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What does "Bundesliga" mean?

The Bundesliga, sometimes referred to as the "Fußball-Bundesliga" is the top division for soccer in Germany, but where does the name come from and what does it mean?

The literal translation of "Bundesliga” would be "Federal League", which is slightly less catchy than the German. To understand the process behind the name, though, you need to know a little about the history of the league.

Prior to the introduction of the Bundesliga in 1963, football in Germany was conducted at regional levels, split into four Oberliga (North, South, West and Southwest), as well as the Vertragsliga Berlin.

The German Bundesliga is clearly a league, but what does the name really mean? - Matthias Hangst/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images

The name of the latter rose about when the city's league began to operate with licenced (Vertrag) players. The others would be referred to as regional premier leagues as the top level in those areas (Ober meaning top).

The reason behind this precise regional split stems from the outcome of World War II when Germany was divided between the victorious Allied powers. Territories under French, British and American administration would form what was known as West Germany, while Soviet-controlled land became East Germany. As the capital, Berlin was also split.

Sport, and particularly football, was then organised roughly along these lines at regional levels. The DFB (Deutscher Fußball-Bund) would then organise a season-ending knockout tournament between regional winners to determine the champion of (West) Germany.

Prior to 1963/64, the champions of Germany were crowned in a final after a season-ending tournament among regional winners. - imago sportfotodienst/imago/Ferdi Hartung

There had long been talk of a national league, bringing Germany in line with most other European countries. Sepp Herberger, who managed West Germany to their first FIFA World Cup title in 1954, was one of the most prominent voices. However, it was in fact the national ice hockey league that came first and took the name 'Bundesliga'.

When the DFB voted in 1962 to create a nationwide league, they too took this name. It's not known exactly who came up with the idea, but its foundation is rather simple.

"Liga" is obviously "league" and can be seen in German leagues past and present: Gauliga, Bezirksliga, Regionalliga, Landesliga, Verbandsliga and more.

"Bundes", however, gives less away. It's a common feature of German political language and can be seen in the Bundestag, Bundesland and Bundeswehr, just to name a few.

Germany’s 1954 FIFA World Cup winning coach Sepp Herberger was one of the main proponents of a national league, eventually leading to the creation of the Bundesliga. - imago images / Rust

These are the German parliament, a German state and the German army. They are examples of the German language's ability to create compound nouns. Strictly speaking, though, "Bundes" does not mean "German".

A "Bund" is a confederation/federation, in this case the German federation, or country as a whole. When tagged into the front of a noun, as "Bundes", it is literally translated as "federal". Therefore, there's the federal parliament, federal state, federal army and, of course, federal league.

Now, as a translation, this is neither pretty nor particularly helpful unless it's clear from context what's being talked about.

18 teams compete in the Bundesliga every season. - Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

However, the simple fact that something in German is being referred to as a "Bundes-" something means it's about Germany, and not another country.

Therefore, while the Bundesliga literally means "Federal League", a more logical translation would simply be "German League", more specifically a nationwide German league encompassing the entire "Bund" instead of its regions.