You'll Never Believe How These African Countries Got Their Names

Almost every country in the world is named after either a feature of the country, an influential person or tribe, or a directional description of the land.

The majority of African countries’ names are reminders of early colonialism.
African countries also follow suit with their names except with more intricate and interesting storylines.

Here are interesting ways African countries got their names:

Burkina Faso

In 1984, the name ‘Burkina Faso’, meaning “land of incorruptible people” was adopted by the president at that time, Thomas Sankara.


In the 15th century a Portuguese explorer was traveling across the Wouri river when he renamed it Rio dos Camarões (shrimp river) because of the abundance of shrimp he saw.


Prior to the name Ethiopia, the country was named Abyssinia. Ethiopia derived its name from the Greek form, aithiopia which means “burnt-face” as a noun and “red-brown” as an adjective.


In the 15th century, Portuguese traders arrived in Gabon and named it Gaboa (coat) because the shape of the Como River Estuary resembled a coat with sleeves and a hood.


The British were exploring and came across a snow-capped mountain in East Africa that the Kikuyu people called Kirinyaga. Brits had trouble pronouncing Kirinyaga and called it Mt. Kenya instead.


Liberia is the oldest republic on the continent and became an independent country in 1847. The country was established by freed African-American slaves and was named for liberty.


This country gets its name from a clerical error by Marco Polo. The explorer never visited the land but had mistaken it for Mogadishu, which eventually evolved into the name Madagascar.


The hippopotamus is a symbol of strength in Malian culture. The country got its name from the Bambara word for hippopotamus which also means “the place where the King lives.”


Mozambique was named after an Arab Sheikh, Mussa Bin Bique, who ruled the land when the Portuguese arrived.


Named after the Niger River, this country is a former French colony to the north of Nigeria.


Also named after the Niger River, this former British colony has the Niger river flowing through it.

Sierra Leone

In 1462, explorer, Pedro da Cintra came up with “Sierra Lyon”, or Lion Mountains because either the mountains resembled the teeth of lions or the roar of thunderstorms lead him to the land


Zambia was once known as Northern Rhodesia and was renamed in 1964 after receiving independence.
The new name was inspired by the Zambezi river, which is said to mean “river of God.”

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