Special Report

The Surprising Stories Behind 50 Country Names

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11. Bolivia

The Venezuela-born soldier and statesman Simón Bolivar, who led revolutions against the Spanish in Central and South America in the early 1800s, is the source of this landlocked nation’s name. Upon the country’s founding in 1825, it was dubbed República Bolivar as a tribute to him, a name later shortened to Bolivia.

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12. Bosnia and Herzegovina

This Balkan country takes the first half of its moniker from its Bosna River, whose name in turn might come from the Indo-European root “bhog,” meaning current (as in a river), by way of the Illyrian word “bas,” flowing water. “Hercegovina” derives from the Serbian and Croatian word “herceg,” or duke, the title assumed by a local ruler in 1448.

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13. Botswana

This southern African nation is named for its indigenous Tswana or baTswana people, still the country’s dominant tribe.

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14. Brazil

Portuguese-speaking Brazil takes its name from the pau bresil tree (Caesalpinia echinata), once plentiful in its coastal forests. “Pau” is a colloquial word for “tree,” and “brasil” comes from the Portuguese “brasa,” or “ember” — a reference to the pau bresil’s red sap, once used for dying cloth. Today the tree’s wood is prized for use in cello and violin bows.

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15. Cameroon

Portuguese explorers in the 16th century called this West African region’s principle river Rio dos Camarões, or river of shrimp, for the abundance of those crustaceans found there. That name evolved into Cameroon. (The river is now called the Wouri.)