The remains of a seax together with a reconstructed replica
The Saxons may have derived their name from
seax, a kind of knife for which they were known. The seax has a lasting symbolic impact in the
English counties of
Middlesex, both of which feature three seaxes in their ceremonial emblem. Their names, along with those of
Wessex, contain a remnant of the word "Saxon".
Elizabethan era play
Edmund Ironside suggests the Saxon name derives from the Latin saxa (stone):
Their names discover what their natures are, More hard than stones, and yet not stones indeed.
Saxon as a demonym
Celtic languages, the words designating English nationality derive from the Latin word Saxones. The most prominent example, a
loanword in English, is the
Scottish word Sassenach, used by
Scottish English-speakers in the 21st century as a
jocular term for an English person. The
Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives 1771 as the date of the earliest written use of the word in English.
It derives from the
Scottish Gaelic Sasannach (older spelling: Sasunnach). The Gaelic name for England is Sasann, and Sasannach (formed with a common adjective suffix -ach) means "English" in reference to people and things, though not to the English Language, which is Beurla.
Irish word for an Englishman, has the same derivation, as do the words used in
Welsh to describe the English people (Saeson, sing. Sais) and the language and things English in general: Saesneg and Seisnig.
Cornish terms the English Sawsnek, from the same derivation. In the 16th century Cornish-speakers used the phrase Meea navidna cowza sawzneck to feign ignorance of the English language.
"England" in Scottish Gaelic is Sasann (older spelling: Sasunn, Genitive: Sasainn). Other examples include the
Welsh Saesneg (the English language),
Irish Sasana (England),
Breton saoz(on) (English, saozneg "the English language", Bro-saoz "England"), and
Cornish Sowson (English people), Sowsnek (English language), and Pow Sows for 'Land [Pays] of Saxons'.
The label "Saxons" (in
Romanian: Sași) also became attached to
German settlers who migrated during the 13th century to southeastern
Transylvania. From Transylvania, some of these Saxons migrated to neighbouring
Moldavia, as the name of the town Sas-cut shows.
Sascut lies in the part of Moldavia that is today part of
Georg Friederich Händel's visit to
Italy (1706- ), much was made of his origins in Saxony; in particular, the
Venetians greeted the 1709 performance of his opera
Agrippina with the cry Viva il caro Sassone, "Cheers for the beloved Saxon!"
Estonians have changed their usage of the term Saxony over the centuries to denote now the whole country of
Germany (Saksa and Saksamaa respectively) and the
Germans (saksalaiset and sakslased, respectively). The Finnish word sakset
scissors reflects the name of the old Saxon single-edged sword
Seax from which 'Saxon' is supposedly derived. In Estonian, saks means a nobleman or, colloquially, a wealthy or powerful person. As a result of the
Northern Crusades in the Middle Ages, Estonia's upper class had been mostly
of German origin until well into the 20th century.
The word also survives as the surnames of Saß/Sass (in Low German or Low Saxon), Sachse and Sachs. The
Dutch female first name,
Saskia, originally meant "A Saxon woman" (
metathesis of "Saxia").
Saxony as a toponym
Following the downfall of
Henry the Lion (1129–1195, Duke of Saxony 1142–1180), and the subsequent splitting of the Saxon tribal duchy into several territories, the name of the Saxon duchy was transferred to the lands of the
Ascanian family. This led to the differentiation between
Lower Saxony, lands settled by the Saxon tribe and
Upper Saxony, the lands belonging to the
House of Wettin. Gradually, the latter region became known as "Saxony", ultimately usurping the name's original meaning. The area formerly known as Upper Saxony now lies in