Literal Translations of Every Country's Name
Uncovering the origins of a nation's name is no easy feat, with various interpretations as well as countries going through a number of different names over the course of the world's history.
We reviewed every country, as recognized by the United Nations, and uncovered the history behind each country's name. Read on to learn the meaning behind the places you love and wish to visit!
Afghanistan: Mountainous Country
An appropriate name for the landlocked Asian country, Afghanistan is home to the Hindu Kush and the Pamir mountains. Hindu Kush extends from the Himalayas, and the Pamir are referred to as "Roof of the World" by the Afghans.
The name also means "Land of the Pashtuns," who were the tribal people of the Hindu Kush mountains.
*Note: Translations are from a report by Credit Card Compare.
Albania: Land of Eagles
The Albanian word for their country is Shqipëria, which translates directly into "Land of Eagles." The name comes from the legend of a boy hunter granted the vision of an eagle and the strength to match.
He was referred to as the "son of the eagles," and the land in which he lived became the name of the country.
Algeria: The Islands
Although Algeria is not an island nation, thee small islands located off of its coast earned it the name Al Jazain, which is Arabic for "the islands."
The name was bestowed by Bologhine ibn Ziri, who founded Algiers in 944.
Andorra: Shrub-Covered Land
Located between Spain and France, Andorra's name is said to derive from andurrial, which means "shrub-covered land" in Basque.
Still, the tiny country in the Pyrenees also could be named from the Spanish andar, which means "to walk."
Angola: The Land of Ngola
The medieval African kingdom known as Ndongo was home to Ngola, the lineage system that ruled the kingdom between the 14th and 17th centuries.
The Portuguese invaded in 1915, defeating its last king. That kingdom became the modern-day Angola.
Antigua and Barbuda: Our Own
The dual Caribbean islands that create the nation of Antigua and Barbuda originally were named by the aboriginals who lived in the tropical paradise. The name they used, wadadli, means "our own."
When Christopher Columbus "discovered" the island, he incorporated the wadadli name as Antigua when he named it Santa Maria de la Antigua. In Spanish, Antigua means old, and it was likely a mistake on his part that the translation did not match.
Argentina: Land Beside the Silvery River
The river that gave rise to the name Argentina is the Río de la Plata, which translates into "River of Silver." The name was given by Spanish explorers who were given silver items when bartering with tribes along the river. They were hopeful the river would be full of the precious metal.
The river estuary is located at the convergence of Argentina and Uruguay.
Armenia: Land of Hayk
Hayk is the tribal chief who led his people into freedom from Assyrian overlords. After a mighty battle, the people named their land for their brave ruler, calling it Hayastan.
The great-grandson of Hayk, Aram, led to the land's present-day name.
Australia: Southern Land
Australia's name comes from Latin, australis, which means "southern."
When English explorer Matthew Flinders discovered the continent, he named it Terra Australia("Southern Land").
Austria: Eastern Realm
Germany was once a mighty force over Europe and long before the Hapsburgs ruled Austria, the land was part of Germany.
As it is east of German Bavaria, it was naturally referred to as the "eastern realm," which in German is Osterreich.
Azerbaijan: Land of Fire
A unique natural phenomena — gas emitting from fissures in the ground that cause fires to burn on its hillsides — is credited for the naming of Azerbaijan. Marco Polo stumbled across the fires and passed along the stories of the land on fire during his journeys.
The country offers a shrine of fire in Ateshgah as a place of worship, and its name dates back to Persian times.
Bahamas: Land of Shallow Sea
Christopher Columbus gets credit for the name of this collection of islands that form the Bahamas.
With 700 islands scattered about, the water can get shallow for passing ships and Columbus rightfully deemed it baja mar, meaning "shallow sea" in Spanish.
Bahrain: The Two Seas
The tiny Arab nation of Bahrain is an archipelago between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. To its west is the Gulf of Bahrain; to its east is the Persian Gulf.
With "two seas" flanking it, it was called al-bahrayn in Arabic, which means exactly that.
Bangladesh: Land of the Bengals
The Bengal people of Asia lived in a land often incorporated into India and Pakistan over its centuries. When British colonial rule ended in 1947, the land was divided into free West Bengal and East Bengal, which remained under Pakistan's authority. Referred to as East Pakistan, the Bengals fought hard for independence from Pakistan and won it in 1971.
The two regions combined into Bangladesh, deriving its name from the Sanskrit desha, which means "land" or "country."
Barbados: The Bearded Ones
It wasn't a tribe of bearded men that earned Barbados its name. Instead, it was the shortleaf fig tree (Ficus citrifolia) that caught the eye of Portuguese explorers.
With long, hanging roots, the trees appear to have beards, earning the island the name Os Barbados.
Belarus: White Russian
Belarus was under Russian authority for quite some time, with Rus a shortening of "Russia." The term Belaya Rus, or "white Russia," can be found in medieval references and was predominant after Lithuania's annexing of the land in the 1500s.
Some say the term refers to the Christianized Slavs while others believe it is a descriptor of the people's fairer hair and complexions.
Belgium: Land of the Belgae
Back when much of Europe was divided by tribes, the native people who inhabited Gaul north of the Seine and Marne Rivers were first called Belgae by Julius Caesar during his conquests.
Belgae is simply Latin for "Belgians."
Belize: Muddy-Wattered Land
There is some question as to whether the name Belize derives from "muddy waters" or "land facing the sea," but either way, Belize's name comes from its ancient Mayan people.
The muddy water reference, Balix, refers to the country's Belize River. The sea-facing name, Belikin, refers to its Caribbean Sea border.
Benin: Land of Argument
Before 1975, Benin was known as Dahomey and was split into two colonies. One was a French colony in the southern lands that make up the current country. The northern lands were formally the kingdom of Borgu.
When the land was united into its current status, after freedom from France, it was renamed after the Bay of Benin. Some say the meaning of the name is "Land of Argument," which may stem from the all-female women warriors known as the Dora Milaje.
Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon
Bhutan has long been a mystery to other civilizations, keeping much of the world out of its Himalayan country and preserving its ancient traditions.
In Bhutanese, "Bhutan" is Druk Yul. "Druk" is a thunder dragon of both Bhutanese and Tibetan mythology, sending thunder to roll down from the mountains. The dragon also appears on the nation's flag, and leaders are even called Druk Gyalpo, "Thunder Dragon Kings."
Bolivia: Bolivar's Land
Venezuelan-born Simón Bolívar fought hard against the Spanish to help South American nations achieve independence before his death in 1830.
To honor the continental hero nicknamed El Libertador ("The Liberator"), Bolivia became the name of the new country formed after independence from Spain. The landlocked nation is home to Amazon rainforest, Andres Mountains and Lake Titicaca.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: River Bosna and Property of a Duke
The combined country that is more simply BiH has two meanings for its adjoined lands. Bosnia takes its name from the Bosna River, formerly the Bossina River, which runs through it.
Herzegovina translates into "duke's land." It was Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca who became duke over the land. His Germanic title, Herzeg of Saint Sava, lent to the name.
Botswana: Land of the Tswana
The earliest inhabitants of the land now known as Botswana were called the Tswana and collectively called Batswana. The British who controlled their land for nearly a century referred to the land as Bechuanaland, a name derived from Batswana. When the British gave independence to the nation in 1965, the name was changed to Batswana.
Some say the name means, "those who went away," referring to many tribal people who headed north after Colonial rule, but that is a more mythical description.
Brazil: Red Like an Ember
Originally, Brazil was called Ilha de Vera Cruz ("Island of the True Cross"). But once it was discovered that the massive country was not an island, it was changed to Terra de Santa Cruz ("Land of the Holy Cross").
When the Portuguese descended upon the land, however, they discovered the pau-brasil (brazilwood) tree, which had sap and wood as red as an ember. They named their colony Brasil and it stuck.
Brunei: Abode of Peace
Brunei's full name is Negara ("Country of") Brunei Darussalem ("Abode of Peace"), an Arabic name.
The country was under British rule until 1984 and is now under Sultan leadership.
