Attested since the Ming dynasty, with the second character pronounced like zhuā. Its usage was gradually surpassed by 寮國, until it was reintroduced as the official name for Laos in the 1950s by PRC marshal Chen Yi. The wō pronunciation for the second character is relatively recent (from the 1960s), most likely since 老撾 as a whole was re-interpreted as a transcription of Lao ລາວ (lāo, “Lao”).
The origin of the second character is less clear:
- According to Dianlüe (滇略), written by the Ming dynasty writer Xie Zhaozhe (謝肇淛), 撾 is a corruption of 爪 (zhuǎ, “animal claws (which the Lao people used as ornaments)”).
- Alternatively, modern writer Cai Wencong (蔡文欉) postulates that 撾 comes from Lao ຊວາ (suā, “Sua, the ancient name of Luang Prabang”).
- → Zhuang: Laujvoh