Shqiptar (definite Albanian form: Shqip(ë)tari; Gheg Albanian: Shqyptar/-i; plural: Shqiptarë/-t, Shqyptarë/-t) is an Albanian ethnonym (endonym), by which Albanians call themselves. They call their country Shqipëria (Gheg Albanian: Shqypnia, Shqipnia).
During the Middle Ages, the Albanians called their country Arbëria (Gheg: Arbënia) and referred to themselves as Arbëresh (Gheg: Arbënesh) while known through derivative terms by neighbouring peoples as Arbanasi, Arbanenses / Albaneses, Arvanites (Arbanites), Arnaut, Arbineş and so on. The words Shqipëri and Shqiptar are attested from 14th century onward, but it was only at the end of 17th and beginning of the early 18th centuries that the placename Shqipëria and the ethnic demonym Shqiptarë gradually replaced Arbëria and Arbëreshë amongst Albanian speakers. This was due to socio-political, cultural, economic and religious complexities that Albanians experienced during the Ottoman era. The usage of the old endonym Arbënesh/Arbëresh, however, persisted and was retained by Albanian communities which had migrated from Albania and adjacent areas centuries before the change of the self-designation, namely the Arbëreshë of Italy, the Arvanites of Greece as well as Arbanasi in Croatia. As such, the medieval migrants to Greece and later migrants to Italy during the 15th-century are not aware of the term Shqiptar.
The first documentation of the adverb/adjective shqip can already be found in the Meshari, the oldest Albanian language book published in 1555 by Gjon Buzuku. Johann Georg von Hahn (1854) was the first to derive the term Shqiptar from the Albanian verbs shqipoj ("to speak clearly") and shqiptoj ("to speak out, pronounce"). While Gustav Meyer (1891) was the first to derive shqipoj from the Latin verb excipere, denoting people who speak the same language, similar to the ethno-linguistic dichotomies Sloven—Nemac and Deutsch—Wälsch. This etymology is widely accepted by modern Albanologists. Demetrio Camarda (1864) on the other hand, was the first to derive Shqiptar from the Albanian noun shqipe or shqiponjë (eagle). This theory, now considered a folk etymology, is based mainly on the symbolic meaning of the eagle for the Albanian people, as it is their national bird, a totem associated with freedom and heroism in Albanian folklore. It has been used as a national symbol since their earliest records, and was a common heraldic symbol for many Albanian dynasties in the Late Middle Ages; an example is the flag of Skanderbeg, whose family symbol was the black double-headed eagle, which is displayed on the Albanian flag.
The term Šiptar (Cyrillic: Шиптар, Shiptar; plural: Šiptari, Cyrillic: Шиптари, Shiptars) used in Serbo-Croatian, Slovene and Macedonian is denoted in an offensive manner and it is also considered derogatory by Albanians when used by South Slavic peoples, due to its negative connotations. After 1945, in pursuit of a policy of national equality, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia designated the Albanian community as ‘Šiptari’, however with increasing autonomy during the 1960s for Kosovo Albanians, their leadership requested and attained in 1974 the term Albanci (Albanians) be officially used stressing a national over an only ethnic, self-identification. These developments resulted in the word Šiptari in Serbian usage acquiring pejorative connotations that implied Albanian racial and cultural inferiority. It continued to be used by some Yugoslav and Serb politicians to relegate the status of Albanians to simply one of the minority ethnic groups. The official term for Albanians in South Slavic languages is Albanac (Cyrillic: Албанац, Slovene: Albanec; plural: Albanci, Cyrillic: Албанци).
"The name used in all these references is, allowing for linguistic variations, the same: 'Albanenses' or 'Arbanenses' in Latin, 'Albanoi' or 'Arbanitai' in Byzantine Greek. (The last of these, with an internal switching of consonants, gave rise to the Turkish form 'Arnavud', from which 'Arnaut' was later derived.)"