Bulgaria: Home of Mixed Tribes
Another country name attributed to tribal people is Bulgaria, which was founded by the Bulgars. There are conflicting reports that the Bulgars were a branch of the Turkic tribe or hailed from western Europe.
However, the Turkic bulgha means "mix." During the Byzantines, the area was referred to as Great Bulgaria.
Burkina Faso: Land of Honest Men
When landlocked Burkina Faso gained its independence from France in 1960, it sent a clear message in the creation of its new name: "upright," "honest," "incorruptible," "men of integrity" — all translations leading to good people.
The name took Burkina ("men of integrity") from Mooré and Faso ("fatherland") from Dioula languages to join its people. The country didn't change its name until 1984 when it was formerly known as Upper Volta.
Burundi: Home of Rundi Speakers
The people of East Africa speaking Bantu are known as Rundi. These people include Swahili, Zulu and Xhosa and are found in central and southern Africa.
They all lived in German East Africa until independence was gained in 1962 and the country received its new name.
Cabo Verde: Green Cape
The cape that extends from western Africa received its name, Cabo Verde, from Portuguese explorers in the 1400s. Meaning "green cape" due to its lush land, the explorers offered the same name to the islands off the coast.
Today, the 10 islands collectively make up the nation of Cabo Verde.
Cambodia: Country of Kampuchea
A tribe from northern India's early days known as the Kambuja spanned across Southeast Asia as part of the Khmer Empire. The Sanskrit name, Kampuchea, "Country of Kampuchea" is more commonly called "Khmer's Land" by Cambodians and was run by a monarch as the Kingdom of Cambodia from 1953 to 1970.
When the king was overthrown, the nation went through years of name changes: Khmer Republic, Democratic Kampuchea and State of Cambodia. With the United Nations backing to end the strife in the country in 1993, the country returned to its original name, Kingdom of Cambodia, as it remains.
Cameroon: River of Prawns
When Fernando Po, a Portuguese explorer, discovered a river full of shrimp in West Africa, he named it Wouri Rio dos Camarões ("shrimp river").
The name followed around the surrounding land as Camarões, becoming Cameroun in French, Kamerun in German and Cameroon in English.
Canada: The Village
While Canada is filled with provinces, all bearing names connecting to its people and founders, the country name is credited to the Huron-Iroquois. It was a miscommunication between French explorers and the natives in the 1500s that lent to the natives using kanata ("village") to direct the newcomers.
The name began to mean all land north of the St. Lawrence River, once referred to as riviere du Canada ("river of Canada"). As Canada grew, so did its name.
Central African Republic: Republic of the Centre of Africa
When the Central African Republic was granted independence from France, it was going by the name Ubangi-Shari. It was the hope that it and the other French territories of Congo, Chad and Gabon would form one nation once they received freedom.
It didn't work, but Ubangi-Shari adopted its new name as Central African Republic in 1960, which means exactly what you think it means.
Chad: Land of the Large Lake
The large lake occupying much of Chad as well as Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon, received its name when European explorers discovered it. Using the local Kanuri word for lake, it was deemed Lake Chad.
The name followed into the land known as Chad. As the lake continues to dry up, the country may have an odd name to future generations.
Chile: Where Land Ends
No, Chile is not named after a pepper. Instead, aboriginal peoples named the land for being "where the land ends" and "the deepest point of the Earth."
Other words, such as tchili, meaning "snow," have been linked to the country's name as well, due to snow-capped mountain peaks.
China: Center Kingdom
China's name, in Mandarin is Zhongguo, which means "central state" or "middle empire." However, Romans and Greeks referred to the land as Seres, where "silk comes from."
But it was the Sanskrit name, Cina, named for the Chinese Qin (Chin) Dynasty that has outlasted them all. The Qin Dynasty was the first Imperial dynasty — and the one whose armies are depicted in the famed terracotta sculptures.
Colombia: Land of Columbus
Christopher Columbus has a hand in the naming of many countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America. Despite the fact he never visited the land that is Colombia, it was named for the explorer in 1499 by one of his fellow explorers, Alonso de Ojeda.
It is here the Spanish thought the gold of El Dorado would be discovered.
Comoros: Islands of the Moon
The archipelago found between Africa and Madagascar received its name from Arab traders. Comoros means "moon," based on the Arabic kamar.
There are four islands in this Indian Ocean collection, but one is governed by France. That means only three of them make up this African nation.
Congo: Kingdom of Mountains
There are two different nations using the name Congo: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Congo. Both were granted their names from the native Kongo, or Kikongo.
Formerly a kingdom, it was a medieval ruler that conquered a mountain town and bestowed upon it the Mongo dia Kongo.
Costa Rica: Rich Coast
Arriving in Central America in 1502, Christopher Columbus loved Costa Rica so much he named it the "rich coast."
It wasn't for the country's natural beauty but rather because he was positive the country would be abundant in precious metals. He was right: Costa Rica's mines produced gold, copper and manganese.
Cote d'Ivoire: Ivory Coast
The French pronounced the land along Africa's coast as Cote d'Ivoire, "Ivory Coast," in 1893, and the Portuguese's name was Costa Do Marfim, which has the same meaning. But the country already had a name: Guiné de Cabo Verde, or Upper Guinea.
The Ivory Coast name, however, stemmed from the traders who used the area to collect valuable ivory elephant tusks. When the nation was free of French authority, it officially changed its name to Cote d'Ivoire in 1985.
Croatia: Land of Croats
The true name of the Croatian people is Horovathos, which dates back to the Greek era. Shortened to Horvath and eventually Horvat led to modern-day usage as Hrvat. However, in various regions surrounding Croatia, the people were referenced as Kraut and Chrowat, translating into Croat.
Therefore, the country is called Croatia, although to Croatians it is known as Hrvatska.
Cuba: Where Fertile Land Is Abundant
Despite Christopher Columbus christening the Caribbean island as Juana, there were discoverers of this island long before his 1492 arrival, and they gave it their own name. Although there is a lack of evidence detailing the true meaning of Cuba, some say the Taino people who settled on the island in the 1200s to grow crops called it cubao, which translates into "where fertile land is abundant."
The Taino word coabana means "great place," another word that could have lent to the naming of Cuba.
Cyprus: Island of Copper
An island nation that welcomed many sea traders since its beginning earned its name for being plentiful in copper.
The Latin translation aes Cyprium means "metal of Cyprus." It was later shortened to Cuprum.
Czechia: Land of the Czechs
Before it was Czechia, Czech Republic or Czechoslovakia, this Eastern Europe country's name was Bohemia, a shortened version of the Roman Boiohaemum, "Home of the Boii." The translation for these unconventional people was Cechy, which sounded like Czech to English speakers.
When the country was joined with Slovakia following WWII, it held the longer name. Once it was out from the Iron Curtain, it became the Czech Republic. In 2016, the government shortened the name to Czechia.
Denmark: Flat Borderland
Of course, Denmark has become the Land of the Danes, but the root of the country name stems from German. Dan is a word related to a German word that means "flat land" and Mark means "borderland."
Makes sense: After all, the country is flatland bordering Germany.
Djibouti: A Legendary Bear
The Somali Issas people told a tale of a terrorizing beast, buti ("bear"), that was finally defeated by the people. Jab means "defeat" to the Somali, and the combination earned the name of the defeated beast.
However, the country is occupied by more than the Issas. The Afar have another meaning for the name. In the mountain regions of the land, it is called Gabood. Sailors arriving in port then began calling the land "Gabuuti."
Still, the Yemeni sailors who worked the Gulf here have another: ja-al-but, which means "the boat has arrived." Yet every story leads to the same name, and Djibouti appears on maps as the official name of the country.
Dominica: Belonging to the Lord
The first day Christopher Columbus saw the island of Dominica it was a Sunday. He chose to proclaim the land as Dominica, which is an Italian word that means "belonging to the Lord." In Latin, the word is "Sunday."
The last of the islands visited by Columbus, Dominica actually had its own name before his arrival. The indigenous people called the island Wai'tu kubuli, "tall is her body." A hiking trail with the same name takes visitors up the tallest mountain, Morne Diablotin.
