African State Etymology

A bit of name history, initiated by the Three Dikgosi Monument guide Samuel

Algeria – from Algiers/al-Jazair, which means ‘the islands’ (Arabic)

Angola – ‘Land of Ndongo,’ derived from a chiefly title Ngola held by the kings of Ndongo

Benin – named for the Bight of Benin, the nearest body of water*

Botswana the place of the Tswana people

Burkina Faso – ‘Land of Honest People’ (More)

Burundi – named for the kingdom of Urundi

Cameroon – derived from Rio dos Camarões or ‘River of Prawn’ (Portuguese)

Cape Verde – ‘Green Cape’ (Portuguese)

CAR | République Centrafricaine named for its geography (French)

Chad – ‘Lake,’ named after Lake Chad, which literally translates ‘Lake Lake’ (Kanuri)

Comoros – derived from qamar, which means ‘moon’ (Arabic)

Côte d’Ivoire – ‘Ivory Coast’, named for its primary resource export (French)

DRC | République Democratique du Congo – alternate spelling of Kongo, a once-massive kingdom in the region

Djibouti – a francisation of the Somali expression Jabuuti, meaning “the fall of the ogre” or the Afar word Gabouti –  “weaving” (French)*

Egypt – derived from Aígyptos [Αἴγυπτος], meaning ‘below the Aegean Sea, and coming from Hikuptah, a corruption of Hwt-ka-Ptah that became ‘Memphis’, and translates roughly to ‘home of the ka/soul of Ptah’ – Memphis was the site of a temple to Ptah, god of craftsmen and architects (Greek & late Egyptian)

Equatorial Guinea – named for its geography [see Guinea] (Spanish)

Eritrea – ‘Land of the Red Sea’ (Italian)

Ethiopia – ‘Land of the blacks’ (Latin)

Gabon – ‘Cloak’, comes from Gabão which describes the Komo River estuary near Libreville* (Portuguese)

The Gambia – named after the River Gambia, a misspelling of the Portuguese Gambra, a corruption of Kambra or Gambura meaning ‘place of the king’* (Mandinkan)

Ghana ‘Warrior king’, a title reserved for powerful kings in the former Malian empire (Akan)

Guinea – Anglicisation of guiné which may have originated in the Berber term Ghinawen, meaning ‘the burnt people’ and used to describe blacks living south of the Senegal River* (Portuguese)

Guinea-Bissau – an amalgamation of names for the region and the major port city [see Guinea] (Portuguese)

Kenya – ‘White Mountain,’ likely derived from Kere Nyaga and referring to Mount Kenya (Kikuyu)

Lesotho -‘Land of Basotho/Sesotho-speakers’ (Sotho/Sesotho)

Liberia – ‘Land of the Free’ (Latin)

Libya – the name of a Berber tribe called ‘Libyans’ by the Greeks that was eventually attributed to a broader region wherein lies the modern country (Greek)

Madagascar – Madagasikara, but popularised as Mogadishu, a poor transliteration made by Marco Polo (Malagasy)

Malawi – ‘Flaming water,’ named for the sun’s reflection on a lake surface; President Banda liked the sound of ‘Malawi’ better than Malavi or the colonial name Nyasa and the name stuck (Chichewa)

Mali – ‘Hippopotamus’ (Malinké & Bamana)

Mauritania – ‘Land of the Moors’ (Latin)

Mauritius – ‘Maurice,’ named after Prins Maurits van Nassaueiland (Dutch)

Morocco – from al-Maghrib, meaning ‘the West,’ and referring to the city of Marrakesh (Arabic)

Mozambique – named for an Arab sheik, Mussa Ben Mbiki (Arabic)

Namibia – ‘area where there is nothing,’ from Namib and referring to the Namib Desert (Nama)

Niger – ‘Flowing water’ after Niger River* (Tuareg)

Nigeria – [see Niger]

Réunion – ‘Reunion,’ commemorating the union of Marseilles revolutionaries with the National Guard (French)

Rwanda – ‘Land’ or ‘Place of Kinyarwanda-speakers‘ (Kinyarwanda)

São Tomé and Príncipe – ‘Saint Thomas and the Isle of the Prince’ (Portuguese)

Sénégal – from the Senegal River, named after the Berber Zenaga tribe in the region (Portuguese)

Seychelles – named for Jean Moreau de Séchelles, French Minister of Finance to Louis XV (French)

Sierra Leone – ‘Lion Mountains’ (Portuguese)

Somalia – ‘Land of the Somali,’ a name likely taken from Samaale, a former patriarch (Somali)

South Africa named for its geography (English)

South Sudannamed for its geography [see Sudan] (English)

Sudan – Land of the blacks‘ (Arabic)

Swaziland – ‘Land of the Swazi,’ a name derived from King Mswati I  (siSwati)

Tanzania – ‘Land of Tanganyika and Zanzibar’ – the origins of Tanganyika are fraught with theories (Swahili* & Arabic)

Togo – ‘Water and shore’ (Ewe)

Tunisia – ‘Land of Tunis,’ possibly derived from tns, a root word of ‘encampment’ (Berber)

Uganda – named for the Buganda kingdom (Swahili)

Zambia – ‘Land of the Zambezi River’ (Bantu)

Zimbabwe – ‘House of Stones,’ from dzimba-dza-mabwe (Shona)

alternative theories exist


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