Why Do They Call It Trinidad AND Tobago?

Christopher Columbus did a lot of naming in his day. As it turns out, he had a hand in naming four of the five island-nations with two names. Is that an obscure enough fact for you? Still, this is definitely the kind of fact that shows up on pub trivia night, and if you know it, you’re going to look like a genius.

Trinidad and Tobago

Ol’ Chris Columbus named the Trinidad portion of the island-nation duo Trinidad and Tobago after—what else can be expected from a Catholic explorer?—the Holy Trinity. Rumor has it people started calling the other, smaller island “Tobago” because of all the tobacco grown (and smoked) by the natives there. The neighboring islands have been linked since the late 1880s, when a British commission combined Tobago with Trinidad.

Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda has a similar story. Columbus named the Antigua portion of the two-island country after a Cathedral in Spain, Santa Maria La Antigua, but the name Barbuda, which means “bearded” in Spanish (and Portuguese and almost Italian), was probably named later, in a nod to the island’s famous fig trees looking like they have long, scraggly beards. (Incidentally, the island nation of Barbados, not to be confused with Barbuda, was probably named after the “bearded” appearance of that island’s ficus trees.)

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Old Chris named Saint Kitts and Nevis, too, but kind of by accident. When he first landed on what became Saint Kitts, he actually called it San Martin, but since there were so many poorly drawn maps in those days, the name later got transferred to the island we now know as Saint Martin. Oops. How St. Kitts then got to be called St. Kitts is a bit of a mystery, but it’s probably a safe bet to say it was named after Saint Christopher (the patron saint of, among other things, traveling, bachelors and toothaches).

Nevis derives its name from the Catholic dedication, Nuestra Senora de las Nieves, which means “Our Lady of the Snows,” and was later shortened and anglicized into “Nevis.”

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

The naming of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was pretty straightforward: Columbus landed on St. Vincent on the Feast of Saint Vincent, and then named the other islands “the Grenadines” after the Spanish city, Granada. (So was the Caribbean island-nation, Grenada, but if that’s a question at your pub trivia night, someone’s not trying hard enough).

Sao Tome and Principe

The only island-nation that has two names that was not named by Christopher Columbus is—drumroll, please!—Sao Tome and Principe, which is off the coast of western Africa, and was named after Saint Thomas, of course, and the Portuguese prince to whom taxes were owed on the island’s abundant sugar fields.

This story originally appeared in 2011.

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August 31, 2013 - 8:03am
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