When you think about country names ... OK, let's be honest: You don't think about country names. You just assume that any given place got its name because [insert boring-ass reason you slept through in high school history class here]. But it turns out that maybe you should've chosen to sleep off the previous night's bender in math class instead, because some of the origins behind said names are downright ridiculous. Take, for example ...
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Should you ever find yourself charged with naming a newly discovered land (because you're reading Cracked via time warp) and you don't want to be a dick and name it after yourself, our recommendation would be to keep it simple -- name it after whatever you happen to find there. Don't see anything but trees? Hey, we hear Treemerica is nice this time of year. Find yourself swamped by murder-bears? Murderbearland would serve as a nice warning to future explorers (a group to which you sadly no longer belong).
Although, as founder of Murderbearland, you can take comfort knowing your monument will be made of congealed badass.
Spin a globe and you'll see plenty of places named thusly ... but then you'll see Greenland, which, if you're anything like us, makes you wonder, "Why in the holy hell would anyone take a gigantic, dirt-filled iceberg and name it Greenland? What was that, some sort of sick joke?"
The Crazy Reason Behind the Name:
Well ... yeah, kind of. Greenland's name is credited to Erik Thorvaldsson, a Viking better known as Erik the Red, because the only possible way to make that name sound more badass is to associate it with the color of blood.
Arngrímur Jónsson, via Wikipedia
Is it just us, or is that not a sword he has sheathed there?
As the story goes, Erik got himself exiled for three years from his home in Iceland after a few minor altercations, which in Viking parlance means he murdered the shit out of a bunch of dudes after they asked him to return some stuff that he'd stolen. So Erik set sail looking to plunder the unknown north, but instead settled in a barren, frozen land where he spent what we have to assume were the most boring three years of his life.
Ringomassa, via Wikipedia
"Boring" because snowmen don't bleed.
Then, having served out his exile like a good little Viking (and in what could possibly have been a dick move in payback for sending him away in the first place), Erik returned to Iceland in search of warm bodies to help defrost his newfound land. The problem is, how do you convince others that your icy rock is "totally a great place to live, you guys, like really?" Simple: You give it a nice, warm-sounding name. So, he came up with Greenland, "Because men will desire much the more to go there if the land has a good name."
And it totally worked, because around 500 people returned with him to establish two separate colonies. The fact that they didn't haul ass straight back across the sea at the first sight of a slavering polar bear tells us that Erik the Red's fangs must have been the scarier of the two.
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In addition to being that pool game you played as a kid, Marco Polo was also the secondhand author of The Travels of Marco Polo, one of the Old World's most well-known travelogues. While serving hard time in a Genoan big house, Polo regaled his cellmate, Rustichello da Pisa, with tales of all the majestic places he'd visited during his vast travels (including a bunch that he hadn't, but did gather from the accounts of others), which da Pisa dutifully wrote down.
Perhaps one of the most interesting tidbits describes "a most noble and beautiful Island, and one of the greatest in the world, for it is about 4,000 miles in compass." The inhabitants of this tremendous atoll ate nothing but camels, and the place was veritably crawling with "leopards, bears, and lions," as well as "more elephants than in any country in the world." Polo called this fantastic place "Madeigascar," and his description is so vivid, you'd almost believe he visited the island himself. (He didn't.)
"... and unicorns! Shit-tons of unicorns!"
The Crazy Reason Behind the Name:
You know what Madagascar has lots of? Animals that are found in no other place on the planet, most notably stripy-tailed ones that like to move it, move it. You know what they have not a single, solitary one of? Fucking elephants. For that matter, they have no leopards, no bears, and no lions, and if you asked a native what camel tastes like, he'd probably crotch-punch you for being some kind of pervert.
In short, much like the public pool in which you played his eponymous game a kid, Marco Polo was full of shit. He was, in fact, mistakenly assigning Madagascar the description (along with a bastardized version of the name) of Mogadishu, a town on the coast of Somalia nearly 1,500 miles to the north on the African mainland.
Via Google Maps
Here be camel-eaters.
A Portuguese explorer -- who, unlike Polo, actually set foot on the island -- tried to name it St. Lawrence two centuries later, but by that time it was too late. Polo's misnomer had stuck. Even the native Malagasy people, whose language doesn't combine the letters "sc" and ends all words in a vowel, had taken to calling the island "Madagasikara," whereas before they had simply referred to it as "This All" or "This Whole." Admittedly, though, when you're referring to your homeland as something that could easily be confused with "this hole," it's badly in need of a new name -- inaccurate or not.
lculig/iStock/Getty Images, Vassil, via Wikipedia
King Solomon was a biblical king of Israel known for his great wisdom, his fondness for wishboning babies, and the holy fuck-ton of gold he owned. You've probably heard the term "King Solomon's mines," because a 19th century novel popularized the idea that there were mysterious mines containing his vast cache of riches -- just sitting there, collecting dust -- and triggering a real-life treasure hunt that hasn't stopped yet. But, as is often the case, the fiction was influenced by fact, and the actual hunt for King Solomon's booty had been going on for centuries before the fictional account.
Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"To find Solomon's mines, we need to think like Solomon! Go find me a baby and a saw."
And when generations of treasure hunters searched around Israel and failed to find this hoard that would turn Smaug green with envy, well, they just kept looking farther and farther away. How far, you ask?
The Crazy Reason Behind the Name:
How about east of Australia, otherwise known as damn nigh 9,000 miles from Israel?
The idea came about when Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, a 16th century Spanish government official living in Peru, became fascinated by the Incas. He steeped himself in their rich legends and history, but he just couldn't quite believe that these natives could have built such a prosperous and civilized society, because racism. So he theorized that the Incas had actually come to the New World from Terra Australis Incognita, a mythical land then thought to exist in Earth's Southern Hemisphere (and that would eventually come to be known as Australia, after people discovered that it was less gold-rich myth and more venom-rich horror novel). Others had previously speculated that Ophir, the place mentioned in the Bible as the source of King Solomon's gold, lay somewhere in that same vicinity -- put two and two together, and boom! King Solomon's gold must have come from a land down under.
The script for a Crocodile Dundee prequel damn near writes itself.
His theory was so convincing that he managed to put together an expedition in search of some mythical riches and bitches. The explorers sailed west from Peru for over two months, being inappropriately diddled by uncooperative winds the entire time, until they finally made landfall, not on Australia, but on a string of islands to its northeast. They of course found precisely one fewer hoard of gold there than they'd hoped to, but word of their expedition had become so popular that everyone back home started calling those islands the Solomons, and the rest is history.