Dominican Republic: Saint Dominic's Island
The Dominican Republic is half of the island known as Hispaniola. (The other half is Haiti.) Christopher Columbus once again introduced the name, Espaniola, meaning "Little Spain."
But it was his brother, Bartholomew, who created a settlement on the island, which he named Santo Domingo in honor of the founder of the Dominican Order, Saint Dominic. It was, as you would expect, located on the Dominican Republic side of the island.
Ecuador: The Equator
In 1736, a French team mapped out the Equator, discovering it as the center of the globe at 0 degrees latitude. But it was 200 years prior that the Spaniards were colonizing the land known as Ecuador, which translates into the Equator.
The land was originally named Nueva Granada and incorporated with Colombia and Venezuela until the people had an uprising in the early 1800s, when they adopted its new name.
Egypt: Mansion of the Spirit Ptah
Egypt's original name was Kemet. So named for the fertile land along the Nile River, "Black Land" was apropos due to the dark soil. Eventually, the name evolved into Misr or "country," which is still in common use in Egypt today.
But modern-day Egypt's name comes from its first city and capital, Memphis. Egyptians called it Hwt-Ka-Ptah, "Mansion of the Spirit of Ptah." (Ptah is the god of Memphis.) The Greeks, however, pronounced it Aegyptos, and the name has stuck.
El Salvador: The Savior
"The Savior" in Spanish, El Salvador was named by the explorer Pedro de Alvarado in the 1500s.
But the people of the country, the Pipil, already had a name for their land. It and the capital city was called Cuscatlán, which means "Land of the Jewel." The name is often used in the country to this day.
England: Land of the Angles
The original Germanic tribes of Europe included the Angles who settled on the island nation after an invasion in the fifth century. The name, Anglii, came from the Anglia Peninsula, in which they hailed.
They were joined by the Jutes and the Saxons, also from the German peninsula, which is also why the term Anglo-Saxon is used as a descriptor.
Equatorial Guinea: Equatorial Land of the Black Men
Equatorial Guinea consists of a large area of Western Africa along with five islands. The Portuguese arrived on the islands first in 1474, but it was the Spanish who claimed the land in 1778 and provided it the name of Spanish Guinea. The word guinea is said to come from the Berber people of North Africa as a term to describe "land of the blacks."
Once the country gained its independence in 1968, it became a republic, and its equator location is included in its name to avoid confusion with nearby Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.
Eritrea: Land of the Red Sea
Located on the Red Sea, Eritrea's name is an obvious choice for the country. It has been passed down from the Greek's Erythraean sea and Roman's Mare Erythraeum, both meaning "red sea."
The water isn't actually red, though. The name stems from the Tricgodesmium erythraeum algae that blooms red.
Estonia: East Land
The Baltic country Estonia's name is not as clear as some of the other countries in the world. Due to its location east of Germany, some say the word is Germanic and means "eastern way." Others say the original people of the land gave it the name with the definition meaning "waterside dwellers."
As the country is close to Scandinavia and has Finnish-speaking people, its ties to the area have found it described as Eistland, also meaning "east land." The name is still used in Scandinavia to this day.
Eswatini: Kingdom of Swaziland
Formerly Swaziland, Eswatini is a new name bestowed upon the country in 2018 by its king to mean "Kingdom of Eswatini." Swaziland was a name put upon the land by the British during colonial times describing the Swahili (or Waswahili) people.
It was often confused with Switzerland, helping to prompt the name change.
Ethiopia: Land of Burnt Faces
The Arabic word Habesh, meaning "mongrel," led to the name Abyssinia, which was used to describe the land where Ethiopia sits until the fourth century, when a new king chose a Christian name for his new kingdom.
However, the chosen name dates back to Greek sailors who, upon discovering the land of northeastern Africa, created the name from its words aitho ("I burn) and ops ("face") to describe the people they encountered.
Fiji: Great Fiji
The name, Fiji, has long been a mistake dating back to European explorers. Captain James Cook was navigating and mapping the South Pacific for England when he landed in present-day Fiji.
The Tongans who lived on the islands called them Viti, but Captain Cook thought he heard Feegee. His mistake resulted in setting Fiji in stone on maps, and the rest is history.
Finland: Swamp Land
Before you call it Finland, know the Finnish word for Finland is Suomi. The word is a combination of suo maa, or "swamp land," which may not seem appropriate for the land with much snow and ice save for its southwestern lake-filled region.
In English, "fen" is a synonym for "swamp," but the Old English word finna was used to describe Scandinavians, which could be an origin of the English version of the name. Still, another theory is the similar word suomu means "scale of a fish," which may be what ancient peoples wore on clothing. No matter how the name began, the Finns would rather you use Suomi.
France: Land of the Franks
An ancient Germanic world for its tribe known as the Franks, the word means "fiere," making France's name more literally "Land of the Fierce."
Gabon: Hooded Cloak
The 15th century Portuguese who colonized Gabon discovered the Komo River estuary was in the shape of a hooded cloak.
In Portuguese, a gabon is a cloak, and — voila! — a country name was born.
Gambia: The River
The Portuguese were the bearer of names for the small West African nation of Gambia. First naming the river Gambia, the land became known as The Gambia, which the British kept when it took control in the 1800s.
The country received its independence in 1965 and kept the name.
Georgia: Land of Kartvelians
Not to be confused with the U.S. state with the same name — after an English king — Georgia's name dates back to the Persians. The name does translate into the name George, with Persians using Gorj and Turks using Gurju. (The name was in honor of Saint George.) The Russians called the land Gruzia, and by the Middle Ages, the Brits were calling it Georgia, an overwhelming consensus on the country name.
However, the ancient people of the land were Kartvelian, and the people of Georgia call their country Sakartvelo ("Land of the Kartvelians), so it may be best to forget George.
Germany: Land of the People
Germany's name steeps back to the eighth century when the people called themselves Duits Disk, a name that means "of the people." Over time, the word transformed into Deutsch, and Deutschland became the name of the country, which is still used today.
However, it was the Romans who called the land Germania, considering it a part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1806. A land of various regions, including Prussia and Bavaria, it was not until the regions became united in 1871 that Germany became the traditional name.
Ghana: King's Land
Ghana was an ancient kingdom of Africa before Europeans began calling the land the Gold Coast, beginning with the Portuguese in 1470. A land rich in gold, the British colonized the land and kept the Gold Coast as its name.
When the land received independence in 1957 — the first British colony released — it changed its name back to Ghana, which means "king's land."
Greece: Land of the Hellas
If the Greeks had their say they would be called Hellenes and reside in the country called Hellas. The name comes from ancient tribes of descendants of Hellen, or Hellinas. When the Holy Roman Empire aimed to rid Greece of their multiple gods and took the Hellenese under their rule, they renamed them Romaeos.
Still, the Turks also had their say after the fall of Constantinople. People who referred to them as Graecus and Gracus, hailing from Graecia, the "Land of the Greeks."
Greenland: Land of the Kalaallit
You may have heard the tale that the Vikings discovered Iceland and Greenland and, in an effort to throw off other settlers, purposely gave them opposite names, calling the land of ice Greenland and the land of green Iceland.
But before the Norse settlers arrived in Greenland, the massive island's indigenous people quietly went about their business. Known as the Kalaallit, the Norse named the island Kalaallit Nunaat, "Land of the Kalaallit" — commonly used in Greenland to this day.
Grenada: Place of Pomegranates
Christopher Columbus never stepped foot on Grenada, but other Spanish explorers did during the early 16th century. The island reminded them of home, so they christened her Granada. Some mistakenly claim the island is named "pomegranate," as the Spanish word for it is granada, but Grenada's namesake is a province of Andalusia, Spain. However, it is named for the pomegranates that grow in the region.
The French eventually set up colonies on the island a century later, calling it Le Grenada. When the British arrived, the name was too ingrained to change, and thus Grenada remains its name to this day.
Guatemala: Land of Many Trees
The natives of Guatemala, located in Central America, are said to have named the country, although there is a debate as to which word is behind the name. An Aztec version of Quauhtemallan means "lands of trees," while another is Guhatezmalha means "mountain of vomiting water."
