Updated: March 29, 2023Published: January 13, 2023
Have you ever known a country named after an animal? Actually, ten countries and islands are mentioned after animals, and we just have yet to notice them.
Let us travel back in time for a moment. Imagine the ancient civilizations like the Romans, the Phoenicians, the Iberians, etc. They carried simple lives, and what is simpler than naming a territory after the first animal you identify?
Well, after reading this article, you will discover why Spain is called the ’land of rabbits,’ who gave it that title, and what other names were intended for this territory.
My guess is that our far-back ancestor stock with the name that sounded the best.
What does “land of rabbits” mean?
‘Land of rabbits’ is the literal translation of Spain. Throughout the years, Spain’s name has evolved from its origin, but its meaning remains untouched.
One of the first civilizations to step on the Iberian Peninsula noticed an incredible amount of rabbits inhabiting the land. So, they went for an easily identifiable name to differentiate the new land from others. And that was ‘Ispania,’ from ‘sphan,’ which meant rabbit. Later it evolved into Hispania, and finally, ‘España’ or Spain.
Before we move on to the civilization that named a former empire after rabbits, you should know that Spain’s name has evolved over the centuries. If you are curious to know each of them and why head to the article below!
Why is Spain called Spain? The Real Origin of its Name
In the 4th century BC, a powerful civilization arrived on the southern coasts of Spain to extend their Empire. These were the Cathargenians.
From modern-day Tunisia, the Carthage Empire was powerful and controlled the southern territory of the Iberian peninsula, Northern Africa, and the Balearic Islands.
When the Carthaginians arrived in Spain and noticed the abundance of rabbits, these were animals they hadn’t seen before! But, the Carthaginians had a similar species back home and decided to go for a similar word. They went for the name Ispania. So, the Iberian peninsula was simply “rabbit” for this civilization. However, the next Empire interpreted the words a bit differently.
When the Romans took over in the year 201 B.E., they didn’t change the name of the land. Instead, the Romans adapted it to Latin.
For the Romans, Ispania, also written Ispnia, was interpreted in the following way. The prefix ‘I’ meant coast, land, or region. Then, the new conquerors knew that the lexeme ‘spn’ meant rabbit in Greek. So, the land owners baptized the Iberian peninsula as Hispania, which translates to “land abundant of rabbits.”
The name was implemented by several Roman emperors, such as Cicero, Caesar, Pliny the Elder, Cato, Livy, and Titus Livius. Historians have found relevant evidence of the meaning behind Hispania in the currency of the times of Hadrian. Some coins from the time represent Hispania as a woman sitting on a chair with rabbits by her feet.
Is the rabbit the national animal?
Spain’s three most important national symbols are the animal, the bird, and the flower. The national animal is the bull, the national bird of Spain is the Imperial Eagle, and the national flower of Spain is the red carnation.
What about the rabbit? Well, it remains an essential animal in the country’s original name.
The bull, or the Spanish Fighting Bull, is the national animal of Spain, and it represents strength and masculinity. The bull symbol became popular when the Spanish company Osborne put a 14 meters statue in each city of Spain to advertise their cherry brandy. Check it out in the articles to know more on Spanish sculptures, and the national animal.
And as I mentioned before, the national flower is the red carnation, which is used across the Spanish culture. There is no exact date or reason for the red carnation to be the national flower, but we know that it hides different meanings. For example, because this flower symbolizes passion, plenty of flamenco artists use it in their costumes.
If you are curious about the other meanings behind this beautiful flower, check out the article below!
Besides being called the ’land of rabbits’ by Carthaginians, Spain also received the name ’land of the setting sun’ and ’the land of rivers.’
These names are not confirmed, though! Some say the Greeks named the peninsula Iberia, meaning river, because of the number of canals they encountered on the easter side of the country.
Likewise, others also argue that the word ‘Hesperia’ means ’land of the setting sun’ and that the Romans used it. We can’t confirm or deny these names, but we know that Ispania comes from the Carthaginians, and then it was modified to Hispania by the Romans.
Okay! This is it for today; there is little more to tell about ’the land of rabbits.’ If you have any other detail or story about the meaning behind Spain, we would love to read you!
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!