The 20th century saw a world map of fluidity. Shifting borders, dissolving nations, and newly-created countries made sure that a cartographer was never out of work. Today there are 195 independent states, according to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Place Names—you’ve probably been mispronouncing some of them this whole time—and almost every single one shares one of four things in common.
According to Quartz, most countries in the world have been named after one of four things: an important person with some influence of the country or its history, a directional description of the country, a tribe or ethnic group, or a feature of its land. Some countries that fall into the first category are:
- The United States of America, named after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.
- Bolivia, named after revolutionary Simon Bolivar.
- Colombia, named after Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.
Some examples of countries named after a tribe or ethnic group include:
- Turkey, named after the Turkish people.
- Denmark, which means the “Danish march” referring to the Danes.
Here are some countries named after a feature of their land:
- Andorra’s name is a bit fuzzy, but according to CIA.gov, it may originate from the Arabic word “ad-darra,” meaning “the forest.”
- Niger is named after the Niger River, which flows through several countries in West Africa.
And finally, some of the countries named after a directional description:
- Australia means “South Land” in old Latin.
- Norway means “North Way” in old Norse.
There are certain exceptions to the rule, like Mexico (thought to be named after an Aztec war god or to mean “child of the moon”) and Canada (which is named after Huron-Iroquois word for “village” or settlement). So, next time you’re at a party chock-full of etymologists, you’ll be sure to be the life of the party. Throw in this extra fact about how long it takes to read the whole dictionary, and they might just make you their queen.