Special Report

The Surprising Stories Behind 50 Country Names

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21. Cuba

While the etymology is uncertain, Cuba might take its name from an indigenous Taino word, “cubanacan,” meaning a central place — reflecting the island’s position in roughly the center of the Caribbean.

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22. Dominica

This Caribbean island republic was named by Christopher Columbus when he first came upon it on a Sunday in 1493. “Dominica” means Sunday in Latin, one of the language Columbus knew.

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23. Ecuador

Here’s one etymology that’s simple and undisputed: “Ecuador” is Spanish for “equator.” The equator runs through the country’s northern portion.

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24. El Salvador

The Spanish Conquistadors who conquered the indigenous Pipil Indians living in this part of Central America called the region the Provincial de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo, el Salvador del Mundo, the Province of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the World. The name eventually got shortened to El Salvador.

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25. Eritrea

Eritrea, whose coastline borders the Red Sea, was named indirectly for that body of water. The ancient Greeks gave the sea its name, Erythre Thalassa, meaning “red sea.” The Romans borrowed the Greek term and called it Mare Erythreum. Their descendents, the Italians, who occupied the region in 1935, Italianized “Erythreum” to “Eritrea,” and applied it to the country.