For the love of money

May 2, 2016 admin

Money, money, money, money … MONEY! Everyone spends it, invests it, earns it, most everyone saves it, and some international investors hedge it, but where did the names for different currencies originate?

Money has been making headlines in the United States recently with the changes that will be occurring with the $20 bill (and other bills as well). Andrew Jackson, former U.S. president and current face of the $20 bill, will be moved to the back of the bill and the face replaced with anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman.

If you think that’s interesting, here is the history on how a few currencies got their names:


The pound sterling (£) or, more commonly, the pound, is the currency used in the United Kingdom. The word pound is the English translation of the Latin word libra pondo, which means “weighed on to scales” and was the unit of account of the Roman Empire. The British pound derived from the Roman libra (which is why the pound is abbreviated to “lb”), along with the French livre, the Italian lira and the Portuguese libra, when, during Middle Ages the European countries adopted the £sd system.

The pound sterling may hold the title of the oldest currency still in use today, and its origins date back to around 760 during the reign of King Offa of Mercia. King Offa introduced the silver penny, which quickly spread throughout the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and became the standard coin in what is now known as England.

Stack of US CurrencyDollar

Dollar (often represented by the dollar sign $) is the name of several currencies, including those of Australia, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Namibia, New Zealand, Singapore, Suriname, Taiwan, the United States and, previously, Zimbabwe. In addition, the U.S. dollar is the official currency of East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, the Caribbean Netherlands and, for banknotes, Panama.

In 1520, the Czech Kingdom of Bohemia began minting coins from silver mined locally in Joachimsthal and marked on reverse with the Czech lion. The coins were called “Joachimsthaler,” which became shortened in common usage to thaler or taler. The German name “Joachimsthal” literally means “Joachim’s valley” or “Joachim’s dale.” This name found its way into other languages: Czech tolar, Hungarian tallér, Danish and Norwegian (rigs) daler, Sweish (riks) daler, Icelandic dalur, Dutch (rijks) daalder or daler, Ethiopian (talari), Italian tallero, Polish talar, Persian dare, as well as — via Dutch — into English as dollar.


One of the newest currencies in this list is the euro, which was introduced on Jan. 1, 1999, when it became the official currency of 11 of the European Union’s Member States. The name was suggested during the planning phase in 1995 by Theo Waigel, who was finance minister of Germany at the time.

The euro gradually replaced the old national currencies in two stages. The first stage involved using the euro only for electronic and virtual payments, while the old currencies were still used for cash transactions. During these cash transactions, old currencies were considered “sub-units” of the euro. Then, on Jan. 1, 2002, euro banknotes and coins were introduced.


In the Nordic region, many currencies are derived from the Latin word for crown (coruna). Sweden has the krona (singular)/kronor (plural); Denmark and Norway the krone/kroner; Iceland and Faroe Islands the króna. In addition, the Czech Republic has the koruna, while historically Estonia (kroon), Hungary (korona) and Slovakia (koruna) all had crown-derived names for currencies.

Among these, possibly the most important is the national currency of Sweden, the Swedish krona. The current Swedish krona came into being after it replaced the previously used currency named riksdaler, which was replaced in 1873 as Sweden decided to join with the “Scandinavian Monetary Union” along with Norway and Denmark. The currency was on the Gold Standard at the time. The Scandinavian Monetary Union broke after the World War I, and while the member countries went back to their own currency system, they kept the name.


The Mexican peso is one of the oldest currencies, as it is a direct descendant of the Spanish dollar. Peso was a given name in Spain and particularly in Hispanic America to the 8-royal coin or real de a ocho, a large silver coin of the type commonly known as a thaler (dollar) in Europe. This real de a ocho or peso was minted in Spain from the mid 16th century, and even more prolifically in Spanish America, in the mints of Mexico and Peru. It was originally known as the “pieces of eight” in English, due to the nominal value of 8 reales.

This currency — the Spanish pieces of eight — is the forefather of many international currencies including the U.S. dollar, Canadian dollar and Chinese yuan among others. It is the basic tender for economic activity in Mexico. It is one of the most traded currencies in North America, third largest in the United States and 13th largest in the world.


The yen (¥) is the currency of Japan and is the third most traded currency, next to the euro and U.S. dollar. Japanese yen comes in both coins and banknotes. Now exclusively issued by the Bank of Japan, yen banknotes have historically come from a variety of sources, including the Ministry of Finance and the Imperial Japanese National Bank.

Since World War II, yen notes have been available in denominations of 1,000; 2,000; 5,000; and 10,000. Yen coinage is made in aluminum, nickel, cupro-nickel, brass, and even gold and silver, although the latter two are primarily collectible and would not usually be used in their 100,000-yen denominations.


The yuan is the currency of China and the base unit of the entire Chinese money system, the renminbi (RMB). Coins in circulation at this time are 1 yuan, 1 jiao and 5 jiao; 10 jiao equals 1 yuan. Banknotes start at 1 yuan and go up to 100 yuan.

The yuan became China’s currency shortly after the Communists took over mainland China in 1948. The Renminbi currency system translates literally as “the peoples’ currency.” At that time the country was suffering massive inflation, and the new currency stabilized the economy.

And, for a little fun, here are some fictional currencies:

The term “credit” is found in many Science Fiction movies, television shows and books such as Total Recall, Demolition Man, Babylon 5 and Ender’s Game.

Currency of the movie Escape from L.A.

Space buck
Currency of the movie Spaceballs.

Currency of the Harry Potter books and movies.

Currencies of The Flintstones television show.

DenisewebfinalThe views, statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Institutional Real Estate, Inc.

Not a subscriber to IREI Insights blog? Sign up to receive alerts on new blog posts.

Denise DeChaine is special projects editor at Institutional Real Estate, Inc.

Previous Article
Real estate stands tall
Real estate stands tall

Real estate’s recent performance has elevated its stature and garnered more attention from investors. It ha...

Next Article
Celebrate diversity
Celebrate diversity

Perhaps the most interesting development as it relates to the opportunities in the infrastructure investmen...