The term Carnival is traditionally used in areas with a large Catholic presence, as well as in Greece. The Philippines, a predominantly Roman Catholic country in Asia, also celebrates Carnival (or Mardi Gras). In historically Evangelical Lutheran countries, the celebration is known as Fastelavn, and in areas with a high concentration of Anglicans (Church of England / Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.), Methodists, and other Protestants, pre-Lenten celebrations, along with penitential observances, occur on Shrove Tuesday. In Slavic Eastern Orthodox nations, Maslenitsa is celebrated during the last week before Great Lent. In German-speaking Europe and the Netherlands, the Carnival season traditionally opens on 11/11 (often at 11:11 a.m.). This dates back to celebrations before the Advent season or with harvest celebrations of St. Martin's Day.
The Latin-derived name of the holiday is sometimes also spelled Carnaval, typically in areas where Dutch, German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese are spoken, or Carnevale in Italian-speaking contexts. Alternative names are used for regional and local celebrations.
Folk etymologies state that the word comes from the Late Latin expression carne levare, which means "farewell to meat", signifying the approaching fast. The word carne may also be translated as flesh, producing "a farewell to the flesh", a phrase embraced by certain carnival celebrants to embolden the festival's carefree spirit. However, this interpretation is not supported by philological evidence.
Other scholars argue that the origin is the festival of the Navigium Isidis ("ship of Isis"), where the image of Isis was carried to the seashore to bless the start of sailing season. The festival consisted of a parade of masks following an adorned wooden boat, called in Latin carrus navalis, possibly the source of both the name and the parade floats.
From the anthropological point of view, carnival is a reversal ritual, in which social roles are reversed and norms about desired behavior are suspended, an orgiastic saturnalian atmosphere that overturned social norms.