Was the Canary Islands named after WHAT? I also saw that on the Internet and thought it must be a joke. But it wasn’t. Okay, hear me out before you jump to conclusions.
Although many people affirm it was a translation mistake, historians many historians agree that this is one of the most accepted theories about the name of the Canary Islands.
As if it was not enough, that is not the ONLY theory around its name… many other unknown and not-so-usual theories keep surprising people every time I tell them, so I had to write an article about it.
After reading this, you’ll learn all the theories around the origin of its name, discover some fascinating facts about the beautiful Canary Islands, and I’ll show you some of the best shots I’ve taken while visiting this gorgeous land! I’ll even show you how to refer to a native from the Canary Islands accurately, so listen up!
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Origin of the Canary Islands Name
Undoubtedly one of the most relevant theories. Different studies say that the monarch Juba II of Mauritania (in Africa) sent his troops to colonize the Canary Islands. And it is said that they found thousands of dogs after they landed. And, it was so shocking that they baptized the island as “Insulare Canaria,” which means “dog islands,” which would end up deriving the current name of Canary Islands.
There’s another theory that points out marine wolfs, and sea lions as the main suspects in the birth of the island’s name. According to history, at the end of the 1st century BC, there was an expedition sent by Juba II to Mauretania, where explorers found a large colony of sea dogs (“Canes Marinos” in Spanish) and monk seals, which invited them to baptize the island as “Canaria.”
But wait, it must have been a poor translation of the trip’s chronicle that led to the misinterpretation of these “sea dogs” as actual dogs, causing the birth of the theory above.
Now let’s move to the third theory that places the origin of the island’s name on ancient settlers that were mainly found on the island: a Berber tribe that was called “Canarii”. They were habitants of the African Atlas region. And it is said that the name has its origins there.
But there is more… Other historians attribute the name Canary Islands to the canna or bitter cane that grows in the area.
Origin of the name of each Canary Island
Tenerife, “Tin Irifi,” means the place of thirst. This word has an Amazigh (Berber) origin from Morocco and North Africa.
The Island is named Lanzarote after the Genoese sailor Lancelotto Malocello, one of the first explorers of the Island.
The name “Forte Ventura” was given by the navigators of the time, which means “very lucky” (Gran Afortunada in Spanish).
Gran Canaria was the Island that took the longest to be colonized due to the number of social groups and tribes formed on the Island. Therefore it was called “Grande,” which led to Gran Canaria.
It is said that the origin of “La Gomera” comes from the North African tribe of the Ghomara in the Rift region and that they were castellanized on that Island. Some other historians say that the name revolves around Berber terms such as “agmer or Igemran” meaning meadow or islet. But the mystery is still out there.
The name of the “Hierro” island comes from the aboriginal language (Hero or Ecero), and, during the conquest, it was transformed by similarity with the Castilian word “Hierro,” meaning “iron.”
“The name (La Graciosa) appears in documents before the expedition of conquest to the Canary Islands. For example, it appears in the Book of Conosçimiento from the mid-14th century and the chronicles of Henry III. They described the Island as “La Graciosa,” which means the funny one.
There are three theories about its origin.
The first says that some Spaniards in the time of King Abides, fleeing from a dreadful and prolonged drought, found the Island of La Palma, and “in the freshness of their lands of the time, they were victorious.”
The second says that Mallorcan navigators of the 14th century put this name to the Island in recognition of the capital of the Island where they came from.
The third hypothesis is from a 17th-century Canary historian, Cristóbal Pérez del Cristo, who believes its name comes from the Island Planaria.
This is just too much at this point. Who holds the truth?
Any of them can open our minds to the infinite amount of legends, myths, and traditions this gorgeous land contains. Here are 13 curious facts about the Canary Islands that actually make sense:
13 Fun Facts About the Canary Islands
1. “Podenco Canario,” a native dog breed to the Canary Islands
The Podenco Canario is a Spanish canine breed native to the Canary Islands. It is a hunting dog of nature, and it is very common to see it in these lands. Especially in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, but they are rarely found anywhere else. Could this be the dog that the first inhabitants found on their arrival on the islands? Find out more about the Spanish dog breeds in the following article:
One of the most iconic foods of the Canary Islands is potatoes with mojo. This plate is basically tiny little potatoes cooked with water and lemon, along with the traditional sauce called mojo picón. It consists of paprika, garlic, cumin, vinegar, and oil and it is commonly served as a snack or appetizer. You can order this at almost any restaurant near the beach or a terrace!
3. Eight Islands, not seven!
There have been eight Islands in the Canary Islands since 2018. “La Graciosa” initially belonged to Lanzarote, but it is now the eighth island of the Canary Islands, providing its visitors with sandy roads and pretty beaches with over 700 inhabitants!
