Names of the Romani people

(Redirected from Gypsy (term))

The Romani people are known by a variety of names, mostly under the broad categories of gipsy, tsinganoi, Bohémiens, and Roma. Self-designation varies: In Central and Eastern Europe, Roma is common. The Romani of England call themselves Gypsies, Romanies, Romany Gypsies or (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" in Romani language). There are numerous subgroups and clans with their own self-designations, such as the Kalderash, Machvaya, Boyash, Lovari, Modyar, Xoraxai, and Lăutari.

In the English language (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), 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]

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), to which it has no relation. 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.[2]

Roma is a term primarily used in political contexts to refer to the Romani people as a whole.[3][4] 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.[5]

Because all Romanies use the word Romani as an adjective, the term began to be used as a noun for the entire ethnic group.[6]

The term Romani is used by some organizations, including the United Nations and the US Library of Congress.[2] 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.[7][8][9]

In Hungarian, the most common word for the Roma is cigány, similar to the Slovak and Czech terms cigáň/cigán. Some Roma consider this a derogatory word, while others reclaim it, similarly to the LGBT community's reclamation of dyke and queer, and use it as a symbol of pride of heritage.



The demonyms of the Romani people, Lom and Dom share the same etymological origin,[10][11] reflecting Sanskrit ḍoma "a man of low caste, living by singing and music"[12][13]

The ultimate origin of the Sanskrit term ḍoma (perhaps from Munda or Dravidian) is uncertain.[14] Its stem, ḍom, is connected with drumming, linked with the Sanskrit verbal root ḍam- 'to sound (as a drum)', perhaps a loan from Dravidian, e.g. Kannada ḍamāra 'a pair of kettle-drums', and Telugu ṭamaṭama 'a drum, tomtom'.[15]

Gypsy and gipsy


The English term gipsy or gypsy[16] is commonly used to indicate Romani people, Tinkers, and Travellers,[17] and use of the word gipsy in modern-day English is pervasive (and is a legal term under English law—see below), and some Romani organizations use it in their own organizational names, particularly in the United Kingdom. The word, while sometimes positively embraced by Romani persons, is also sometimes rejected by other Romani persons as offensive due to it being tainted by its use as a racial slur and a pejorative connotation implying illegality and irregularity,[18] and some modern dictionaries either recommend avoiding use of the word gypsy entirely or give it a negative or warning label.[19]

A British House of Commons Committee parliamentary inquiry, as described in their report "Tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities" (published 2019),[20] stated about their findings in the United Kingdom that: "We asked many members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities how they preferred to describe themselves. While some find the term "Gypsy" to be offensive, many stakeholders and witnesses were proud to associate themselves with this term and so we have decided that it is right and proper to use it, where appropriate, throughout the report."

The Oxford English Dictionary 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.

The first usage of the word in English found by the OED was 1514, with several more usages in the same century, and both Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare used this word.[21]

This exonym is sometimes written with a capital letter, to show that it designates an ethnic group.[22] The Spanish term gitano, the French term gitan and the Basque term ijito have the same origin.[23]

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 that is one reason that it is often spelled with the initial g in lowercase.[24] As time elapsed, the notion of "the gipsy/gypsy" altered to include other associated stereotypes such as nomadism and exoticism.[25] John Matthews in The World Atlas of Divination refer to gypsies as "Wise Women".[26] Colloquially, gipsy/gypsy is used refer to any person perceived by the speaker as fitting the gypsy stereotypes.[27]

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".[28] The definition includes such groups as New Age Travellers as well as Irish Travellers and Romany.[29][30]

"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, as have Irish Travellers in England and Wales since O'Leary v Allied Domecq 2000 (having already gained recognition in Northern Ireland in 1997).[29][30][31]

List of names




In several countries, they were thought to come from Egypt.



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

The name originates with Byzantine Greek ἀτσίγγανοι (atsinganoi, Latin adsincani) or ἀθίγγανοι (athinganoi, literally "untouchables"), a term applied to the sect of the Melchisedechians.[36][37][38] 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.[39]

An alternative etymological approach traces the Greek tsiganos/atsiganos to the Sanskrit atingan(in) and tyāgan(in), with the meaning ‘nomad, migrant, searcher, traveller’. [40]



Because many Romanies living in France had come via Bohemia, they were referred to as Bohémiens.[41] This term would later be adapted by the French to refer to a particular artistic and impoverished lifestyle of an individual, known as Bohemianism.

  • Basque: buhame (in the Northern dialects)[42][43]




  • Albanian: Arixhi (handler of bears)
  • Arabic: غجر ghájar
  • Azerbaijani: Qaraçı
  • Estonian: mustlased
  • Finnish: mustalaiset
  • Georgian: ბოშები bošebi
  • Hebrew: צועניםtsoʿănim (from the city Soan in Egypt)
  • Kurdish قەرەچی, qaraçı (from Turkish); دۆم, dom
  • Mingrelian: ჩაჩანეფი çaçanephi
  • Spanish: calé[44]

