World Facts

How Did Paraguay Get Its Name?

Paraguay derives its name from a river of the same name.

In many cases, a country’s name reveals something about the country itself. For instance, most countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia got their names from various ethnic groups that lived there. These names may suggest on how strong a tribe was in the historical times. Other countries got their names from geographic features or even their location on the world’s map.

Origin Of The Name Paraguay

Paraguay got its name from the Paraguay River. The river is called Rio Paraguay in Spanish, Ysyry Paraguai in Guarani and Rio Paraguai in Portuguese. The Paraguay River flows through Paraguay dividing the country into two. Paraguay thus rests on the two banks of the river. The Paraguay River flows over 1600 miles through the countries of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay and finally through Argentina. However, up to date, there has never been an agreement on the origin of the name Paraguay itself or even what could be the meaning of the name. And again, all the possible meanings of the name Paraguay are all in Paraguayan Guarani and are similar. Paraguayan Guarani is an indigenous language in South America, which is also the official language in Paraguay alongside Spanish.

Meaning Of The Word Paraguay

From the Paraguayan Guarani language, the name Paraguay is made up of two words. These words are ‘para, and ‘guay.' According to scholars, ‘para’ means water while ‘guay’ means birth. Therefore, Paraguay would mean ‘the water that gives birth to the Ocean’ or ‘born of water.' Other scholars argue that ‘para’ refers to a mighty river, ‘gua’ which means to or from, while ‘y’ refers to water. These three translations make ‘water from a mighty river.' Feliz de Azara (1746 – 1821), who was a Spanish scientist and officer came up with two suggestions of what would be the origin of the name Paraguay. Feliz’s first suggestion was ‘water from the Payaguas.' Payaguas was the name of an Indian tribe that lived along the river. His second suggestion was ‘Paraguaio’ who was a strong chief in those times.

Friar Antonio Ruiz de Montoya (1585-1652) also had a different version of what would be the meaning of Paraguay. From his work in 1639 Tesoro de la Lengua guarani (Thesaurus of the Guarani Language) he suggested Paraguay was a combination of paragua meaning ‘feather crown’ and ‘y’ meaning river. The two meanings give ‘the river where people dwell and are decorated with crowns of feathers’ or ‘river of crowns.' Till to date, one cannot point out where exactly the word Paraguay originated from leave alone its meaning. Spanish and Paraguayan Guarani languages are so much mixed up hence making it difficult to do so. However, just like other people are proud of the names of their countries, the Paraguayos are proud of the name Paraguay. Paraguay distinguishes them from other people and gives them a sense of belonging. The name Paraguay gives them a place on the world’s map and reminds them of their mighty Paraguay River.

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