Dollar and its sign, peso, pound, lira, yuan. What is the origin of currency names

Dollars from the Czech Republic

Like any small country, we like to take out what we have given to the world. There is nothing better than announcing to an American in Kafka’s Prague over a glass of undersized pilsner (Pilsen, Czechia!) that their famous American dollar is actually named after Czech money.

Berlin-George, CC BY-SA 4.0 license

Copy of the Jáchymovsk tolar. Saint Jáchym on the obverse, King Ludvík Jagiellon had to settle for just his name on the reverse.

In fact, the Czechness of the tolars is about the same as the Czechness of the books of Franz Kafka, a Jew writing in German, or the lager that Bavarian brewer Josef Groll first brewed in the Bürger-Brauerei Pilsen.

The words dollar and tolar originate in the Czech Republic, but certainly not in Czech. They are derived from the name of the city Jáchymova. Only from the original, German one. This is Joachimsthal, i.e. Jáchym’s valley.

The large silver coins minted here in the 16th century for eight or nine years by the Czech (only a generation earlier they came from Saxony) noble family Šlik were called joachimsthaler, Jáchymovský. More convenient just a thaler.

But how did they get to America? →

T/Dollars for all

The Schlickers minted huge numbers of their Joachimsthalers (estimated at 1,300,000) and because they were honest they caught on and became the model for other coins. Also thalers and elsewhere – because it was basically the standard of the western world – thalers, tallers dalers, daalders, talars or tallera. Even in the Czech Republic, the name tolar soon prevailed over the earlier designation Tólský groš.

Only in Russia, where sometimes things are turned upside down, the first half of the former Jáchymov Dol was caught in the name of money. Silver coins of a similar weight to Western European tolars were there called jefimok (ефимок) – jáchymek.

National Museum of American History, free work

American dollar from 1795, with a flowing hair design.

That’s it with the Czechness of the tolar more complicated. His journey to America was also complicated. There, a duel between two tolars took place. For one thing, Dutch traders brought their tolar to the new world. It was the famous leeuwendaalder, the lion’s tolar, which gave its name to Bulgarian and Romanian money. The Dutch used it as currency in their and foreign colonies in the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and it also caught on in the British thirteen colonies in North America.

But the colonists eventually preferred another currency used in the Americas and around the world, and minted the United States dollar on the model of the Spanish dollar, originally known as the peso.

By the way peso… →

$ or peso

The peso is used today in eight American countries: we have the Mexican peso, the Cuban peso, the Philippine peso, the Chilean peso, the Colombian peso, the Argentine peso, the Uruguayan peso, and the Dominican peso. Practically every South American country except Brazil, at least one African country and mainly Spain had its peso.

Until the adoption of the euro, modern Spain paid in pesetas – it sounds related, and it is related. Etymologists argue a bit about whether peseta is from Catalan or Spanish, and whether it is a diminutive of the Catalan peçe or the Spanish peso, but in the end it is basically the same thing. The Catalan peçe means piece, the same originally as the Spanish peso.

Peso from PotosíWikimedia Commons, free work

Spanish dollar/peso minted in Potosí, Bolivia. Reversal. Note the motif of the Pillars of Hercules wrapped in ribbon. So that’s one of the theories about the origin of the $ sign.

The word peso originally meant a piece, but today it is used to mean weight. After all, there are a lot of currencies whose names are somehow related to weight. These are mostly words that originally – or even simultaneously – denoted a unit of weight and a currency. This includes, for example, the pound with the lira, the mark, the hryvnia or the old Greek talent.

But the most interesting thing about the peso is its symbol. The latter is $ – and it just switched from the peso to the US dollar (and other dollars used elsewhere in the world). But it’s not entirely clear how it happened that money that starts with P has an S crossed out as its symbol. There are many theories, some reasonable, some quite silly, but this one is none.

Other very material money →

Money that has weight

A pound of meat, a pound of butter, a pound of sterling. Wow, it was really all the same pound – some 450 grams and some. And although the British currency is called the British pound or simply the pound and its international code is GBP (where the individual letters stand for Great Britain and pound-pound), its official name is sterling. And the pound (sterling) is the unit of that currency, originally 453 grams of silver of very fine purity.

Britain is a conservative country, so while elsewhere it is used for a moment this, a moment that, in the islands sterling has been used for some eight hundred years. Enough that half a century ago the British abandoned the old division of the pound into smaller pieces. Today the pound is a hundred pence and everyone understands that. Before 1971, however, the pound had 20 shillings, which continued to be divided into 12 pence each. So the pound was 240 pence. But because it was a strong currency at the time, even pence was still divided into four farthings. So the pound had 960 farthings. I decided not to look for the origin of this word, it’s the smallest coin, I hear a fart in its name – and I don’t want to spoil it with some truth.

The pre-decimal coinage system of Great BritainSource: Shutterstock

If you think that dividing by twenties and tens is banal, the English have prepared a whole series of other mathematical problems for you with their famous calmness. In the picture you have a farthing or a quarter (ok, a farth is a quarter), a two farthing or a halfpenny, a penny, a threepence or a quarter shilling, a sixpence or a half shilling, a shilling, a two shilling, a half crown – which is 30 farthings or 2.5 shillings, a crown – five shillings. In addition to the pound, gold sovereigns were used, which had the same value as the pound, and gold guineas, worth 21 shillings, i.e. a pound and a shilling extra.

As in Britain, money was measured in pounds of silver in practically all of Western Europe, starting with Charlemagne. There was the Tour pound and the Paris pound in France or the Venetian lira (like the British pounds, they were all divided into smaller units of twenty and then twelve, although they had different weights). Later, for example, the Italian lira or the Maltese lira were added, and with the adoption of the euro, they joined the long line of liras and pounds that no longer exist. To this day, however, the Turkish lira, the Lebanese li(b)li and the Syrian li(b)li still exist, and pounds are used in Egypt and a number of Commonwealth countries – of course, they are tied to the pound sterling.

A similar linguistic duality as in Great Britain, i.e. that the currency is named differently than its unit, also exists on the other side of the world. →

Round Chinese people

If you read economic news, you may have been struck by the double currency in China. Sometimes it is written about yuan (or yuan in English), other times about renminbi (and exceptionally in Czech about zhen-min-pi). For example, we have the Chinese yuan in our exchange rate card.

It’s similar to Britain. The currency is called ren-min-pi and its unit is yuan, further divided into ten jiao ty and ten fen each. The renminbi literally means people’s currency and has been around since 1948 when it was introduced by the People’s Bank of China. It is therefore formally one year older than the People’s Republic of China itself.

The word yuan itself means round and refers to the traditional shape of the coins. It is marked ¥ – just like the Japanese yen. And if the two currency names sound striking to you, it’s really not a coincidence. After all, the Korean won also has the same origin.

Woman-min-piSource: Shutterstock

Yuan means round, but today’s yuans are not round. Even one is only paper. And that the round one should perhaps be Chairman Mao? Just dare to think, after all, how much work did the engraver put in to make his faces a little smaller!

And to take a detour back to the beginning: the silver yuan used in imperial China were, like the yen and won, derived from the Spanish imperial dollar, which had been flown into China from Spanish possessions in the Americas from the 16th to the 20th century. Before that, however, in the long history of the Chinese empires, payment was made with other things, including cowrie shells.

The article is in Czech

Tags: Dollar sign peso pound lira yuan origin currency names

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