6 Unexpected Island Namesakes
Throughout history, the person to name an island was usually the person who found it—and because humankind is a little, well, self-absorbed, those islands were often named after their discoverer. But in a world with an uncountable number of landmasses, there’s bound to be some creativity. So forget explorers, saints, and officials; these island names come from much less obvious human sources.
1. BUSTA RHYMES ISLAND, MASSACHUSETTS
In Shrewsbury, a town about an hour west of Boston, a small island named after rap royalty Busta Rhymes sits in little Mill Pond. Local resident and de facto island caretaker Kevin O’Brien named the island in honor of his favorite rapper. The name appears on Google Maps, but it isn't official (yet): The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has a strict set of rules for naming geographic features, including the namesake being dead for at least five years.
2. AXEL HEIBERG ISLAND, NUNAVUT, CANADA
One of the largest islands in Canada was explored and named by Otto Sverdrup around 1900, but he didn’t name it after himself. This particular island is named after a Norwegian brewer—Axel Heiberg was the financial director of Ringnes brewery, one of the sponsors of the expedition. Other islands in the archipelago named for the brewery staff include Ellef Ringnes Island and Amund Ringnes Island, named for the brothers who founded the brewery. (The archipelago as a whole is known as Sverdrup Islands, however.)
3. MAJOR CAYE, BELIZE
This small nation in Central America has more than 200 islands, which they call cayes (pronounced keys). The Belize Tourism Board recently dubbed one of them Major Caye in honor of DJ Khaled and the social media words of wisdom he calls his “major keys.” Hopefully he doesn’t encounter anything related to the island’s former name—Snake Caye—if he takes them up on their offer of a free trip.
4. BELLAMY CAY, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Just off the coast of Beef Island, visitors to the British Virgin Islands can visit Bellamy Cay, named after a superstar of the area’s pirate legacy. Black Sam Bellamy reportedly used this landmass as his home base while out looting and raiding during the 1700s. He referred to himself as the Robin Hood of the Sea and when he died, he was reportedly the richest pirate in history.
5. NORMAN ISLAND, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
This island also takes its name from pirate history in the British Virgin Islands. Captain Norman, a pirate in the early 18th century, supposedly bought or leased this island prior to his death by hanging at the hands of the Spanish Puerto Rico Coast Guard. But he left some of his treasure behind—Norman Island is said to be the home of at least one recovered pirate treasure cache, and more are supposedly there waiting to be discovered. By some accounts, Robert Louis Stevenson used Norman Island as inspiration for Treasure Island.
6. YAYA ISLAND, RUSSIA
Russian Air Force crews discovered the newest island on this list, Yaya Island, in 2013 during a helicopter flight. Their initial thought was to name it Bounty Island (after the island Marlon Brando “discovered” while filming Mutiny on the Bounty), but the name changed to Yaya when the crews tried to figure out who saw the land first. There was a chorus of “Ya, ya!” in the room—which means “Me, me!”—so the island was more or less named after everyone.