On A Country’s Name

The name of a certain country comes from a word that means “village” or “settlement” in the original peoples’ language. It seems that a French explorer and his troop of soldiers who were looking for gold and trade goods back in the 1500s happened across two aboriginal youth and asked them where they might could find places where people traded goods. The two young men, using sign language and a few emphatic words, drew a crude map in the dirt with a stick and marked the places of the native settlements along a river. They pointed to the settlement places and said the word. Thus, the Frenchman called the territory after that word, saying that it was, in effect, the Land of Villages.

Fast forward 300 years or so. The territory was no longer part of France at this point; in fact, it had become its own nation, separate and apart from the European powers that had once colonized it. At a meeting of political leaders of this now-liberated land, the name of the new country was debated. Some wanted to call the new nation Albion. Others suggested Borealia. Ursalia was proposed. Victorialand received some support. However, the delegates at this particular convention finally agreed to call the loose confederation of the various territories was this derivative of the original peoples’ word given to that French explorer. Thus, a nation was named.

Oh, today, you’ll hear some people conjecture that the country’s name comes from a Spanish phrase meaning “nothing here.” Others have opined that Portuguese explorers gave the land its name from a phrase in their language that refers to a series of valleys. Neither of these theories on the origin holds historical water. Other minor (and somewhat humorous) ideas say the word refers to an aboriginal type of beer made from wood or the name given to the land by one of the early colonizers of the land who came from Europe and grew sugar cane. A recent idea says the word means “nothing but crap,” but that’s more of a modern comedian’s joke. Don’t believe it.

It is beyond a doubt that by the mid-1500s, cartographers labeled the land the word that this early French explorer gave it. We know this because we have the maps that clearly show the territory labeled as such. That tells us that the story of those two youths who drew that crude map in the dirt and informed the explorer of the settlements used the word that today describes the second largest nation on earth in land size. Now, as to the pronunciation of the land, well, that’s another story. Some people insisted that the word be pronounced Kaw-naw-daw. Others said it should be said Kan-Natt-Tuh.

Today, we simply say Canada.


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