Names just don’t fall from the sky, there is always a meaning behind it.

Here are the histories behind how these 12 African countries came by their names.

1. Ghana

The initial name for Ghana was the Gold Coast, this is due to the abundance of gold in the country. After gaining independence in March 1957, Ghana’s first president Dr. Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah renamed the country after the ancient Ghana Empire, which was not far from the initial name because it also meant the “Land Of Gold“.

Image Credit: Dentons.com

2. Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s name originates from one of the most prominent landmarks in the country, the historical stone structure called the Great Zimbabwe, which translates to “houses of stone” as explained on the Zimbabwe embassy’s website explains. This stone structure is the second largest in Africa following the Egyptian pyramids.

3. Gabon

Gabon’s name originated from the unusual shape of the Rio de Como estuary, according to Encyclopedia of Nations. The Portuguese arrived on the country’s coast around 1470. Early explorers realised the delta was shaped like a hooded cloak called a “gabao”, and after a series of adaptations and translations, the country became known as Gabon.

4. Mozambique

According to the country’s official tourism site, the origin of Mozambique’s name isn’t certain, but there is a widely believed theory. It is “believed to have come from the name of a Muslim leader called ‘Musa al Bique’ that lived in the Island of Mozambique, where Vasco de Gama in 1498 anchored his ship.

5. Mauritius

The island nation was named in honour of Prince Maurice Nassau by Dutch explorers. In 1715, the French claimed the country and renamed it Ile de France before the British captured the country in 1810 and changed its name back to Mauritius.

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Images by Crayons of Hope

6. Liberia

Liberia got its name from the group of Quakers and slaveholders who wanted to repatriate freed Black people to Africa. The group, known as the American Colonization Society, planned to send freed Black people back to Africa to avert an uprising in America.

The scheme of creating an entire country full of freed Black people from America ultimately resulted in the land being deemed Liberia, which translates to “Land of Freedom.”

7. Cameroon

Cameroon is derived from the Portuguese word, Camaroes, meaning shrimps.” When the Portuguese sailor Fernando Po arrived at the Wouri River in Douala, he spotted so many shrimp hence declaring the river Rio Dos Camaroes, which translates to river of shrimps. Eventually, explorers from all around the globe came to know the land adjacent to the Rio Dos Camaroes as Cameroon.

8. Sierra Leone

In 1462, Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra mapped the hills around what is now known as Freetown Harbour. As he mapped the landscape, he deemed the formation Serra da Leoa, Portuguese for “lioness mountains,” according to the Kingfisher Geography Encyclopedia. The name was eventually adopted and the now misspelled term for the majestic mountains became the country’s new name

9. Eritrea

According to a report published by Uppsala University, the country’s name comes from Italian settlers who created colonies on the Horn of Africa in the 19th century. Italians used the phrase “Mare Erythraeum,” which loosely translates to the Red Sea, to describe the cluster of colonies that lined what is now known as the Red Sea. Adaptations of that name eventually led to the name it still holds today.

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10. Togo

Prior to the era of colonial rule by Germany, various tribes had already settled into the country that would soon become known as Togo. In the neighbouring countries of Ghana and Benin, Portuguese settlers built forts and began to trade at the small fort at Porto Seguro. The area became a major trading centre for Europeans in search of slaves, earning the region the name Togo, meaning “The Slave Coast.”

11. Seychelles

According to the National Assembly of Seychelles, the Island was named after Jean Moreau de Sechelles, Louis XV’s minister of finance. In 1756, the French started taking control of the country, which was eventually contested by the British for years starting in 1794.

12. Kenya

The origin of the name Kenya is not very clear but perhaps linked to the Kikuyu, Embu and Kamba words Kirinyaga, Kirenyaa, and Kiinyaa which mean “God’s resting place” in all three languages.