations given for their languages apply to amber the fossil resin. Some of those correspondents also supplied the included image files for the non-Roman scripts.  Others helped by supplying or directing me to sources of additional information, getting references (some rather obscure) through interlibrary loan, critiquing the copy, etc., etc.   I extend my grateful thanks to each of these people: Simon Ager, Mahmood Bahaee, William Birch, Akiva Caspi, Frances S. Dietrich, Kurt R. Dietrich, Richard S. Dietrich, Carla Dimalanta, Margaret Dodd, Jeffrey de Fourestier, Ebbe Friis, Craig Gibson, David Ginsburg, Eden Golshani, P. & Vipin Gopal, Tea Kharitonashvili, Stephanos P. Kilias, Alfred A. Levinson, Jun Li, Emmett Mason, Mahmoud Moursi, Junlin Pan, Chengxiang Peng, Vladimer Petkov, Prentiss Riddle, Maxim N. Severinovsky, San San Hnin Tun, Reed Wicander, Graciano P. Yumul, Jr., Aparna V. Zambare, unnamed persons associated with and Salik Ltd., and one of the members of the Sanskrit Team.

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