There are plenty of trees, along with several volcanos throughout the country, so either definition works!
Guinea: Land of the Black Men
As with Equatorial Guinea, the definition of the name remains the same.
However, this land was under French control as French Guinea, only releasing it to the people in 1958.
Guinea-Bissau: Black Bissau
The land now known as Guinea-Bissau was under Portuguese rule from when the explorers discovered the islands and land in the 1400s into the 1970s.
To separate it from the other countries with similar names, it added the name of its capital city, Bissau. The port city was a Portuguese trading center, established in 1687.
Guyana: Land of Many Waters
The native peoples of the land called Guyana were the bearers of the South American nation's name. Their word, guiana, means "lands of water," which works well due to the Amazon River making its way through part of the country.
Colonized by both the Dutch and English, who kept the name, Guyana has been independent since 1966 and is the only English-speaking country on the continent.
Haiti: Land of Mountains
The Taíno people living on the island of Hispaniola (the aforementioned "discovered" country Christopher Columbus named) called their land Haiti. Columbus' brother first built a settlement that was named Santo Domingo, so when the French colonized the other half of the island, the French name was Saint Dominique.
A slave rebellion on the island, ironically inspired by the French Revolution, ended French authority in 1803, and the newly independent country was renamed Haiti.
Honduras: Deep Water
Christopher Columbus did not always encounter good weather when sailing around the Caribbean in search of the New World. Upon an exploration in 1502, a storm raged over the waters when Columbus found Honduras. The story goes that he uttered, "Gracias a Dios que hemos salido de estas honduras!" or "Thank God we've escaped these treacherous depths!"
He named the cape where he sought shelter Gracias a Dios and the land Honduras.
Hungary: Country of Magyars
Although the name may lead some to believe Hungary is named for Huns, it is the Magyars for whom the land is named. Existing during the time of the Huns and Turks, the Magyars existed in the Eastern European and Russian areas and were as fierce as warriors as the others.
The name descends from the word onogur, which was an alliance of 10 tribes during the fifth century. Westerners eventually added the "h."
Iceland: Ice Land
The green and fertile land that was Iceland is, as one would think by its location, often covered with ice and snow during the winter months. It is said it was Norseman Flóki Vilgeroarson who named the island Iceberg when seeing icebergs that filled a fjord.
Before Vilgeroarson, Norwegian Naddoour Ásvaldsson called it Snaeland (Snowland) after experiencing snow during the summer. The island wasn't officially named until 874. Interestingly enough, in Icelandic, Iceland means "island."
India: Land of the Indus
The Indus River, one of the largest in Asia, had numerous names. The Greeks called it Sinthos, the Chinese called it Shendu, the Urdu called it Indus, and in Sanskrit, it was known as Sindhu for a "large body of water."
Earning its name from the river, the land beyond the Indus River was simply Indía in Greek, meaning "Indian Land." The French called it Inde, which appears as a name in the works of William Shakespeare, but by the 17th century, it returned to India, as it remains today.
Indonesia: Indian Islands
As the islands that make up modern-day Indonesia lay beyond the Indus River, so, too, did they receive Indian Land designation by the Greeks. As they were islands, they added nésos, meaning "island," to the name. With the French calling the land Indie in following centuries, spice traders to the islands called them the East Indies. (The Caribbean islands earned the moniker the West Indies.)
Held under Dutch colonial rule until 1949, the nation dropped its Dutch East Indies name for its original Indonesia.
Iran: Land of the Aryans
The people of the kingdom once referred to as Persia were actually living in the Achaemenid Empire. Referring to themselves in names that came from the word Aryan, it meant the people who spoke an Indo-European language. (Nothing to do with the Nazi version of the word, by the way.)
One name for the Aryan included Iranshahr. It was the Romans who mistakenly called the land Persia after an area within the Achaemenid Empire. It took 1,000 years, but in 1935, the Shah of Persia asked the world to refer to it as Iran. It wasn't fully adopted until the 1970s.
Iraq: Between Two Rivers
Like Iran, the land where Iraq rests was formerly called a different name for centuries: Mesopotamia. Greek for "between two rivers," the land encompassed the Arabian land between the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers.
At one point, it fell under the Persian Empire and eventually the Ottoman's, but it was not until World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire when the country known as Iraq was created. The name comes from a mixture of Arabic words that translate back to its original name.
Ireland: Land of the Eiru
The goddess of the island we call Ireland was called Éiru. Long before Christianity swept across the isle, the people of the island believed in their sovereign and called the land Éire and themselves the Éiru.
Still, there is mention in Norse history of referring to the island as the "westland isle," or Inis na Fidbadh, but Ireland is far easier to pronounce! Éire is still in use in the country today.
Israel: He That Striveth With God
Israel's name can be found in the Old Testament when Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, was given the new name directly by God after wrestling God all night. According to Genesis 32:28, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
The name means "struggles, or strives with God." It did not become the State of Israel until after World War II.
Italy: Land of Young Cattle
You would think a country that formed such a strong empire and bestowed names to various countries in the world would have a name of strength or be called Romania. But before the Roman Empire grew, the land was ripe for farms and ranches. Italia, as it is called in Italy, descends from víteliú, which means "land of young cattle." (It is the name of veal, vitello, in Italian.)
Emperor Augustus used the name for the entire peninsula we know as Italy to this day.
Jamaica: Land of Wood and Water
The indigenous people of Jamaica, the Tainos (also known as the Arawaks) called their island Xaymaca. Meaning "land of wood and water" for plentiful rainforests and rivers, Christopher Columbus sought out the island in hopes of finding gold. He never found his precious metal but did claim the land for Spain during the 1500s.
The English came along a hundred years later and took over the island, keeping its name Jamaica.
Japan: Origin of the Sun
In Japanese, the country name is Nippon or Nihon, which means "origin of the sun." Located to the east of China, and the first to see the sunrise, the name was used by the Chinese as "land of the rising sun" or Zipang or Cipangu.
Although Marco Polo never traveled to Japan, he learned about the country, pronounced Ji-pang, through his travels to Southern China and brought the name back to the west.
Jordan: Descend to the Sea
Jordan's name comes from its river of the same name. Descending to the Dead Sea, to cross the river Jordan meant you would be entering the land that was the Kingdom of Jordan.
The river received its name from the Greeks who called it Aulon ("channel").
Kazakhstan: Place of the Free Man
The people who live in this remote region of Asia were deemed Kazakhsby the ancient Turks. The name means "free man" or "secessionist" as the people broke away from the Uzbek khan.
In the Persian dialect, stan means "place of" making the combination the Place of the Free Man. The name was picked up by the western nations and Kazakhstan has been recognized since the 17th century.
Kenya: Mountains of Whiteness
Africa's second-highest mountain peak, Mount Kenya, earned its name from the native people who called it Kirinyaga or Kerenyaga. This name, meaning mountain of whiteness, was bestowed due to its snowcap.
When the Brits came along to colonize the land, they could not pronounce the name and instead called it Mount Kenya, as well as the land around it.
Kiribati: Gilbert Islands
Formerly called the Gilbert Islands, Kiribati was named for Thomas Gilbert, a British captain who discovered the islands. The people of the island, known as the Gilberts, pronounced it Kiribati.
When granted independence in 1979, the people decided to use their pronunciation for the country and abandoned the English version.
Korea: Goryeo Kingdom
Before Korea was divided by north and south into two countries, it was one kingdom of people who called it Goryeo. A passage along the Silk Road, Marco Polo's version of the word became Cauli. Eventually, the English took the word and made it Corea, so it's a series of transliterations that resulted in the current name.
Today, South Korea calls itself Hanguk, which means "the country of the Han" and North Korea calls itself Joseon Democratic People’s Republic. Joseon was the name of the dynasty that ruled the region for 543 years before the Japanese colonized it in 1910.
Kuwait: The Fortress
Kuwait is derived of the Arabic word for "fort," or kut. An apropos name as it served as a fort to protect the sheikdom existing here in the mid-1700s.
But before, it was Kuwait it was part of the Sassanid Empire of Persia and called Meshan or Mesene until the Banu Utub people arrived.
