The modern state system as we know it grew out of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, replacing empires with country names. In many cases, before and after the treaty, explorers named new lands and countries for their inhabitants, their geographic features, or for those who discovered the land. For example, Afghanistan means "land of the Afghans," Iceland is named for its glacial features, and Bolivia is named after Simon Bolivar, the man who discovered the area. Among the world's almost 200 countries, some country names don't follow this pattern, and some others have obscure meanings in this pattern. The following six country names have interesting meanings, and as a bonus, they make great vacation destinations.
Jamaica has been a favorite Caribbean vacation destination at least since James Bond battled evil in Dr. No and Live and Let Die. Ochos Rios, on the north shore of the island, is a regular cruise stop on Western Caribbean cruises. It's also the jumping-off point to visit the famous Dunn's River Falls, one of the island's numerous waterfalls. On the western shores of Jamaica, you will find Negril with it's famous Seven Mile Beach, a popular all-inclusive resort destination. The friendly people, delicious food, reggae music, stunning beaches, and the gorgeous Blue Mountains offer a distinctive backdrop for the perfect Caribbean getaway. Long before the British colonized Jamaica, it was home to the Taínos, indigenous Arawak people who lived on many Caribbean islands. When Christopher Columbus made his second voyage in 1494, he made his way to the island, then called by its Taíno name, Xaymaca, "the land of wood and water."
Many narratives exist about the origin of Mexico's name; one commonly told story includes the combination of two words. You probably know that before the Spanish conquest and colonization of the land now called Mexico, the Aztec natives had a sophisticated civilization for centuries. The Aztecs believed in many gods, including Mexitli, the god of war. His name came from two words: metzli and xictli, moon and naval. Together with the suffix -co, which means "the place where," Mexico means "in the naval of the moon."
When you plan a trip to Mexico, you can learn more about the country's rich Aztec heritage, especially in its capital, Mexico City. You can also learn about the Mayans, who ruled over the Yucatán peninsula before the Spanish came and conquered. Famous Mayan temples, such as Tulum and Chichén Itzá, remain popular historical sites for those who visit Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and other cities and resort areas along the stunning beaches of the Riviera Maya.
You may have heard Japan referred to as the "Land of the Rising Sun," but you likely don't know the interesting story behind the reference. The Chinese had several derogatory words to refer to the people who lived in the islands that make up today's Japan. In the seventh century, a Japanese envoy changed the name to Nippon, a Chinese word which translates to the "origin of the sun," because he didn't like the name used by the Chinese. The sun is central to Japanese mythology and Shinto religious traditions, so the new name highlighted that importance. Explanations from how the name Nippon turned into Japan are varied, but all have to do with the European trade routes in the 1400s and 1500s. Some claim Marco Polo's reference to the island of Chipangu during his travels to China led to the gradual Europeanization of the word; others claim Malaysian pronunciation of Nippon was "Jih-pun," or something similar, and it spread throughout the trade routes of Asia. In either case, today's Japan offers visitors the hustle, bustle, high-tech world of Tokyo, rooted in the country's distinct history and culture. Beyond Tokyo, travelers can visit Kyoto and other areas of the country to immerse themselves in authentic Japanese culture, visit ornate Shinto temples, and sample the country's distinctive cuisine.
When you think of the idyllic tropical isle where you can enjoy fruity rum drinks on a palm-lined, white sand beach while gazing at clear turquoise waters, you might be dreaming of Barbados. This Caribbean gem is the birthplace of rum, boasts more than 80 white sand beaches, and has a wide array of cultural and historical activities and sites that showcase Barbados's rich African and West Indian culture. Travelers who enjoy engaging with marine life also visit Barbados, where they can swim with the Hawksbill and Leatherback sea turtles that frequent the beaches on the west coast of the island. The island's name comes from the bearded fig tree. When the Portuguese sighted Barbados in 1536 on their way to Brazil, they referred to the island as Los Barbados, Portuguese for "the bearded ones," about the bearded fig trees growing throughout the island.
Those who haven't traveled to Italy dream of going to Italy. In addition to enjoying Italy's world-renowned cuisine, visitors can explore historical sites, take in the famous works of Michelangelo, and also visit Sicily and Sardinia, Italian islands with their own character.
If you aren't Italian, it's likely you don't know the meaning of Italy's name. Originally it was called Vitalia, rooted in Latin for the "Land of Cattle." After the Greeks took over the area, they changed the name to Italoi, the Greek word for Vitulus (calf). Eventually, the Romans extended the name to cover the entire peninsula.
Often described as more European than South American, Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital city has been given the moniker "Paris of South America." As one of the world's top ten largest countries, Argentina offers far more to visitors than the cosmopolitan Buenos Aries. Travelers can explore the countries famous Patagonia region and immerse themselves in gaucho culture of La Pampa or visit the Tierra del Fuego, a common jumping-off point for those who want to visit Antarctica.
In the 1500s, Italian explorer Sebastian Cabot worked for Spain's Council of the Indies. Cabot landed in Brazil and left his position to explore the Rio de la Plata, after hearing about the vast wealth of the Incans. After finding silver during his expedition, he referred to the area as the "Land beside the Silvery River," Tierra Argentina, later shortened to Argentina.