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See How These African Countries Got Their Names: Top 10 Interesting Backstories



Liberia got its name from the group of Quakers and slaveholders who wanted to repatriate freed Black people to Africa, a report by PBS explains. The group, known as the American Colonization Society, planned to send freed Black people back to Africa instead of having them potentially causing an uprising in America. The scheme of creating an entire country full of freed Black people from America ultimately resulted in the land being deemed Liberia, which translates to “Land of Freedom.”


9. Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

In 1462, Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra mapped the hills around what is now known as Freetown Harbour. As he mapped the landscape, he deemed the formation Serra da Leoa, Portuguese for “lioness mountains,” according to the Kingfisher Geography Encyclopedia. The name was eventually adapted and the now misspelled term for the majestic mountains became the country’s new name — Sierra Leone.


8. Cameroon


Cameroon’s name originated from one Portuguese sailor’s fascination with how many shrimp he spotted when he arrived in the African country. According to an article posted by the Cameroon Embassy in the Netherlands, “Cameroon is derived from the Portuguese word, Camaroes, meaning shrimps.” Fernando Po arrived at the Wouri River in Douala when he spotted so many shrimp that he declared the river Rio Dos Camaroes, which translates to river of shrimps. Eventually, explorers from all around the globe came to know the land adjacent to the Rio Dos Camaroes as Cameroon.


7. Eritrea


According to a report published by Uppsala University, the country’s name comes from Italian settlers who created colonies on the Horn of Africa in the 19th century. Italians used the phrase “Mare Erythraeum,” which loosely translates to Red Sea, to describe the cluster of colonies that lined what is now known as the Red Sea. Adaptations of that name eventually led to the name it still holds today.


6. Zimbabwe


Zimbabwe’s name originates from one of the most prominent landmarks in the country. The name is derived from a large, historical stone structure called the Great Zimbabwe, which translates to “houses of stone,” the Zimbabwe embassy’s website explains. The embassy’s site states that this stone structure is one of the largest in Africa following the Egyptian pyramids.


5. Togo


Prior to the era of colonial rule by Germany, various tribes had already settled into the country that would soon become known as Togo. In the neighboring countries of Ghana and Benin, Portuguese settlers built forts and began to trade at the small fort at Porto Seguro, according to the Journal of the Royal African Society. The area became a major trading center for Europeans in search of slaves, earning the region the name Togo, which translates to “The Slave Coast.”


4. Seychelles


According to an article published by the National Assembly of Seychelles, the 115-island country was named after Jean Moreau de Sechelles, Louis XV’s minister of finance. In 1756, the French started taking control of the country, which was eventually contested by the British for years starting in 1794.


3. Gabon


Gabon’s name originated from the unusual shape of the Rio de Como estuary, according to Encyclopedia of Nations. The Portuguese arrived on the country’s coast around 1470 when explorers realized the estuary was shaped like a hooded cloak called a “gabao.” After a series of adaptations and translations, the country became known as Gabon.


2. Mauritius


According to Mauritius: A Country Study, the island nation was named in honor of Prince Maurice Nassau by Dutch explorers. In 1715, the French claimed the country and renamed it Ile de France before the British captured the country in 1810 and changed its name back to Mauritius.


1. Mozambique

According to the country’s official tourism site, the origin of Mozambique’s name isn’t certain, but there is a widely believed theory. The site explains that it is “believed to have come from the name of a Muslim leader called ‘Musa al Bique’ that lived in the Island of Mozambique, where Vasco de Gama in 1498 anchored his ship.”




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