Another specialized multilingual site: Chess Pieces in Different Languages, the creation of Ari Luiro. Not only are the words for ‘chess,’ ‘check,’ and the pieces given in 64 languages, but there’s a nice historical introduction, piece by piece:

Words for chess queen in European languages are generally feminine, with a few exception. But outside Europe the chess queens usually don’t have gender or the piece is masculine. The Arabic firz or firzān (counsellor) was never translated into a European language although it was adopted. For example the Italians call the queen as donna (woman) or more common regina (queen in Italian). A Latin manuscript preserved in the Einsiedeln Monastery in Switzerland (997 AD) contains the first recorded mention of the chess queen (regina). In French usage reine ‘queen’ replaced fierce or fierge (from the Arabic fers) during the 14th century; during the next century reine was replaced by the word dame… Chess-players may have borrowed the word dame from the game of draughts. The transition from dame to queen would be natural, a desire to pair the central pieces…

Luiro’s native tongue is Finnish, so the English is a little awkward in places, but the information is great. And the languages are arranged more or less by family (though Finnish takes pride of place), so that you can compare, say, all the Turkic names; surprisingly, the words for ‘rook’ vary tremendously: Turkish kale, Azerbaijani top, Uzbek ruh, Tatar lad’ja (borrowed from Russian), Chuvash tura, Tuvin terge. Thanks, as so often, to aldiboronti at Wordorigins for the link.


  1. As far as I can tell, he really did a great and serious job.
    I admire that he noted the pronunciation ju1 for the character 車 (the cart, a piece of the original xiangqi 象棋, aka “Chinese chess”), which reads that way only when it means the chess piece (it is che1 otherwise; many sinophone foreigners don’t know the special “chess reading”).

  2. Some notes, probably insignificant.
    In Russian, ferz’ is sometimes called “koroleva” (f.ex., my dad found this use in Grossmeister Alehin’s book published in 1924)[queen].
    Slon is also called “officer” [bishop], which sort of corresponds to the “flagbearer” and “leader on the battlefield” in other languages.
    Peshka has same-root connections with words “peshij” (on foot-adj.) and “pekhota’ (foot soldiers)[pawn]. I am not sure of Ukranian “pishak” being another word for farmer, I’d rather suggest the same logic as in Russian – translation from Arabic.

  3. Note that all the Japanese words he lists are just straight borrowings of the English words. I presume this is because they were borrowed at the same time chess was (and from an English-speaking country).
    But Japan (and China, and probably other places in Asia) also have their own game which is derived from the same roots as chess: 将棋, shougi. This page has a frighteningly comprehensive list of shougi vocab:
    You can probably guess which piece is which — the 飛車, “flying chariot”, is equivalent to the rook — but there are some variants reflecting the differing evolution of the two games (the 香車,”fragrant chariot” or usually “lance” in English, is like a rook except it can’t move sideways until it is promoted).
    Here’s a page explaining the pieces and rules a little more:

  4. Thanks, that’s a great supplement! Here‘s a direct link to the vocabulary site. When I lived in Japan I tried to learn shogi but it was too confusing, since I was still trying to master chess.
    Tatyana: I hope Mr. Luiro sees your additions; I’m sure he’d want to add them to the list.

  5. Matt,
    The Chinese version is called xiangqi 象棋 (“boardgame of the elephant”, usually called “Chinese chess” in the West).
    The pieces and the board are quite different from shogi’s (game of the General), as, I assume, are the rules (I never played anything else than xiangqi, and never learned successfully the rules of Western chess).
    In xiangqi, some pieces have different names depending on their side: the General (jiang 将) is opposed to a Marshall (shuai 帅), the two Elephants to the Ministers 相 (both are ‘xiang’), one side’s ‘bing’ 兵 (soldiers) are the other side’s ‘zu’ 卒; the canons ‘pao’ and the officers ‘shi’ are usually written with variants (炮 can be written with the ‘stone’ radical instead of ‘fire’, and 士 with the ‘person’ radical added on the left).
    As Luiro rightly notes, Western chess is called “international (guoji) xiangqi” in Chinese. Sounds a bit better than “Orthodox Chess”, which I saw used on the otherwise very informative page.

  6. I checked, but did not see Quechua chess terms. Back when I was housing six illegal Bolivians I was learning Quechua. These guys were from Cochabamba, where pretty much everyone is bilingual, but chess was always played in Quechua. The King was, of course, the Inca, and the pawns were walpi (chickens).

  7. The rook (lad’ja) is sometimes called turA in Russian, apparently from la tour. This seems to explain the Chuvash term.

  8. You might appreciate the (very basic) article I wrote for the Latin wikipedia:

  9. It’s called “orthodox” chess because it’s according to the standard international rules. Any variant, whether traditional or newly invented, is heterodox by definition.

    (“Orthodoxy is my doxy, whereas heterodoxy is your doxy.”)

  10. Though the original site doesn’t exist, Ari Luiro’s article can be found HERE

    In Polish, the queen is technically called the hetman (an old military title functionally corresponding to ‘field marshal’ or ‘commander-in-chief’). Informally, among amateur players, the hetman goes transgender and becomes a queen (królowa). The bishop is formally goniec ‘runner, messenger’, and informally laufer (Ger. Läufer); the knight is formally skoczek ‘leaper, jumper’ (cf. Ger. Springer), and informally koń, konik ‘horse’. Of course a true chess person has nothing but scorn for the informal variants.

    The rook, now wieża ‘tower’ (as in many other languages) was once called roch (cf. rook). I regret the loss of such an ancient Persian gem, but the harm was done too long ago to be reparable. The old term has left its last trace in the derivative roszada ‘castling’ (Fr. roque).

  11. You omitted the link, but I presume you meant the site I’ve now replaced the dead Geocities link with in the post.

  12. Precisely 🙂

  13. David Marjanović says

    Ger. Springer

    Informally also Pferd


    Rochade in German, taken to be French and pronounced accordingly. Widely enough known to be applied to changes in government positions.

  14. Rochade in German, taken to be French and pronounced accordingly. Widely enough known to be applied to changes in government positions.

    Same here. It’s a small world.

  15. Stefan Holm says

    It’s a small world.

    Indeed – and here is the proof that we knew how to play chess prior to the battle of Stalingrad, when the Swedes were not anglified but more influenced by our continental big brother:

    Chess → schack (German Schach, c.f. ’Shah’).
    Pawn → bonde (’peasant’).
    Bishop → löpare (Low German Löper, ’runner’).
    Knight → springare (German Springer – or häst, ’horse’)
    Rook → torn. (Low German Toorn, ‘tower’)
    Queen → dam (Low German Daam, ‘dame’)
    King → kung.
    Castling → rockad (even figuratively ’change of positions’).

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