Kyrgystan: Land of 40 Tribes
The Kyrgyz for which the country is named were a large tribe of people spanning across the modern-day areas of China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, earning them the name 40 tribes.
In ancient Turk language, Kyrg means "40" and gyz means "tribe."
Laos: Kingdom of Three Laos
Laos began as the Lan Xang Kingdom, which lasted nearly 400 years. The name meant "million elephants." When the kingdom was broken into three different states, the Siamese swooped in and took control of all three and moved them into modern-day Central Thailand.
Another century nearly passed, and France fought Siam for control of the land, uniting with the kingdom and giving the people their independence as Laos.
Latvia: Home of the Forest Clearers
The land of Latvija was home to the Baltic tribe of Latgalians. The name meant "forest clearers" (Latvis). The Baltic tribe joined with the Germans during the medieval times but was divided by Poland and Sweden in the mid-1500s. By the 18th century, however, Russia annexed the country.
It received its independence in 1918 — short-lived as Russia claimed it again following WWII. It received its current independence in 1990.
Lebanon: White Mountain
The ancient Phoenicians, so called because of the phoinikies purple dye they made and sold, were the first to live in Lebanon.
Although the Greeks called them Phoenicians, they were a Semitic tribe of people who called themselves "Men of Sidon" and their land "Lebanon" (white mountain), due to its snow-capped mountain of the same name. It did not become a country until 1944.
Lesotho: Land of the Sotho
A small, landlocked country in southern Africa, Lesotho was formerly called Basutoland and then baSotho, home to the Sotho.
As a kingdom, the people are close relatives to the Bantu and regained independence from Dutch and British colonization in 1966.
Liberia: Land of Freedom
Americans play a part in the creation of Liberia. Formed as a colony in 1820, the African nation served as a settlement for African American freed slaves to return their motherland and was deemed the "Land of Freedom."
Taking their cue from the United States, the people drafted their own Declaration of Independence and became a free nation.
Libya: Land of the Libu
Not to be confused with Liberia, Libya is on the opposite side of the continent and was not named for liberation. In fact, Libya is an ancient land that stretched across much of North Africa's coastline as home of the Berber tribe, also called the Libu.
It was called Libya by ancient Greeks and Romans, but it did not become a country until 1947.
Liechtenstein: Light Stone
The small nation bordering Switzerland and Austria bears a German name. Liecht, meaning "light," and Stein, meaning "stone," Liechtenstein was the name of the family dynasty that has claimed this land since the Middle Ages.
The Holy Roman Emperor granted the title of principality in the name of Anton Florian of Liechtenstein in 1719.
Another of Europe's Baltic tribes, the Lithuanians date back to Medieval times. It is thought the name Lietuva descended from the Latin litus, which means "shore."
Located near Poland, the two territories were united and allies through most of the 1700s until Russia annexed it at the end of the century. The country did not get its independence back for nearly 200 years.
Luxembourg: Little Fortress
Another principality nestled between two European countries, Luxembourg is also a medieval land.
Named Lucilinburhuc, which means "Little Fortress," the territory began with Lucilinburhuc Castle and developed into the city and one of the world's smallest countries.
Madagascar: Great Red Island
It is said Marco Polo named the large island off the eastern coast of Africa during his travels. Although he never visited the island, Polo heard of a "great red island" and deemed it Madagascar, although the rumor is he mistook it for Mogadishu in Somalia.
The first Europeans to visit were the Portuguese, using the name they had heard it called for generations.
Malawi: Land of Flames
The ancient African Kingdom of Maravi existed in the 1400s and took its name from the sun rising over its lake.
As the lake turned red with the sun, its rays were said to look like fire rising off of it in flames, and thus began the name. Malawi translates into "fire flames," and the country's flag features a fiery red sun and lake.
Malaysia: Land of Mountains
For the mountainous islands that makeup Malaysia, not officially a country until 1963, its name translates into the perfect descriptor. "Land of Mountains" was used by Indian traders who visited, recognizing the Titiwangsa Mountains that dissect the country. The word melayu. comes from the ancient Sanskrit.
The traders referred to the land as Malayadvipa.
Maldives: Garland of Islands
The Indian Ocean islands — nearly 1,200 of them!—are officially called Dhivehi Raajjeyge Jumhooriyyaa, which is quite a mouthful.
Another Sanskrit name was used for this atoll: maladvipa, which means "garland of islands."
Some say the African land known as Mali was named for the animals roaming freely on it. Hippopotamus (Bambara mali) comes from the native tongue and the folklore of Mali Sadio.
The country's national animal is a hippo, as well, but some argue the name comes from the word that means "where the king resides." The Mali Empire was quite large in West Africa, and the powerful beast's name became the name of the kingdom.
Malta: Place of Refuge
Between North Africa and Europe lies an island nation that has long been a stopping point for seafarers maneuvering across the Mediterranean Sea.
The Phoenicians are credited with naming the island Maleth, meaning "refuge." It was a safe place between warring nations to trade and harbor.
Marshall Islands: Island of John Marshall
When British naval Captain John Marshall set foot on the islands in the South Pacific he gave them his name in 1788. It didn't matter tht he wasn't the first to visit or name the islands.
Micronesian sailors called them their own as well: Aelon Kein Ad. Marshall's name stuck, however, and it wasn't until 1982 they became the Republic of the Marshall Islands and an independent nation.
Mauritania: Land of the Mauri
It's the Mauri people who called the land home for which Mauritania is named. Originally an ancient kingdom, known as Mauretania, it was home to Berber and Arab tribes.
The French established colonies and took control during the mid-19th century but granted the nation its independence in 1960.
Mauritius: Land of Prince Mauritz Van Nassau
Not to be confused with Mauritania, Mauritius is an island nation that received its name from explorers. When the Dutch sought a trading route in the Indian Ocean, they found one particular land to be named for their royal family.
Prins Mauritz van Nassaueiland of the House of Nassau, son of William the Silent, became the namesake of the island kept in Dutch possession until 1710. The French and then the British eventually took control, but the island earned its independence in the 1940s.
Mexico: In the Navel of the Moon
Before there was a country, there was an Aztec city named in honor of the god of war: Mexitli. His name was a combination of metztli (moon) and xictli (navel).
Literally, it means "in the navel of the moon," but it more commonly means "child of the moon." By the time the Spanish arrived, Mexico-Tenochtitlan was the capital of the Mexica empire.
Micronesia: Small Islands
With thousands of islands, it became easier to classify them as one geographical unit. That's exactly what French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville did in 1831 when he suggested Micronesia become the name of the islands stretching from Polynesia to Melanesia. (He also classified those as well as Malasisia.)
The islands became the Federated States of Micronesia in 1979.
Moldova: Dark River
Long entwined in the Ottoman and Russian Empires, Moldova received its independence in 1991. A Slavic nation, its name comes from the language's mold, a word for spruce and fir trees and was first given to the Moldova River that runs through today's Romania. (Ova at the end of the word is commonly used as a Slavic suffix as ownership.)
Although it may seem to indicate its name is "Land of the Trees," the dark evergreen needles often meant the river was referred to as black. (The river was called "Black Wallachia" or Valahia Neagra in Romania.)
Monaco: Single House
A small sovereign state remains a lone wolf. Monaco's name dates back to the ancient Phocaean Greeks who colonized the area. They named the land Monoikos, which means "single or alone house."
This was meant to showcase its independence and self-reliance, which very much remains intact after nearly half a century.
Mongolia: Land of the Mongols
The largest empires in the history of the world was that held by the Mongols, a nomadic tribe that was led most famously by Genghis Khan. Expanding across most of Asia during its 1200s heyday, the empire was divided into four dynasties after Khan's death.
His grandson Kublai Khan ruled what is now China and Mongolia. The Chinese overthrew the Mongols in 1368, reducing the Khan dynasty to just Mongolia. ("Just" being nearly 1 million square miles.)
Montenegro: Land of the Black Mountain
The Slavic King of Serbia, King Milutin, called the land where Montenegro rests Crna Gora.
But with its mountain dense with forests, it was the invading Romans that christened it "Black Mountain" (Montenegro).
