Special Report

The Surprising Stories Behind 50 Country Names

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46. Algeria
> Population: 42.2 million

The North African country of Algeria is named after Algiers, which French colonists selected as the capital in the 19th century. Algers is from the Arabic “al-Jazair,” which literally means “the islands,” a reference to four islands that used to be located off the coast but became connected to the continent.

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47. St. Kitts & Nevis
> Population: 52,000

Christopher Columbus named both of these islands that form one nation, which is the smallest island nation in the Americas in area and population. He named one island after his patron saint, St. Christopher, that would later be shortened to St. Kitts. And he named the other island Nevis because it looked like a snow-capped mountain (the Spanish word for snow is “nieves”).

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48. Sri Lanka
> Population: 21.7 million

This island nation was formerly called Ceylon. In the Sinhala language, Sri means “blessed” and Lanka is the name of the island.

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49. Sierra Leone
> Population: 7.6 million

While sailing down the western coast of Africa in 1462, Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra spotted the tall mountains of the Freetown Peninsula and called them “Serra Lyoa” or “Lion Mountains.” The English later colonized the area and altered the name to “Sierra Leone.”

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50. Brazil
> Population: 211.4 million

Brazil got its name from cargo that the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci brought back to Europe from South America in 1501. It was a cargo of hard, reddish wood that was similar to an East Indian wood called pau brasil, which Europeans were using to make cabinets.