Double-headed eagle with coats of arms of individual states, the symbol of the Holy Roman Empire (painting from 1510)
In various languages the Holy Roman Empire was known as: Latin: Sacrum Romanum Imperium, German: Heiliges Römisches Reich, Italian: Sacro Romano Impero (before Otto I), Italian: Sacro Romano Impero Germanico (by Otto I), Czech: Svatá říše římská, Polish: Święte imperium rzymskie, Slovene: Sveto rimsko cesarstvo, Dutch: Heilige Roomse Rijk, French: Saint-Empire romain (before Otto I), French: Saint-Empire romain germanique (by Otto I). Before 1157, the realm was merely referred to as the "Roman Empire". The term sacrum ("holy", in the sense of "consecrated") in connection with the medieval Roman Empire was used beginning in 1157 under Frederick I Barbarossa ("Holy Empire"): the term was added to reflect Frederick's ambition to dominate Italy and the Papacy. The form "Holy Roman Empire" is attested from 1254 onward.
In a decree following the 1512 Diet of Cologne, the name was changed to the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" (German: Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation, Latin: Imperium Romanum Sacrum Nationis Germanicæ), a form first used in a document in 1474. The new title was adopted partly because the Empire had lost most of its Italian and Burgundian (Kingdom of Arles) territories to the south and west by the late 15th century, but also to emphasize the new importance of the German Imperial Estates in ruling the Empire due to the Imperial Reform. By the end of the 18th century, the term "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" had fallen out of official use. Besides, contradicting the traditional view concerning that designation, Hermann Weisert has stated in a study on imperial titulature that, despite the claim of many textbooks, the name "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" never had an official status and points out that documents were thirty times as likely to omit the national suffix as include it. This, or the shortened "Roman Empire of the German Nation", is often used in Germany to refer to the Holy Roman Empire.
In a famous assessment of the name, the political philosopher Voltaire (1694–1778) remarked sardonically: "This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was in no way holy, nor Roman, nor an empire."