Morocco: The Furthest West
Home to the Berber tribe, the name of the largest city in the North African land flanked by both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea is Marrakesh, a word derived from Amurakuc, meaning "Sacred Land."
As the "furthest west," "Kingdom of the West" and "Kingdom where the sun sets," Morocco was a further deviation of Marrakesh, in Arabic al-Maghrib al-Aqsa. The Portuguese and Spanish translation followed by the English attempts at translating resulted in Morocco becoming the country's true name.
Mozambique: Land of Musa al Biq
The large stretch of coastal land of eastern Africa was claimed by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who called his "found" land Portuguese Guinea and Portuguese East Africa.
But it was an Arabian chief who lived on the island of Mozambique, derived from Arabic Mussa Bin Bique, that inspired the country's name.
Myanmar: Swift and Strong
Before it was Myanmar, the British called this land Burma (and still do, despite the country's official name). The country earned back its independence from Britain in 1989, having been called Burma by the colonists since the mid-1700s.
It was the Portuguese that bestowed the name, however, arriving before the English and calling it Birmania. The word stood for the Bama, the largest of aboriginal people. But even Bama comes from the name Myanma or Mranma, a name used in ancient periods, and the people chose to return to its original name.
Namibia: The Vast Place
Once called South West Africa (SWA), it was a professor who was instrumental in the change of Namibia's name. Professor Mburumba Kerina inspired the people of SWA to the Republic of Namib.
In 1977, South Africa conceded and agreed to annex the land made up of the vast Namib Desert, which already had its name from the Khoekhoegowab as the fitting "vast place."
Nauru: I Go to the Beach
The Oceania island Nauru, south of the Marshall Islands, was settled by people from Polynesia and Micronesia. The British were the first from the West to find the island in 1798 and called it "Pleasant Island."
Germany annexed the island nearly 100 years later and chose to use the name of the people, calling it Nawodo or Onawero. It is said the now self-governing island's name means "I go to the beach."
Nepal: The Country Looked After by Ne
The Hindu sage Ne, sometimes called Nemi or Ne Muni, looks over the land of Nepal, according to its people. The Sanskrit pal means "tented house," and the name Nepal indicates it is the home of Ne.
That isn't the only theory on the country's long-established name. Another Sanskrit name, Nipalaya, means "at the foot of the mountains" while the word Nep means "cow herders" — either is a proper description of the country.
Another apropos name of a country is the Netherlands, which means "low-lying country." (Originally called Holland, the word Houtland meant "wooded land.")
One-third of the country is so low it is below sea level, and the country's highest point is just 1,000 feet above it.
New Zealand: Sealand
New Zealand was named by the Dutch explorers who discovered the islands in Oceania. Abel Tasman named it Nieuw Zeeland for a province in Holland. (New Holland was given to Australia. Zeeland is Dutch for "Sealand.")
But the Maori who lived on the islands, like many indigenous people, had their own name to their home: Aotearoa. This name means "Land of the Long White Cloud."
Nicaragua: Land by the Water
The aboriginal people in the Central American country of Nicaragua were able to keep the name (somewhat) of their land when the Spanish explorers settled. The tribe of people around Lake Nicaragua called the land Nicarao in Nahuatl.
The Spanish added Agua (water) after discovering an abundance of lakes.
Niger: River Among Rivers
Niger's name comes from its river, known as "river among rivers." The name comes from gher n-gheren in the native tribal Tamashek language.
The river stretches 2,600 miles and serves as a water source for the Sahara.
Nigeria: Land of the Niger River
Like Niger, Nigeria took its name from the river.
The countries share a border as well, albeit one created during the colonial era.
North Macedonia: Land of Tall People
Macedonia was an ancient — and very large kingdom — well before the Byzantine era. In fact, Alexander the Great ruled this land. The word is also ancient, deriving from the Greekmakednós, which means "tall," and makednoi, which meant to come from the mountains. Translation: Tall people from the mountains.
Long embattled with Greece as to its identity, in February 2019, the country changed its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.
Norway: Northern Way
Norway's location in Northern Europe makes its name an easy one: It's the Northern Way. Explorers and seamen traveling the Atlantic Ocean's northernmost reaches knew of the land by its Old English name, Norpweg, which translates into "northern way" or "way leading to the north." The name has been recorded since 880.
There are contradictory claims that the name does stem from ancient Norwegian people. The Old Norse definition for "narrow inlet or channel" comes from the word nór. The country's fjords could be the result of this name.
Oman: Land of Oman
Oman's name is attributed to the sultan who lived and ruled in this East African nation long before western explorers set foot on it.
The country, which dates back to before the Portuguese colonists arrived in the 1500s, has been under the Al Bu Sa'id Dynasty since 1749.
Pakistan: Land of the Pure
In the Urdu and Persian tongue, Pakistan means "Land of the Pure" — pak meaning "pure" and -stan a suffix to mean "place of." The name is also an acronym for the various regions, Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Indus-Sind and Baluchistan (the "-stan").
It was created to unite the regions in 1933 and the definition just happened to be a good one.
Palau: The Island Village
The Malay people who lived on these Pacific Islands referred to their name as Palau, meaning "island." An English captain was shipwrecked near the islands and uncovered the hidden treasure in the late 1700s and called it Belau.
Spain quickly claimed the island, however, and it continued to be controlled by numerous countries until its independence in 1994.
Panama: Abundance of Fish
The original people of Panama lived in small villages. They called their land Panama, meaning an "abundance of fish."
Times were good in a country blessed with natural resources, and before long, the Spanish came to explore and colonize it. Panama was free of Spain by 1821 and independent of Colombia by 1903.
Papua New Guinea: New Land of the Blacks
It is said Ynigo Ortiz de Retez, the Spanish explorer who came to the islands in the South Pacific, called the land Nueva Guinea based on the resemblance of the people to those he encountered in Africa. The islands experienced many European settlers claiming control, and the northern half joined with Germany by 1884 while the British held Papua.
By 1972, the combination became its own nation.
Paraguay: People Born Along the River
Named for the 1,600-mile Paraguay River that runs through the nation, Paraguay referred to the people who lived along the river.
Natives known as the Payaguas were peaceful and welcomed the Spanish explorers in the 1500s.
Peru: Land of the River
Peru's name does not come from a tribal language but instead from a tribal ruler. Known as Birú, who lived in Panama, the land known as Peru was given the name, Viceroyalty of Peru, by the Spaniards.
Another theory to the name is the Spanish met a man by the name of Berú who stood in the river, or Pelú. Asking for the name of the land, the misinterpretation resulted in Peru. Either way, after fighting for its independence from Spain in the 1800s, Peru became the Republic of Peru and has kept its name for centuries.
Philippines: Philip's Land
A ruler's name is also the meaning behind the Philippines. Spanish explorers encountering the island nation in Oceania in the 1500s named them in honor of King Philip II of Spain, deeming the land Las Felipinas.
Over the centuries, the people have considered new names for their land, but nothing has taken effect since independence was achieved in 1946.
Poland: People of the Fields
A Slavic tribe who lived near the Warta river basin was known as Polans or Polanie. The word derived from the word pole, meaning "field."
During the medieval period, Poland became a kingdom, a dynasty that lasted more than 500 years.
Portugal: Warm Port
As you may imagine with a name like Portugal, the country on the Iberian Peninsula is named for a port. Given the name Portus Cale in Latin, the name translates into "warm port."
Cale were also known as the early settlers around the Douro River, where a warm port was offered to traders and explorers. It is said their name comes from the Greek "beautiful," which was used to describe the river. The name evolved into Portugale and then Portugal.
Qatar: Land of Rain
Qatar's name and background are a bit more fuddled as the land was home to Bedouin nomads before the 18th century. In that century, the Al Khalifah migrated into the area and created settlements and ruled the land until sheikhs took over in the 20th century.
The meaning of the name has yet to be determined. Some say it is Arabic for "raindrop" or "rain" or simply "land."
Romania: Citizens of Rome
When the Roman Empire moved through Europe, conquering lands, it deemed a large chunk of it Romanus, meaning "Citizen of the Roman Empire."