👉🏻 If you’re wondering which Island is best for your next travel, watch this video:
4. They call “guagua” to the common bus
In the Canary Islands, they call “guagua” to the common bus. This strange word is a voice of onomatopoeic origin. It actually means omnibus or urban service bus, but it has its origin in Cuba.
This word is the result of a phonetic adaptation of the English word “waggon”, which means wagon. In the United States, the large wagons that traveled in this country were called this way, as well as the medium-sized buses used today for the free transportation of people.
Therefore, Cubans adopted this word because of the phonetic resemblance to the Caribbean locution, and Canary emigrants brought this word back to their homeland.
5. One of the Best Carnivals in Spain
The famous Carnival of Tenerife is, along with Cadiz, one of the most important carnivals in Spain. It is currently aiming to become a World Heritage Site. In addition, it won a Guinness Record in 1987 because it gathered more than 250,000 people in a public square. At that time, it was the largest attendance at a public concert.
And as if that were not enough, for a long time, the carnival was called “Fiestas de Invierno” (Winter festivities) to avoid the prohibition of the dictatorship era. Read more about this fascinating topic in the following articles:
The first written documents about the visits to the Canary Islands came to light at the beginning of the 14th century. The conquest of the islands began in early 1402 when the nobleman and adventurer Jean de Béthencourt set out from La Rochelle with a small group in the direction of the Canary Islands.
7. Unique Canarian Words and Expressions
Some different Canarian words and expressions are very peculiar, even to other Spaniards, since these are very different from those used in the big cities in Spain. As we can see, each region is especially unique and has its own style. Some expressions you may find helpful when visiting the islands are the following:
Ños: Okay, a hard one to pronounce. It means surprise or “perplexity” at being confronted with something you like. A good moment to use it would be when you visit a place for the first time, and you are amazed by its beauty, and you say “ños.”
“Fisco” and “Pisco”: both mean “little,” and it depends on the area of Gran Canaria where it is used since fisco is used in the western side, while pisco is used in the east.
“Estoy añurgado” or “Me añurgé”: This is one of my favorites. It is also used in some Caribbean countries like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. This phrase indicates that food is blocked in your throat. I mean, not choking but also not flowing as it should to the stomach. It also means another thing. While referring to somebody, this phrase indicates that there is a lack of affinity and understanding.
8. Wide variety of Tropical Crops
Among the things that are cultivated in the Canary Islands, we can find onions, some citrus, and tropical fruits such as avocado, papaya, and pineapple. A large part of its production is exported to Spain (the peninsula), and for this reason, we have the opportunity to have a wonderful variety of tropical fruits and vegetables. Best of both worlds.
9. The Best Climate in Europe?
The Canary Islands enjoy a mild climate averaging 18 to 24°C all year round. It is said that they have one of the best climates in Europe. Why is this? Well, Summer is not too hot, and winter should not even be called winter. So, this is the place of eternal spring.
This “perfect” weather is (mainly) because of “The trade winds,” a type of wind affecting regions in the tropics. In summer, they prevent the weather from being too hot, and in winter, they act as a shield preventing the cold, so the climate here is mild all year round.
10. What are people from the Canary Islands called?
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
grancanario, ria. canarión, na
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
lanzaroteño, ña. conejero, ra
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
El Hierro, La Gomera, La Palma, Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
santacrucero. rachicharrero, ra
11. Islands have their own microclimate!
Yes, you heard that right! From arid deserts to tropical forests. Like Tenerife, for example, depending on which side of the Teide National Park you are on. Read more:
Caleta del Barco, Playa del Hierro, and Majanicho beach are “Popcorn beaches”. I’m not even kidding. These beaches are covered by a curious type of “rodolitos” that look like popcorn. They have become one of the most incredible attractions while visiting the city. I’m sure you’ll get the perfect instagrammable shot.
13. The Unique “Silbo Gomero” Language
The island of “La Gomera” has its own language. It is called the “Silbo Gomero”, a “language” of the island that works entirely through the sound of whistles. This curious form of communication was initially used by farmers to communicate with each other over long distances. And, thanks to the tone every vowel and consonant can be distinguished so they can form words. It was even declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009.
Okay, the truth is that there is no trustworthy evidence of the origin of the current name of our islands yet. However, many of these theories can be correct. Who knows? Nevertheless, this magical and paradisiac island surprises hundreds of visitors every time they come to this land! Find more info about it in the following articles:
Inigo Navarro is a seasoned travel writer with a deep understanding of Spain's cities, culture, people and language. Born and raised in Spain, he has spent years exploring the country and is currently one of the most-read Travel Bloggers about Spain. Inigo is also an experienced digital marketer, a father to 4 beautiful children and a huge Real Madrid Fan. ¡Hala Madrid!