See also



  1. ^ *Definition at
  2. ^ a b Hancock, Ian F (2002). We Are the Romani People, Pg XXI. Univ of Hertfordshire Press. ISBN 978-1-902806-19-8. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  3. ^ p. 13 in Illona Klimova-Alexander's The Romani Voice in World Politics: The United Nations and Non-State Actors (2005, Burlington, VT.: Ashgate
  4. ^ Rothéa, Xavier. "Les Roms, une nation sans territoire?" (in French). Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Hancock, Ian F (2002). We Are the Romani People, Pg XX. Univ of Hertfordshire Press. ISBN 978-1-902806-19-8. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  7. ^ Hancock, Ian F (2002). We Are the Romani People, Pg XIX. Univ of Hertfordshire Press. ISBN 978-1-902806-19-8. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  8. ^ Nicolae, Valeriu; Slavik, Hannah (2007-07-01). Roma diplomacy, Pg 16. ISBN 978-1-932716-33-7. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  9. ^ Roma, Sinti, Gypsies, Travellers...The Correct Terminology about Roma Archived 2014-07-19 at the Wayback Machine at In Other WORDS project – Web Observatory & Review for Discrimination alerts & Stereotypes deconstruction
  10. ^ The Institute for Middle East Understanding Archived 2007-05-23 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary – Douglas Harper
  12. ^ McArthur, T. (ed.) The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-214183-X
  13. ^ Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1899)
  14. ^ Abhijit Ghosh, Non-Aryan linguistic elements in the Atharvaveda: a study of some words of Austric origin, Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 2000, p. 10, 76.
  15. ^ T. Burrow and M.B. Emeneau, A Dravidian Etymological Dictionary 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 257, entry #2949.
  16. ^ 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.

  17. ^ Wolniak, Michal (2019) [2016]. "Travelling through Shades of Whiteness: Irish Travellers as Inferior Whites". In Kirkland, Ewan (ed.). Shades of Whiteness. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. pp. 119–131. doi:10.1163/9781848883833_011. ISBN 978-1-84888-383-3. S2CID 201423395.
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ House of Commons Women & Equalities Committee (5 April 2019). "Tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities". UK Parliament. Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  21. ^ Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition 1989. "Gipsy, gypsy, n."
  22. ^ Hancock, Ian (1995). A Handbook of Vlax Romani. Slavica Publishers. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-89357-258-7.
  23. ^ "gitan" (in French). Dictionnaire de l'Académie française. Archived from the original on 2007-08-07. Retrieved 2007-08-26. Emprunté de l'espagnol gitano, gitana, altération de Egiptano, proprement « Égyptien », car on attribuait aux bohémiens une origine égyptienne.
  24. ^ Hancock, Ian F. (2002). We are the Romani people. Univ of Hertfordshire Press. p. xxi. ISBN 978-1-902806-19-8.
  25. ^ "Hancock, Ian The 'Gypsy' stereotype and the sexualisation of Romani women". Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 2010-07-08.
  26. ^ 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 978-0-7472-7928-0.
  27. ^ Hancock, Ian. "PERSPECTIVES The Struggle for the Control of Identity". Roma Participation Program. pp. 1–8. Archived from the original on 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
  28. ^ Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (c.62) The UK Statute Law Database.
  29. ^ a b 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.
  30. ^ a b Thomas Acton. Human Rights as a Perspective on Entitlements: The Debate over 'Gypsy Fairs' in England Archived 2011-08-25 at the Wayback Machine, Essex Human Rights Review Archived 2010-04-23 at the Wayback Machine Vol. 1 No. 1. July 2004, pp. 18–28, ISSN 1756-1957. See footnote 5 page 19 (page 2 of the PDF document).
  31. ^ Traveller Law Research Unit, Cardiff University, (From March 1995 to December 2002). Retrieved 2008-10-09. Archived from original 2008
  32. ^ "ijito – Orotariko Euskal Hiztegia bilaketa".
  33. ^ "ijito – Harluxet Hiztegi Entziklopedikoa".
  34. ^ Royal Galician Academy "cigano"
  35. ^ Royal Galician Academy "cíngaro"
  36. ^ White, Karin (1999). "Metal-workers, agriculturists, acrobats, military-people and fortune-tellers: Roma (Gypsies) in and around the Byzantine empire". Golden Horn. 7 (2). Archived from the original on 2014-09-20. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
  37. ^ Bates, Karina. "A Brief History of the Rom". Archived from the original on 2010-06-15. Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  38. ^ "Book Reviews" (PDF). Population Studies. 48 (2): 365–372. July 1994. doi:10.1080/0032472031000147856. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-09-14.
  39. ^ P. Peeters, 'Histoire monastiques géorgiennes', Analecta Bollandiana, 36–37, 1917–19.
  40. ^ "The Etymology of the words țigan (gypsy) and (r)rom (romany)". 2014-12-23. Retrieved 2024-06-11.
  41. ^ Achim, Viorel (2004). The Roma in Romanian History. Budapest: Central European University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-963-9241-84-8. OCLC 54529869.
  42. ^ "buhame". Orotariko Euskal Hiztegia (in Spanish) (10 ed.). Euskaltzaindia. Retrieved 6 September 2023.
  43. ^ "buhame – Harluxet Hiztegi Entziklopedikoa".
  44. ^ "calé". Diccionari de la lengua española (in Spanish) (23.6 ed.). RAE – ASALE. 2022. Retrieved 6 September 2023.