Romania, as it became, was also known as Vlachs, which was a Germanic word describing Romance-speaking people.
Russia: Land of the Rus
The Slavic people called their eastern state Rus. It is said this name actually came from the Old Norse who used it to describe "men who row."
The Greek for Rus is Rossiya, which became Russia or Russkaya Zemlya (Land of the Rus), and has been in use since the 15th century.
Rwanda was home to three different tribes: the Twa, Hutu and Tutsi. When Europeans arrived in the area, it was the German people who first colonized it in the late 1800s, just as the tribes had divided their land.
Rwanda, a Kinyarwanda word, means "domain," and the strife that followed between the people even after it became an independent country in 1962 included genocide that lasted into the 1990s.
St. Kitts and Nevis: St. Christopher's and Our Lady of the Snows
The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis are an adjoined nation that both received names in passing by Christopher Columbus. The former is said to have received the former name due to its shape. The story goes that Columbus sailed by the island and felt it looked like St. Christopher carrying the Christ child, giving it the name St. Christopher. Over the course of time, the name was shortened as a nickname that stuck.
The smaller neighboring island of Nevis earned the name Nuestra Senora de Las Nieves ("Our Lady of the Snows") due to the cloud-capped mountain peak Columbus could see from his ship.
The two islands did have names before Columbus though. The people of St. Kitts called their land Liamuiga, or "fertile land." On the isle of Nevis, the Arawaks called it Dulcina, or "Sweet Island," and the Caribs called it Oualie, or "Land of Beautiful Waters."
St. Lucia: Land of Saint Lucy
A French pirate was the first foreigner to live on the island of St. Lucia, with the Dutch, English and French all claiming the island referred to by its native people as Iouanalao, "Land of the Iguanas."
The French had the most influence and named the isle for the patron St. Lucy of Syracuse.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Isle of Saint Vincent
St. Vincent was not the first name bestowed upon these Caribbean islands. The first group of foreigners to arrive came from South America. These Amerindian explorers named St. VincentHairoun, which means "Land of the Blessed." When the Europeans arrived in the 1700s after Christopher Columbus spotted the island on his voyages, they christened it as St. Vincent for maps to follow.
The chain of small islands known as the Grenadines, of which half are included under St. Vincent and half to Grenada, get their name from Grenada.
The legend of Samoa passed down for generations tells of the god of the universe, Tagaloa, and his two children, Moa and Lu. Lu's son was also named Lu and was taught to put his uncle before him in everything he did.
Fleeing to Earth, he named his new home Sa-ia-Moa, which means Sacred for Moa. To this day, the Manu'a people use Moa as a name for royalty.
San Marino: Land of Saint Marinus
San Marino, the small independent state located on a mountain in Italy, was settled by Christians and Saint Marinus in the fourth century in an attempt to escape persecution.
Their little sanctuary became known as San Marino.
Sao Tome and Principe: Saint Thomas and Prince's Island
Sao Tome and Principe are two islands that joined to become one nation off the coast of West Africa. The names come from the Portuguese influence.
Sao Tome, founded in 1493, is Portuguese for Saint Thomas. Principe, founded in 1500, originally was named Santo Antao for Saint Anthony but changed its name two years later to Prince's Island (Ilha do Principe) because it paid its sugar taxes to the Prince of Portugal.
Saudi Arabia: Kingdom of the House of Saud
For the Arabic nation that occupies much of the Arabian peninsula, the show of power is evident with a name taken from the Al-Saud monarchy.
The family traces its roots back to the 1700s but didn't take control of the land in 1824. Abdul Aziz bin Saud became king of Saudi Arabia in 1932, and his family continues the monarchy.
Scotland: Land of the Scots
For the Scots and the land named for them, the Romans came up with the name. The Gaels (as in Gaelic) were called Scoti/Scotti, which dates back to the fourth century.
The word wasn't meant to be a feel-good one, though, as the Romans considered the Gaels to be pirates and raiders.
Senegal: Our Canoe
Senegal is blessed with both an Atlantic Ocean coastline and rivers flowing through its interior, so it's no wonder fishing is a way of life for many of its people. The 675-mile Senegal name is credited for bearing the country's name.
The word Senegal itself is said to come from the Wolof language's Sunu gaal, which means "our canoe." This symbol of the country has been challenged, as some claim Portuguese explorers heard the Berber people calling the river Senega, named for the Zenega people.
Serbia: Land of Serbs
The Serbs are a branch of the Slavic people of Europe. Dating back to the sxith century, the Serbs settled into areas that became known as Yugoslavia, the "Land of the South Slavs" (Jugoslavija).
The former country of Yugoslavia became Serbia and Montenegro in 2003, although the Serbian Empire existed long before Yugoslavia.
Seychelles: Republic of Seychelles
The name may sound like "shells" and seem the appropriate title for islands in the Indian Ocean, but the country name is a French one. Jean Moreau de Séchelles, in fact.
The Minister of Finance for King Louis XV and a Viscount received the honor of having this colonial land named for him in 1756.
Sierra Leone: Lion Mountains
The Portuguese exploring Africa's West Coast christened Sierra Lorne during the 15th century.
Calling it Serra Lyoa ("Lion Mountains") for the mountains around the harbor, the British liked the name and kept it when they colonialized it in the late 18th century.
Singapore: Lion City
Another lion-inspired name was given to Singapore. The Malay tell the story of a Sumatran prince landing on Temasek and seeing a lion — voila! He named it Singapura as Singa means "lion" in Malay.
As Temasek, the land comes from the Javanese name for "Sea Town." This name is still prominent around Singapore, even after its 14th-century name change, but the lion remains a symbol of the small nation.
Slovakia: Land of the Slovaci
The West Slavic group of people are known as the Slovaks. During the Austria-Hungarian Empire, this minority of people were poorly treated and called the land formed as Czechoslovakia home after the 1918 Treaty of Versailles.
Taken behind the Iron Curtain, the country became an independent state in 1993.
Slovenia: Land of People Who Speak the Same Language
Like Slovakia existing as part of Czechoslovakia, the people of Slovenia suffered the same fate. United as Yugoslavia in 1945, the area was home to the South Slavic people, once again a minority to the Austria-Hungarians.
Becoming an independent country in 1918, it was forced into Yugoslavia and then the Iron Curtain before once again regaining independence in 1991.
Solomon Islands: King Soloman Islands
Spanish explorers yet again turned to Christianity to name the island archipelago in the South Pacific, this time taking the biblical King Solomon's name.
The Spanish were searching for King Solomon's gold and believed them to be in the islands they called Islas Salomón. When the country gained its independence in 1978, they changed the name to the English version.
Somalia: Land of Somali
Somalia's land dates back to Biblical times as the kingdom of Punt. This ancient and lost kingdom was known as Punt Land and the "Land of the Gods" and covered much of Cape Horn.
Over centuries, a Muslim clan known as the Somali began to occupy the coastal territory that is known as Somalia. Formed in 1960 with Somaliland and Puntland by 1998, it has remained Somalia, home to the Somali, since 2012.
South Africa: Southern Land of the Afri
Africa, as a continental name, was created by the Romans. Meaning "land of the Afri," it was meant to describe Northern Africa.
Of course, as the name spread across the land, the southern tip was rightfully called South Africa.
Spain: Land of Many Rabbits
The ancient Carthaginians provided a romantic name to the country of Spain, or Spania — it rolls right off the tongue. Yet the name is less romantic as it means "land of rabbits."
Prior to its Spanish name, it was referred to as Iberia, which is the name of the peninsula to this day. The name was so-called by its people for Iber, or "river."
Sri Lanka: Resplendent Island
The people of Sri Lanka long called the land as such — Lanka meaning "island" and Sri meaning "resplendent."
But when the colonists arrived, they labeled it Ceylon, a take of the Arabic Saheelan. The name was restored in 1972.
Sudan: Country of the Blacks
Both Sudan and South Sudan have names from the Arabicbilad as-sudan, which means "land of the blacks."
The name referred to lands south of the Sahara.
