"Yona" is a Pali word used in ancient India to designate Greek speakers. Its equivalent in Sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil is the word "Yavana". "Yona" and Yavana are both transliterations of the Greek word for "Ionians" (Homer Iāones, older *Iāwones), who were probably the first Greeks to be known in the East. In Telugu another word "Yavanika", means drama stage, an invention brought by Hellenistic people. "Yunani", likewise, means medicine from Greeks.
Direct identification of these words with the Greeks include:
- The mention of the "Yona king Antiochus" in the Edicts of Ashoka (280 BCE)
- The mention of the "Yona king Antialcidas" in the Heliodorus pillar in Vidisha (110 BCE)
- King Menander and his bodyguard of "500 Yonas" in the Milinda Panha.
- The description of Greek astrology and Greek terminology in the Yavanajataka ("Sayings of the Yavanas") (150 CE).
- The mention of "Alexandria, the city of the Yonas" in the Mahavamsa, Chapter 29 (4th century CE).
Although the association with eastern Greeks seems to have been quite precise and systematic until the beginning of our era (other foreigners had their own descriptor, such as Sakas, Pahlavas, Kambojas etc...), these terms came to designate more generally "Europeans" and later "foreigners" in the following centuries.