The word Canaanites serves as an ethnic catch-all term covering various indigenous populations—both settled and nomadic-pastoral groups—throughout the regions of the southern Levant or Canaan. It is by far the most frequently used ethnic term in the Bible. In the Book of Joshua, Canaanites are included in a list of nations to exterminate, and later described as a group which the Israelites had annihilated. Biblical scholar Mark Smith notes that archaeological data suggests "that the Israelite culture largely overlapped with and derived from Canaanite culture... In short, Israelite culture was largely Canaanite in nature.":13–14 The name "Canaanites" (כְּנָעַנִיְםkena‘anim,כְּנָעַנִיkena‘anī) is attested, many centuries later, as the endonym of the people later known to the Ancient Greeks from c. 500 BC as Phoenicians, and following the emigration of Canaanite-speakers to Carthage (founded in the 9th century BC), was also used as a self-designation by the Punics (chanani) of North Africa during Late Antiquity.
Map of the Near East by Robert de Vaugondy (1762), indicating Canaan as limited to the Holy Land, to the exclusion of Lebanon and Syria
The English term Canaan (pronounced ən/ since c. 1500, due to the Great Vowel Shift) comes from the Hebrewכנען (knʿn), via GreekΧαναάνKhanaan and LatinCanaan. It appears as 𒆳𒆠𒈾𒄴𒈾 (KURki-na-ah-na) in the Amarna letters (14th century BC), and knʿn is found on coins from Phoenicia in the last half of the 1st millennium. It first occurs in Greek in the writings of Hecataeus as Khna (Χνᾶ). Scholars connect the name Canaan with knʿn, Kana'an, the general Northwest Semitic name for this region.
The etymology is uncertain. An early explanation derives the term from the Semitic rootknʿ "to be low, humble, subjugated". Some scholars have suggested that this implies an original meaning of "lowlands", in contrast with Aram, which would then mean "highlands", whereas others have suggested it meant "the subjugated" as the name of Egypt's province in the Levant, and evolved into the proper name in a similar fashion to Provincia Nostra (the first Roman colony north of the Alps, which became Provence).
An alternative suggestion put forward by Ephraim Avigdor Speiser in 1936 derives the term from HurrianKinahhu, purportedly referring to the colour purple, so that Canaan and Phoenicia would be synonyms ("Land of Purple"). Tablets found in the Hurrian city of Nuzi in the early 20th century appear to use the term Kinahnu as a synonym for red or purple dye, laboriously produced by the Kassite rulers of Babylon from murex shells as early as 1600 BC, and on the Mediterranean coast by the Phoenicians from a byproduct of glassmaking. Purple cloth became a renowned Canaanite export commodity which is mentioned in Exodus. The dyes may have been named after their place of origin. The name 'Phoenicia' is connected with the Greek word for "purple", apparently referring to the same product, but it is difficult to state with certainty whether the Greek word came from the name, or vice versa. The purple cloth of Tyre in Phoenicia was well known far and wide and was associated by the Romans with nobility and royalty. However, according to Robert Drews, Speiser's proposal has generally been abandoned.