Suriname: Land of the Surinens
The Surinens who lived on the small portion of land found in northern South America had their name changed slightly by the British who colonized the land along the river, which they spelled Surinam.
Sweden: Land of the Svear
For more than 1,000 years, Sweden has remained an independent nation.
The Svear, or Suiones, occupied the land before the Romans ever stepped foot in Scandinavia. The name is derived for its people.
Switzerland: Land of the Swiss
One of the oldest countries in Europe, Switzerland called one of its cantons (or provinces) Schwyz. When it joined with the Uri and Unterwalden cantons, they became the Ewiger Bund (Eternal League).
More cantons eventually joined, and the country became Schweiz in German, meaning "strength." Switzerland is the land of the Swiss and land of the strong.
Syria: Land of the Syrians
The ancient Mesopotamia was called Assyria by Greek historian Herodotus. The Hebrews who lived in the land were often called Siryons for their soldiers in metal armor, which is one theory for the name.
Another comes from Siryon, the Siddonian name for Mount Hermon. No matter how the name began, the country has been called Syria since 63 BC.
Tajikistan: Land of the Tahiks
As with other "stan" country names, Tajikistan is a Persian name: stan means "place of" or "country." As for Tajik, those were the tribal people who lived in the land before.
The name in Persian means "person who wears a crown," with tak meaning "crown" and ik meaning "head."
Tanzania: Land of the Tanganyika and Zanzibar
Tanzania is actually a combination of two names. Originally Tanganyika and Zanzibar, the combined name came in 1964.
Zanzibar comes from the Persian Zangh Bar, which means "Negro Coast." The Swahili provided the name Tanganyika for "what is beyond Tanga," where a large tribe lived along the Indian Ocean coast.
Thailand: Land of the Tai People
Before Thailand, which received its name in 1939, it was called Siam.
A Sanskrit name meaning "dark" or "brown," Syama was a description of the natives of the land.
Timor-Leste: Land in the East
In the Malay language, timur means "east." The Portuguese who visited then named the land Timor.
But the funny thing is leste also means "east" and was used by the Portuguese to describe the eastern side of the island, not realizing they had named it East East.
Togo: Land Behind the Lake
The people who lived "behind the lake" in Ewe were called the togodo, referring to Lake Togo.
This Western African land was discovered by Europeans during the 1500s and was used as a prime location during the slave trade. The country has had much strife in its independence with military coups and battles continue to this day.
Tonga: Island to the South
The Polynesian nation known as Tonga earned its name due to its geography.
The archipelago is the southernmost point of central Polynesia, and its Tongan name, fakatonga, means "southwards."
Trinidad and Tobago: Island of the Holy Trinity and Tobacco
Like the many islands Christopher Columbus charted, Trinidad and Tobago each had their own names from the peoples who lived on the land. For Trinidad, it was lere, "Land of the Hummingbird," an Arawak name. Columbus renamed it La Isla de la Trinidad, "the Island of the Trinity," as it was his third voyage around the Caribbean.
For Tobago, the Caribs called it Tavaco, which was a pipe used to smoke tobacco leaves. That name did stick, just with a slight variation from Columbus.
Tunisa: Land of Tunis
The Tunis people are a branch of Berber tribes so named for the city in which they lived. Tunis was actually Tunes during ancient times and was Berber meaning "encampment" — thus the city name.
Europeans who visited adopted the name Tunisia as "Land of the Tunis."
Turkey: Land of the Turks
The Turks are one of the oldest tribes known to man, and one of the dominant during the Ottoman Empire.
The name meant "strong and powerful," which they most definitely were. Now, the country is pushing to change its international name to Turkiye.
Turkmenistan: Land of the Turkmen
Another tribe of Turks living in a different region as the result of the similarly named country. (Although the Turks of Turkey will claim they are the better and stronger of the two.)
The Persian stan for "land of" was used for this country in Central Asia.
Tuvalu: Eight Standing Together
As a collection of nine islands in Oceania, only one was inhabited by people. The name given by those people is Tuvalu, meaning "eight standing together."
The English eventually took control and called the islands Ellice, or Lagoon, Islands, but the country has been independent since 1978.
Ugana: Land of the Ganda People
Winston Churchill called Uganda the "Pearl of Africa," but its name simply comes from the people who lived there.
Hunters and gathers, the land was part of the Buganda kingdom and the home of the Gandan people.
Bordering Russia, the Slavic nation of Ukraine literally meant just that: "borderland." It began as a definition of the land between the Kievan Rus border, but when its border met with the Polish Kingdom, Ukraina was used.
However, oukraina has been found mentioned as far back as the late 1100s and meant "outskirts."
United Arab Emirates: United Arab Kingdom
Just as the United States (coming up next), took a name that showed the uniting of its states, so, too, did the United Arab Emirates. A federation of seven emirates, or kingdoms, the country emerged in 1971.
Its seven emirates include Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaywayn, Ra's al-Khaymah and Al-Furjayrah.
United States of America: United States of Amerigo
America received its name centuries before the states began to form. Named after Amerigo Vespucci who found the new continent after Christopher Columbus' Caribbean explorations, the continents in the north and south were both christened America.
It was in 1776 that the Continental Congress replaced the name of its British colonies with United States when declaring independence.
Uruguay: Land of Painted Birds
Taking the name of its river, Uruguay, the translation in the Guarani language means "river of painted birds."
The river, which begins in Brazil, creates a border between Argentina and Uruguay.
Uzbekistan: Land of Genuine Men
This "land of" (stan) refers to the Uzbeks, the largest ethnic group in the country.
That name was a Turkish name to refer to the people of Uzbekistan and stood for "genuine man" after the Mongol khan Oz Beg.
Vanuatu: Our Land Forever
The island nation of Vanuatu is one of the oldest inhabited islands in the South Pacific. The Portuguese explorers discovered the land, but it was the British's Captain James Cook who named it New Hebrides.
However, the Melanesian people finally received independence in 1980, renaming the country with the apropos "Our Land Forever."
Vatican City: Papal Palace on the Hill
The literal definition of the Latin word Vatican is "divining serpent." St. Peter's Basilica was built on a pagan site that had been called vaticanus mons, which meant "hill" or "mountain of prophecy."
As home to the Pope, this hill is now the Papal Palace. The Italians call the city-state Citta del Vaticano, but the Catholic Church calls it the Holy See.
Venezuela: Little Venice
When Amerigo Vespucci sailed along the coast of South America they saw houses built on stilts.
Reminding them of Venice, Italy, they called the land Veneziela for "Little Venice." (Venice to the Spanish is Venezia.)
Vietnam: Viets of the South
Vietnam's name was bestowed upon it by the Chinese who used the word Viet to mean "far off." The distant land was granted to Emperor Vu, who controlled China's remote countries 1000 BC.
Eventually, the land was renamed Van Lang to mean "land of the learned people." It went through several new names, with Vietnam being used for the first time in 1802.
Wales: Land of Foreigners
Wales's word for its country is Cymru, Welsh for "fellow countrymen." Yet, its name comes from invading Anglo Saxons, who used it to mean "foreigners" — even though the Welsh were there first!
There were other Germanic names that called the people foreigners, but props to the Welsh for making their name something more positive.
Yemen: Land of Happiness
Yemen's original name was Arabia Felix, which in Latin meant "happy" or "fortunate." In Arabic "happiness" is yumn.
The country was eventually absorbed by the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s, handed to the British in the 1800s, divided into two with two different leading rulers in the 1900s, became unified in 1990 and continues to fall under strife, so that name didn't work out so well.
Zambia: Land of the Great River
Home to the Tonga people, Zambia takes its name from its great Zambezi River, the fourth-largest in Africa. Until its independence in 1964, however, it was called Northern Rhodesia and held by South Africa and Britain since 1891.
That name and other areas of Rhodesia came from the white settlers who named "their" land after Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company.
Zimbabwe: Stone Enclosure
Also part of Rhodesia, Zimbabwe earned its name in 1960. The name is a Shona word for Great Zimbabwe, an ancient city that was enclosed and protected by large stone fortifications.
Theories of the word's origin is that Shona's word dzimba meant "house," and mabwe meant "stone."