The new maps reveal where modern-day country names cames from. Picture: Credit Card Compare
The new maps reveal where modern-day country names cames from. Picture: Credit Card Compare

Bizarre origins of country names

SOMETIMES it's fairly obvious where a nation's name comes from, but the origin of some countries' titles are downright obscure.

Even the most seasoned geography buffs might struggle to tell you which countries names are derived from "river of prawns" or "frizzy-haired men".

The first of these is Cameroon and the second is one our closest neighbours, Papua New Guinea.

Some are more straightforward: Turkey means "land of the Turks", and India means "land of the Indus".

However, some names don't seem to match up, such one of the world's biggest countries, Canada, which means "the village".

The weird and wonderful origins of the world's country names have been compiled in an incredible collection of new maps from Credit Card Compare.

Did you know where the word Australia comes from? Picture: Credit Card Compare
Did you know where the word Australia comes from? Picture: Credit Card Compare

Australia's name, like many of our words, came from the Greek language.

"It was the Greeks who came up with the name Terra Australis Incognita, meaning 'unknown southern land', when they were dreaming of unknown lands in the southern hemisphere," writes David Boyd of Credit Card Compare, who worked on the project.

"Some believe that these lands down under gave birth to the entire universe. Samoa translates to 'sacred centre,' and legend has it that this is where Samoan god Tagaloalagi of the Heavens created the world."

European country names show the migration routes taken by settlers. Picture: Credit Card Compare
European country names show the migration routes taken by settlers. Picture: Credit Card Compare

The maps show how European country names come from the migration routes taken by settlers, but some are brilliantly vague, such as Germany, which is derived from "land of the people" and Serbia which comes from "land of the men".

France takes its name from Germanic tribes, the Franks, which settled across the continent.

Norway means "the way north", and references an old Viking route.

Asia is full of ‘lands of’ as tribes dominate the continent. Picture: Credit Card Compare
Asia is full of ‘lands of’ as tribes dominate the continent. Picture: Credit Card Compare

"Asia takes up a third of the world's total land area and is the most populated continent on the planet," Mr Boyd said. "Its rich diversity of culture and history is reflected in its country names."

Africa’s original country names refers to tribes and the landscape of each country Picture: Credit Card Compare
Africa’s original country names refers to tribes and the landscape of each country Picture: Credit Card Compare

Africa's country names reveal a history of indigenous cultures and colonisation.

For example, Malawi means "land of flames", which is thought to reflect the local habit of burning off dead grass to prepare the land for cultivation.

Canada means “the village”. Picture: Credit Card Compare
Canada means “the village”. Picture: Credit Card Compare

The name "America" is understood to come from the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who was the first person to realise the continent was a separate landmass and not on the east coast of Asia.

"This was the 'New World' and one destined for a tragic period of war and conflict over land," Mr Boyd said. "Mexico, colonised by Spain, is the simplified Spanish translation of a Nahuatl name for the Aztec capital, said to mean 'in the navel of the moon'.

"Spanish explorers reached much of Central America and the Caribbean, too, where they found gems like the 'land by the water' and the 'place of pomegranates' - known today as Nicaragua and Grenada."

South America’s original country names refer to the surroundings and heat of the continent. Picture: Credit Card Compare
South America’s original country names refer to the surroundings and heat of the continent. Picture: Credit Card Compare

South American country names are highly descriptive, for example, "land beside the silvery river" (Argentina) "little Venice" (Venezuela), named after the city of canals.

See the full map in detail here.