Countries With Names by Region of Origin

Approximately one-fourth of the countries in the world have taken their names according to various characteristics of the region they are in. For example, Algeria (aljazair) means islands because there were small islands in front of the coast, but later they merged with the land and disappeared. Here is the map of Countries with names by region of origin.

A  world map highlighting certain countries in blue against a gray background of other countries, with no labels or text.
Countries with names by region of origin

On the map you see countries that are based on the region they are named. Let’s examine how the names of these countries come individually.


Albania is a mountainous country. It took its name from the Albanoi tribe. Alb means mountain in Indo-European.


Algeria is the Anglicization of the Arabic name Al Jazā᾽ir, ‘the islands’.


The name Argentina is said to have been coined by Spanish explorers who, when they first came to the region, noticed the silver ornaments worn by the natives. Thus the word is from the Spanish argentine, ‘silvery’, and means ‘(Land of) the Silver (River)’.


Brazil takes its name from the pau-brasil tree from which a valuable red dye is extracted.


Cameroon is the Anglicized form of the Portuguese Camarões. The area was named Rio dos Camarões, ‘River of Prawns’, by Portuguese explorers.


The name is taken from the Lake Chad, which in turn takes its name from the Bornu tsade, ‘lake’, itself from the Arabic tŝād, ‘large lake’.


The Congo got its name from the river Kongo, which is named after the Kongo people who founded the Kongo kingdom. Kong or kongo is a Bantu word for ‘mountains’.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica means ‘rich coast’. The name was chosen by Christopher Columbus, who may have believed that gold would be found there.


The name means ‘Equator’ in Spanish, a reference to the equator running through the northern part of the country.


Eritrea was named by the Italians, from the Italianized version of the Latin Mare Erythraeum, ‘Red Sea’, from the ancient Greek erythros, ‘red’.


The country adopted the name from the Portuguese, who came up with the name Gabão, ‘hooded cloak’, for the Gabon Estuary, so called because of its shape.


The origin of the name Guatemala is not entirely clear, but it has been suggested that it comes from an Aztec word, Quauhtemallan, meaning ‘Land of Many Trees’ or ‘Land of the Eagle’. It is also possible that the country takes its name from the word Guhatezmalha, ‘Mountain of Gushing Water’, after the volcano of Agua.


Its swampy coastline and many rivers probably gave Guyana its name meaning ‘Land of Waters’ after an Arawak or Carib word.


Haiti took its name from the Arawak name of Ayti, the original name for the island now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Ayti means ‘Land of Mountains’.


The name means ‘Deep Water’ from the Spanish hondura, a possible reference to the depth of the coastal waters.


Originally called Snæland, ‘Snow Land’, Iceland’s present name comes from the Norse settlers who renamed it with the intention to deter visitors from coming to the island.

Ivory Coast

The Cote d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast in English, is so called because the French and Portuguese confined themselves to the coast to trade in ivory in pre-colonial times.


Named after the River Jordan, from the Hebrew root yrd, ‘descend (into the Dead Sea)’. The river’s name, however, could mean ‘River of Dan’, with Dan being one of the sons of Jacob.


Kenya is a shortened version of the Kikuyu name, Kirinyaga, a corruption of the Swahili kere nyaga, ‘Mountain of Whiteness’.


Moldova comes from the name of the Moldova River – which, legend has it, was named by Prince Dragoș after a dog, Molda, which drowned in the river after hunting an aurochs. It is sadly more likely that the name comes from the Gothic mulda, ‘dust’.


Montenegro means ‘black mountain’, said to be a reference to the dark appearance of Mt Lovćen at various times of the year and the surrounding heavily wooded areas.

New Zealand

The name New Zealand comes from the Dutch province of Zeeland, ‘sea land’.


The land-locked country takes its name from the Niger River that flows through Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.


The name comes from the River Birú or Perú, itself from the Guaraní biru or piru, ‘water’ or ‘river’.


Portugal is derived from the Latin portus cale, ‘warm harbour’, which referred to a Roman settlement, now Oporto, at the mouth of the River Douro and the fact that the port was never ice-bound.


Senegal may be named after the Zenaga Berbers. There is another apocryphal explanation that an explorer pointed to the Senegal River and asked what its name was. Il sunu gaol was the reply – meaning ‘our canoe’.

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone means ‘Lion Mountains’ from the Portuguese sierra, ‘mountain chain’, and leão, ‘lion’. However, there are no lions here, even if there once were.

South Africa

South Africa is, of course, the southernmost country in Africa; the word Africa may come from the Berber word afar, ‘dust’, or perhaps the ancient Egyptian root n’fr, meaning ‘good’, ‘beautiful’, or ‘perfect’.


Uruguay may have come from uruguä, the Guaraní for a species of mussel, thus ‘River of Shellfish’, or from uru, a type of bird that lived near the river, gua ‘to proceed from’, and y ‘water’.

Source: Oxford Dictionaries