Origins of the Names of African Countries


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Algeria - Named after the capital city Algiers or Al-Jazair ("The Island") in Arabic. A reference to the small islands that once dotted the bay of the city.
Angola - When Portuguese mariner Diego Cao landed at the mouth of the Congo River in 1483, two distinct Kingdoms ruled the region. The Kingdom of the Bakongo reigned in the north. The Quimbundos Kingdom, also known as Ndongo, dominated in the western and central areas. The king of the Quimbundos was called "Ngola". The region, taking its name from the king, became Angola. News - Links
Benin - (Formerly Dahomey) named after the ancient Nigerian Kingdom of Benin. The former name Dahomey, pronounced Dan Ho Me ("on the belly of Dan") was an ancient Kingdom located in the south of what is modern-day Benin Republic.
Botswana - A name used to collectively describe the Tswana, the country's dominant ethnic group. Formerly known as Bechuanaland, Bechauna being an alternative spelling for Botswana.
Burkina Fasso - Mossi for "Land of Incorruptible Men" was changed to this from Upper Volta in 1984. Upper Volta reffered to its geographical location in relation to the Volta river.
Burundi - Derives from Rundi (Kirundi) the language universally spoken throughout Burundi.
Cameroon (also Cameroun in French) - The name is derived from Rio de Camarőes (the River of Prawns) the name given to River Wouri by Portuguese Explorers in the 15th century.
Cape Verde (Cabo Verde) - Named after the westernmost point in mainland Africa. The nearest point on the continent to this Island Nation.
Central African Republic - It's in Central Africa! Africa is believed to have originated from either the Latin word "aprica" ("Sunny") or Greek "aphrike" ("without cold") and originally applied to North Africa. However as Europe discovered the extent of continental Africa, the term came to match its modern day usage.
Chad - The name appears to derive from the Lake which forms it South-Western border with Nigeria.
Comoros - The name "Comoros" is derived from the Arabic kamar or kumr, meaning "moon," although this name was first applied by Arab geographers to Madagascar. It was adopted by French Colonialists to describe the Islands.
Congo - Named after the 15th Kingdom of Kongo which thrived on both banks of the River Congo, extending into Modern day Congo, Congo DR, Angola and Zambia.
Congo DR - As Above. Also formerly known as Zaire a traditional local name for River Congo.
Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) - The Reference by European traders to the availabiilty of Ivory Tusks.
Djibouti - (Fomerly Territory of the Afars and Issas) Named after the Port capital.
Egypt - Direct geographical descendent of Ancient Egypt.
Equatorial Guinea - Guinea derives from the berber word aguinaw, or gnawa ("black man"), which Berbers (Nomadic Saharan Peoples) have used to describe most of West Africa.
Eritrea - The Latin phrase Mare Erythraeum ("Red Sea") was used by Italy to describe its colonies in the horn of Africa. This later became Eritrea and was adopted by the country on independence from Ethiopia.
Ethiopia - Direct geographical descendent of Ancient Ethiopia.
Gabon - Gabon's first European visitors were Portuguese traders who arrived in the 15th century and subsequent Portuguese references refered to it as Gabon after the Portuguese word gabao, a coat with sleeves and hood resembling the shape of the Como River estuary, where they first explored.
Gambia - Named after the River Gambia which flows through the Country.
Ghana - Named after the Ancient West African Kingdom of Ghana. See Ancient Ghana.
Guinea - See Equatorial Guinea.
Guinea-Bissau - See Equatorial Guinea.
Kenya - Named after the mountain of the same name. and this in turn derives it name from The Kikuyu, who refer to the mountain as Kirinyaga, or Kere-Nyaga ("Mountain of Whiteness").
Lesotho - Named after the Sotho People, the dominant Ethnic Group. Formerly known as Basutoland.
Liberia - Derived from the Latin word liber ("Free") - Reference to the return of Freed American Slaves who founded the modern Republic of Liberia.