"Their traditional designation, based on a root *alban- and its rhotacized variants *arban-, *albar-, and *arbar-, appears from the 11th century onwards in Byzantine chronicles as Albanoi, Arbanitai, Arbanites, and from the 14th century onwards in Latin and other Western documents as Albanenses and Arbanenses."
"The name with the root arb- is mentioned in old Albanian documents, but it went out of use in the main part of Albanian-speaking area and remains in use only in diaspora dialects (It.-Alb. arbëresh, Gr.-Alb. arvanitas). In other areas, it has been replaced by the term with the root shqip-."
"The ethnic name shqiptar has always been discussed together with the ethnic complex: (tosk) arbëresh, arbëror, arbër — (gheg) arbënesh, arbënu(e)r, arbën; i.e. [arbën/r(—)]. [...] Among the neighbouring peoples and elsewhere the denomination of the Albanians is based upon the root arb/alb, cp. Greek ’Αλβανός, ’Αρβανός "Albanian", ‘Αρβανίτης "Arbëresh of Greece", Serbian Albanac, Arbanas, Bulg., Mac. албанец, Arom. arbinés (Papahagi 1963 135), Turk. arnaut, Ital. albanese, German Albaner etc. This basis is in use among the Arbëreshs of Italy and Greece as well."
"They called themselves arbënesh, arbëresh, the country Arbëni, Arbëri, and the language arbëneshe, arbëreshe. In the foreign languages, the Middle Ages denominations of these names survived, but for the Albanians they were substituted by shqiptarë, Shqipëri and shqipe... Shqip spread out from the north to the south, and Shqipni/Shqipëri is probably a collective noun, following the common pattern of Arbëni, Arbëri."
"Arbëreshë was the term self-designiation of Albanians before the Ottoman invasion of the 15 century; similar terms are used for Albanian origins populations living in Greece ("Arvanitika," the Greek rendering of Arbëreshë) and Turkey ("Arnaut," Turkish for the Greek term Arvanitika)".
"The Albanians who use the 'Alb-' root are the ones who emigrated to Italy in the fifteenth century, who call themselves 'Arberesh'."
"Данас уобичајени назив за Албанце, односно Албанију, shqiptar, Shqiperia, новијег је датума. Албанци који су се у средњем веку населили у Грчкој и они који су се у 15. веку и касније иселили у Италију у ствари не знају за ово име. Порекло назива shqiptar није једнозначно утврђено. Доскора је било омиљено тумачење да је изведен од албанског shqipe „властела, племство“, дакле „властелински синови“. Вероватније је, међутим, да је модеран назив који су Албанци себи дали изведен од shqipon „јасно рећи“ или од shqipton „изговорити“ (у поређењу са словенским називом немци „неми; они који не говоре разумљиво")."
"There is similar terminological confusion over the name for the inhabitants of the region. After 1945, in pursuit of a policy of national equality, the Communist Party designated the Albanian community as ‘Šiptari’ (Shqiptare, in Albanian), the term used by Albanians themselves to mark the ethnic identity of any member of the Albanian nation, whether living in Albania or elsewhere.… However, with the increased territorial autonomy of Kosovo in the late 1960s, the Albanian leadership requested that the term ‘Albanians’ be used instead—thus stressing national, rather than ethnic, self-identification of the Kosovar population. The term ‘Albanians’ was accepted and included in the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution. In the process, however, the Serbian version of the Albanian term for ethnic Albanians—‘Šiptari’—had acquired an openly pejorative flavor, implying cultural and racial inferiority. Nowadays, even though in the documents of post- socialist Serbia the term ‘Albanians’ is accepted as official, many state and opposition party leaders use the term ‘Šiptari’ indiscriminately in an effort to relegate the Kosovo Albanians to the status of one among many minority groups in Serbia. Thus the quarrel over the terms used to identify the region and its inhabitants has acquired a powerful emotional and political significance for both communities."