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 Essex and Middlesex, both of which feature three seaxes in their ceremonial emblem. Their names, along with those of Sussex and Wessex, contain a remnant of the word "Saxon".
The 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
In the 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 Scots- or 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.
Sasanach, the 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 Romania.
During 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!"
The Finns and 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 Central Germany.