Libya - In 1934, Italy adopted the name "Libya" (used by the ancient Greeks for all of North Africa, except Egypt) as the official name of their new colony, which consisted of the Provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan.
Madagascar - The origin of the Madagascar is uncertain, some people believe the European Traveller Marco Polo (who never visted the island) confused it with Mogadishu in present - day Somalia. Hence Early reference to the Island as Madeigascar or Mogelasio, this eventually became Madagascar about the 16th centruty. Others believe that the Madagascar may be a local reference to the "Country of Malagasy". However, the Kings of Malagasy tended to refer to the whole Island by "Izao will rehetra izao " or " Izao tontolo izao ("this entire country").
Malawi - Derived from Marawi - A confederacy of states that existed in the area of present day Malawi.
Mali - Named after the ancient West African Kingdom of Mali. See Ancient Mali.
Mauritania - The name is derived from Spanish description of the area as the land of the Moors, a term used to describe Arab rulers of Southern Spain. It was also the name of an ancient Berber Kingdom.
Mauritius - The island was named in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau by Dutch explorers. The French claimed Mauritius in 1715 and renamed it Ile de France. In 1810, Mauritius was captured by the British and renamed back to Mauritius.
Mayotte - Most of the people are Moharais of Malagasy origin. Mayotte (French), Maore or Mahore (Comoran) describes the land of the Moharais.
Morocco - Direct geographical descendent of Ancient Morocco.
Mozambique - Named after Mouzinho de Alburquerque, 19th Century Portuguese colonalist who put down nationalist rebellions in the territory and thus established effective Portuguese control.
Namibia - derived from the Namib, the desert that runs along the namibia coast. Namib in turn means "an area where there is nothing" in the local Nama language.
Niger - Derived from the River Niger, and meaning Black in Latin.
Nigeria - Meaning the Area of the Niger. As Above
Reunion - An overseas Department of France, The Islands are named Reunion in 1848 after several name changes and temporary occupation by the British.
Rwanda - Named after the Laguage spoken throught out the country, Ruanda (also called Kinyarwanda).
Sao Tome and Principe - Portuguese names for the Islands. Actual Origin unknown.
Senegal - Derived from the River Senegal.
Seychelles - In 1756, Seychelles became a French colony under the name of Séchelles, named after the Moreau of Séchelles, Minister of Finance under the kingdom of Louis XV. During the 19th Century, under British rule the name was anglicised to Seychelles.
Sierra Leone - Sierra Leone's name dates back to 1462, when a Portuguese explorer, Pedro da Cintra, sailed down the coast of West Africa and saw the long range of mountains of what is now the Freetown Peninsula. As a result of shape and climatic conditions experienced by the explorer, he called the lands 'Sierra Lyoa' meaning 'Lion Mountains'. Sixteenth century English sailors called it 'Sierra Leoa'; by the seventeenth it was 'Sierra Leona', and by 1787, under British Rule it had became Sierra Leone.
Somalia - The Land of the Somali, the dominant Ethnic group in the country.
South Africa - See Central African Republic.
Sudan - Sudan (a name derived from the Arabic phrase - bilad as-sudan, "land of the blacks"). Used by Arabs to describe what is today Sub-Sahran Africa, i.e. Africa excluding Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Egypt.
Swaziland - The Land of the Swazi's who form 97% of the population.
Tanzania - A name derived from the union of Mainland Tanganyika and the Islands of Zanzibar which together form the United Republic of Tanzania.
Togo - Named after Togoville in Germany, where Germany declared a "protectorate" over the area that came to be Togo.
Tunisia - Named after Tunis the present-day capital, but in ancient times a powerful city-state and successor to ancient Carthage.
Uganda - Derived from the Buganda, the country's largest Ethnic Group.
Western Sahara (SADR) - Named after is location. Also known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic after its people, the Sahrawi Arabs.
Zambia - Derived from the Zambezi River which flows along its southern borders.
Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe was named after Great Zimbabwe an ancient trading empire dating back to the Iron Age. Zimbabwe means Stone Houses in the local Shona Language.

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