Most Berber people live in North Africa, mainly in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. Small Berber populations are also found in Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Egypt, as well as large immigrant communities living in France, Spain, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and other countries of Europe.
The majority of Berbers are Sunni Muslim. The Berber identity is usually wider than language and ethnicity, and encompasses the entire history and geography of North Africa. Berbers are not an entirely homogeneous ethnicity and they encompass a range of societies and ancestries. The unifying forces for the Berber people may be their shared language, or a collective identification with Berber heritage and history.
There are some twenty-five to thirty million Berber speakers in North Africa. The number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is far greater, as a large part of the Berbers have acquired other languages over the course of many decades or centuries, and no longer speak Berber today. The majority of North Africa's population is believed to be Berber in origin, although due to Arabization most ethnic Berbers identify as Arabized Berbers.
Berbers call themselves some variant of the word i-Mazigh-en (singular: a-Mazigh), possibly meaning "free people" or "noble men". The name probably had its ancient parallel in the Roman and Greek names for Berbers, Mazices. Some of the best known of the ancient Berbers are the Numidian king Masinissa, king Jugurtha, the Berber-Roman author Apuleius, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the Berber-Roman general Lusius Quietus, who was instrumental in defeating the major wave of Jewish revolts of 115–117. Dihya or Kahina was a religious and military leader who led a fierce Berber resistance against the Arab-Muslim expansion in Northwest Africa. Kusaila was a seventh-century leader of the Awraba tribe of the Berber people and King of the Sanhadja confederation. Yusuf ibn Tashfin was king of the Berber Almoravid dynasty; Tariq ibn Ziyad the general who conquered Hispania; Abbas Ibn Firnas, a prolific inventor and early pioneer in aviation; Ibn Battuta, a medieval explorer who traveled the longest known distances of his time.
The name Berber derives from an ancient Egyptian language term meaning "outlander" or variations thereof. The exonym was later adopted by the Greeks, with a similar connotation. Among its oldest written attestations, Berber appears as an ethnonym in the 1st century AD Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.