Who named the Anzacs?

There have been occasional attempts to point out similarities, or to attribute the origins of ‘Anzac’ to Turkish words; Captain W. J. Denny in The Diggers in 1919 wrote:1

It was discovered that there is an Arabian word called Anzac or Anzag–the meaning of which is “To cause to jump!” In view of this distinctive attribute having been so gallantly displayed at the famous landing at Gallipoli and the fact of the word being Oriental, this conception seemed so appropriate that it was forthwith accepted by many.

In 1956 Alan Moorehead noted in Gallipoli:2

The word bears an unfortunate resemblance to the Turkish ‘ANSAC’ which means ‘almost’.

While these curiosities may have ‘almost’ convinced some to ponder their relevance, ANZAC the acronym, and Anzac the name, had origins far more obvious and literal.

Simply, ANZAC is the acronym for the “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”; the result of combining the “Australian Imperial Force” and “New Zealand Expeditionary Force” in the early days of the First World War. At the time, December 1914, both armies were stationed in Egypt under the command of the British officer, Lieutenant-General William Birdwood.

ANZAC, in its brevity, was handy for administration uses, it was originally written as A. and N.Z.A.C.

Charles Bean3, the Australian historian, noted in 1936 (from a 1915 report) its use as a rubber stamp and as a stencil on packing crates.

The origin of the official acronym ANZAC, and the more colloquial Anzac has been attributed to, or claimed by a number of people. Both General Birdwood and the campaign Commander-in-chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton claimed authorship of its origination. New Zealander Fred Waite noted this in his 1919 book The New Zealanders at Gallipoli:4

In the Anzac Book General Birdwood stated that when he took over the command of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in Egypt, he was asked to select a telegraphic code address for his Army Corps, and adopted the word ‘Anzac.’ Later on, after the landing, he was asked by General Headquarters to suggest a name for the beach, and in reply he christened it ‘Anzac Cove. 5

General Ian Hamilton in his introduction to Crusading at Anzac, published in 1916 by Ellis Silas, wrote: ‘As the man who first, seeking to save himself trouble, omitted the five full stops and brazenly coined the word ‘Anzac,’ I am glad to write a line or two in preface to sketches which may help to give currency to that token throughout the realms of glory. 6

Attribution had also been given to Birdwood by a number of other authors, including Captain W. J. Denny in The Diggers, also published in 1919: 7

General Birdwood himself thus relates the origin of the word: ‘When I took over the command of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in Egypt, I was asked to select a telegraphic code address for my Army Corps, and then adapted the name Anzac. Later on, when we had effected our landing, I was asked by General Head Quarters to suggest a name for the beach where we had made good our first precarious footing, and then asked that this might be recorded as ‘Anzac Cove’–a name which the bravery of our men had now made historical, while it will remain a geographical landmark for all time.

It has become acknowledged in later years, that both identities, A.N.Z.A.C and Anzac, where adopted under the command of Birdwood – rather than later by Hamilton once the Gallipoli campaign had begun:

An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (1966)8

The term Anzac is the abbreviation of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and was first adopted by Field-Marshall W. R. Birdwood when he took command of this Corps in Egypt late in 1914.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of New Zealand (1989)9

ANZAC is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps which was formed in Egypt from the Australian and New Zealand Division immediately before the landing on Gallipoli in World War One.

Australians at War (2001)10

In Egypt, the Dominion troops were placed under the command of Lieutenant General William Birdwood… he approved the acronym ANZAC for the newly formed Australian and New Zealand Corps.

But what about the staff involved in creating the abbreviated “ANZAC” for official purposes, and that soon to be adopted name given to the soldiers; the “Anzacs” who landed at “Anzac Cove”?

We again look to Bean in 1936; he attributed the acronym to Lieutenant A. T. White of the (British) Royal Army Service Corps:9

One day early in 1915 Major C.M. Wagstaff, then a junior member of the “operations” section of Birdwood’s staff, walked into the General Staff office and mentioned to the clerks that a convenient word was wanted as a code name for the Corps… one of the clerks, (according to most accounts Lt. A. T. White) suggested: “How about ANZAC?” Major Wagstaff proposed the word to the General who approved of it, and “ANZAC” thereupon became the code name of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. It was however, some time before the code word came into everyday use, and at the Landing at Gallipoli many men in the divisions had not yet heard of it.

Here the “staff” attributions may have ended. However, following the death of Lt. White, a consequent obituary published in the December 1936 issue of Reveille, the Australian Returned Services League newspaper, a New Zealand Sergeant, K.M. Little, wrote a follow-up letter: 10

Regarding the passing of Major A. T. White, by my wartime friend, Mr. H. J. MacLennan, ‘Mac’ is slightly out in attributing to White the coining of the word ‘Anzac’. Present in the room in Shepheard’s at the time of the birth of the word were White, Garside, MacLennan, Frank Shaw, and myself. Major Wagstaff or Colonel Leslie came in and told us to endeavour to hit upon a suitable word for a code address for our headquarters. We set about the job in a listless fashion, and I distinctly remember the concoctions we produced, such as “Ausnew,” and various such combinations of the long-winded title. It was while pondering on the business that I sorted out the letters (A.N.Z.A.C.), and made the suggestion to White that perhaps the word they formed would serve. At that moment, Leslie came into our room, and White offered the suggestion to him. He said, ‘Anzac!’ H’mm, sounds all right, I’ll see the General.’ He left to consult General Birdwood, and finally the name was adopted.

Consequent authors have acknowledged Little as the instigator of “Anzac”. In 1965 Robert James wrote in Gallipoli:11

Little and Millington had cut a rubber stamp, with the initials A. & N. Z. A. C. at Corps headquarters, situated in Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo… when a code name was required for the Corps, a British officer, a Lt. White suggested ‘ANZAC’. Little later claimed that he made the original suggestion to White. It was in general use by January, 1915.

In 2000, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History stated:13

The acronym itself was probably devised at Birdwood’s headquarters by a New Zealand clerk, Sergeant K.M. Little, for use on a rubber stamp. Some time later it was taken on as the telegraph code word for the corps.

Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo, Egypt. Luggage Label. Ink Eats Man Photo.

Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo, Egypt. Luggage Label.
Photo: Ink Eats Man


1), 7) Denny, W. J., Captain. M.C., M.P. The Diggers. London, Hodder and Stoughton nd circa 1919

2) Moorehead, Alan, Gallipoli. Sydney, Hamish Hamilton Ltd 1956

3), 9) Bean, C. E. W., The story of ANZAC, Official History of Australia in the war of 1914-1918. Sydney, Angus & Robertson 1936

4) Waite, Fred, The New Zealanders at Gallipoli. Christchurch, Whitcombe & Tombs Limited 1919

5) The Anzac book; written and illustrated in Gallipolli by the men of Anzac. London, Cassell 1916

6) From preface by General Ian Hamilton; Ellis, Silas Crusading at Anzac, A.D. 1915. London, British Australian 1916

8) McLintock, A. H. Ed. An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Wellington, R. E. Owen, Government Printer 1966

9) McLauchlan, Gordon Ed., The Illustrated Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Auckland, David Bateman 1989

10) Cochrane Peter, Australians at War, ABC Books 2001

11) Little, K. M.  N.Z.E.F., Box 69, Fielding, New Zealand. From ‘Reveille’, the RSL journal,1936

12) James, R. R., Gallipoli. Sydney, Angus & Robertson 1965

13) McGibbon, Ian, Ed. The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History. Auckland, Oxford University Press 2000


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