The Fascinating History Behind Different Country Names

It’s interesting to think that we can grow up in a country and actually know so little about it. Each country has so much history and so many stories to tell, and even the individual names of countries often have rather interesting origin stories. Have you ever wondered why Brazil is called Brazil, for example? Have you ever visited another nation somewhere around the world and asked yourself how the name originally came about? There are some very intriguing etymological tales behind many national names. Read on to learn just a few of them.


It’s a commonly known confusion that Greenland isn’t really very green at all, while its neighboring nation of Iceland is actually more green than icy. There’s actually a rather fascinating tale behind how these names came about. Allegedly, a Viking named “Erik the Red” discovered Greenland back in the year 985.

Green bright northern lights hidden by the clouds over the Inuit village at the fjord, Nuuk city, Greenland

He’d also visited Iceland, and seen that it was much more suitable for colonization. He, therefore, decided to trick people by naming Greenland (Grfnland in Norwegian) and sending them there in the hope that he could keep Iceland for himself. Scientists have discovered, however, that back in those days, Greenland would have been a lot greener than it is now.


Brazil is famous as the home of the Amazon rainforest, and trees played a big part in the naming of this South American nation too. The country is absolutely filled with one particular kind of tree called the Pau-Brasil.

Pau-Brasil Tree

A slimy red sap oozes out of these trees regularly and is used as a dye in food and clothing. The name of this tree comes from the Portuguese words ‘pau’ meaning tree and ‘Brasil’ meaning ember, due to the color of the sap. Portugal colonized Brazil, so decided to name it after the trees.


To figure out the origin of the name of Japan, we only need to look at one of its most common nicknames: “Land of the Rising Sun.” This nickname is actually directly related to the official name of the country. In Japanese, Japan is known as Nippon, which essentially means “the origin of the sun.”

Mountain Fuji Japan

This name came about due to Japan’s easterly location, which means it receives sunlight and starts its days before much of the rest of Asia. Japanese people are particularly proud of their sunny status.


Anyone with interest in Latin or other languages might have an idea of the origin story behind the name of the South American nation of Argentina. Argentum is silver in Latin, and argent is silver in French, so it’s clear that silver has a part to play in this story.

Navigating the River Plate or Silver River (Rio de la Plata), between Argentina and Uruguay

Various Spanish and Portuguese explorers came upon Argentina in the 16th century. One of them, Sebastian Cabot, followed a long river and discovered all kinds of silver trinkets in the villages along its banks, subsequently dubbing it the ‘Rio de la Plata’ or ‘River of Silver.’ The silver connotations continued when naming the actual country.


If you look at the name of Liberia and think it must have some kind of connection with ‘liberty,’ you’d be right. This nation was founded by former slaves who were finally given their freedom in 1822 and allowed to start new lives. Fittingly, their new home was called Liberia, taken inspiration from the Latin word ‘liber,’ which means ‘free.’

Beautiful lush green West African rain forest during amazing sunset, Liberia, West Africa

It was a white American man named Robert Goodloe Harper who came up with the name. Harper worked with other members of the American Colonization Society to give African land back to African people and free slaves.