How Did Barbados Get Its Name?

The sea spray might have led to the naming of Barbados.
The sea spray might have led to the naming of Barbados.

Barbados is a 169 square mile nation that in 2010 was home to 277,821 people which was the 181st highest population in the world at the time. The history of Barbados played a significant role in the selection of the name. The modern name of the country, Barbados, is likely to have derived from Portuguese or Spanish descriptions of the island. There are several theories as to the meaning of the name.

History of Settlement 

Archaeological evidence indicates that human settlement in Barbados dates back to approximately the second millennium BCE. Despite the archaeological evidence, most historians believe that settlement in Barbados dates back to around 350 CE when Amerindian communities settled in the region. Most scholars believe that the first European nation to discover Barbados was Portugal. Apart from Portugal, Spain and Britain also played a crucial role in the development of Barbados. 

The Country's Previous Name

Research by Peter Drewett indicated that in ancient times, Barbados was referred to as Ichirouganaim by the communities that lived in the area. The name was mainly used when the Amerindian and Arawaks were the dominant communities in the region. Linguists have suggested several possible translations for the word Ichirouganaim with one of the most well-known being "red stone island with teeth outside" which is believed to refer to the reefs that surround the island. Other scholars believe that the word Ichirouganaim could be translated as "red land with white teeth." The name fell out of use with the arrival of European explorers into the region.

The Country's Modern Name

The modern name Barbados was first used in a map designed by Visconte Maggiolo that was produced in 1519. The map was unique since Visconte Maggiolo had managed to accurately locate the country, unlike other cartographers. Linguistic evidence indicates that the word Barbados may either be Spanish or Portuguese in origin. Several linguists believe that the Portuguese term "Os Barbados" or the Spanish term "Los Barbados" were the origins of the country's name. In both languages, the term Barbados referred to the bearded ones.

Possible Reasons Why The Name Barbados Was Chosen

Etymologists are yet to identify the exact reason the name Barbados was selected to define the area; however, some theories have been put forward. One of the theories suggests that the term bearded was selected since the bearded fig tree is native to the island. The bearded fig tree was one of the unique trees that the Europeans saw when they first arrived in Barbados which probably explains why the term Barbados was chosen to define the country. Another theory indicates that the name Barbados was chosen because of the natives of Barbados. The native people, the Caribs, were believed to have large beards which could be a possible reason why the name Barbados was chosen. The third theory indicates that the term Barbados could have been chosen because of an impression created by the sea. Several people believed that as the sea-sprayed over the reefs around Barbados, it formed an image of a beard.

Nicknames For Barbados

Barbados has some nicknames such as Bimshire and Bim which are mainly used by the citizens of the country. According to the National Cultural Foundation of Barbados, the term Bim dates back to the slave trade. Bim has its roots in the Igbo language from the word bém which meant a person's home. Another common nickname for Barbados is Little England due to the strong influence of the English on the country's history.


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