Nearly Every Country on Earth Is Named After One of 4 Things

According to research compiled by Quartz from the toponymy reference book Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Place-Names, basically every country on Earth is named after one of four things (though many origins are understandably murky). Do you know which category your country falls under? We’ll give you the first two categories to get you started.

Feature of the Land
About a quarter of the world’s countries got their names from some description of the land.

  • Iceland was originally called Snæland, “Snow Land,” but its current name comes from Norse settlers who renamed it to deter visitors.
  • Grenada was named by Spanish sailors who thought the landscape resembled the region around Granada in Spain.

A Directional Description
A slight twist on the previous category, this one is more geographically specific. According to Quartz, about 25 countries are named for their location.

  • Australia comes from the Greek name Terra Australis Incognita, meaning “unknown southern land,” as a result of the Greeks imagining some faraway place in the southern hemisphere.
  • Ireland comes from Iar-en-land, “land in the west,” from the Gaelic word iar, meaning “west.”