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28. June 2017 Category: Canary Islands

The Canary Islands, a tropical paradise with ideal temperatures all year round and idyllic beaches... We all know about them, but how much do you really know about the islands? Take a look at this post and find out where their curious names come from!


June 28, 2017 by Kate Mawson

So many people visit and love the Canary Islands for their all-year-round climate and tropical vibe but, have you ever wondered where the names for each of these wonderful islands come from?


Lanzarote: Named after Lancilotto Malocello, a Genoese trafficker that came to the island between 1320 -1340 and remained here for 20 years. He is thought to have built a great stone wall that stood firm throughout the Bethencourcian conquest. When the Chaplains arrived on the island in 1402, they documented seeing a large castle or wall that is said to have been built by Lancilotto when he “conquered the island”. The tale of Lancilotto began to spread amongst sailors and the name began to change as it passed from sailor to sailor; Lancilotto, Lancelotto, Lancelot , Lançarote, until becoming the well known Lanzarote.


Fuerteventura: The original name given to the island by the Aborigines  was Erbane, which means stony border due to the wall that crossed and separated its two socio-territorial demarcations Maxorata and Jandía. However, it is thought that the name Fuerteventura is thanks to the harsh winds that sailors experienced when arriving at the island: “Forte” meaning hard and “Ventura” meaning wind.


Gran Canaria: The first written registers of Gran Canaria refer to it as “Canaria, Canarias or isle of the canaries” but not much is really known about the origin of this islands name. Some say it is due to the large amount of dogs (canine – canis) on the island upon the arrival of the conquerors. Others say it is due to the Aborigines that lived there being part of an African tribe called Canariis as they ate dogs. The “Gran” doesn’t come from its size, it comes from the strong resistance that the Spanish found when trying to conquer the island.


Tenerife: Tenerife was first names Achined by the Aborigines and was later changed to “Nivaria” (meaning snowy) due to the snow found on the top of the Teide volcano. It was then changed once again to “Inferno Isle” due to the fear the Chaplains had of Teide. It was then finally changed by the Aborigines from La Palma who named it Tene (mountain) and ife (white) and due to Castellanisation, it was given an additional R to join to two words, finally being named as Tenerife.


La Gomera: There are many theories surrounding the origin of the name La Gomera but the most famous of them all is that Gomera was due to the Berber tribes from Gomara in the Xauen region in the north of Morocco. These tribes were farmes and could not sail so it is thought they were bought over by sailors where they then settled giving it its new name.


La Palma: La Palma, much like the other island has had its fair share of names such as Junonia Maior (great Junonia), given to the island by Gayo Plinio the Second, a Latin writer, Beahoare (my land) given by the Aborigines. The island also receives the traditional name of San Miguel de La Palma along with other names that are still used such as Isla Bonita (pretty island), La Isla Verde (The Green Island) and La Isla Corazón (Heart Island).


El Hierro: The name El Hierro, although spelled like the Spanish word for 'iron', is not related to that word. The H in the name of the metal is derived from the F of Latin ferrum. The H in the name of the island dates back to the time in Old Spanish orthography when the distinction between the letters I and J was not yet established and a silent h was written before word-initial ie to ensure that the i was read as a semivowel, not as the consonant.

The confusion with the name of the metal had effects on the international naming of the island. As early as the 16th century, maps and texts called the island after the word for 'iron' in other languages: Portuguese Ferro, French l'île de Fer and Latin Insula Ferri.

Nevertheless, the origin of the name ero or erro or yerro is not definitely known. Richard Henry Major, however, observes that the Guanche word hero or herro, meaning 'cistern', could easily have lapsed into hierro by a process of folk etymology. It is believed that the inhabitants had to construct cisterns to save fresh rainwater.

Labels: Canary islands, history
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