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Written by Montserrat González

Montserrat is a professional translator who likes to read and write fictional stories. There's nothing she enjoys more than spending time with her friends and family.

September 23, 2020

Let’s Translate the Names of the Most Famous Landscapes in the World

When we were children, in Geography class we learned about the longest rivers on Earth, the largest rivers in the world, the highest mountains, and the most magnificent volcanoes. We were given their location, height, volume, and other information that we probably have already forgotten. Some of these natural landscapes have very strange names or even are very difficult to pronounce in their original language. Fortunately, most of them were given a different name in several languages for their speakers to be able to pronounce them. This way, we don’t have to speak German to say “Rhein” or Arabic to talk about the aṣ-Ṣaḥrāʾ al-Kubrā. However, all those eccentric names have an origin. Have you ever wondered what is the meaning of the names of the most famous natural landscapes on Earth? Let’s explore 5 examples and you will notice that whoever named these wonderful places, they weren’t very creative, since their translation is simpler than you think.



The Rhine is one of the major rivers of Europe, since it flows through Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. It is also one of the most important waterways of the European Union. Its name comes from the Celtic languages and means “that which flows”.



This volcano, which is located in the heart of Mexico, is probably the most famous in the country. Its enormous silhouette can be seen from Mexico City and the states of Puebla and Morelos. Its name comes from the Nahuatl Popōca“it smokes” and tepētl “mountain”, so, if we translate the name literally, it means “smoking mountain”.



The Danube is Europe’s longest river, after the Volga. It is born in Germany and flows through 15 countries. This name is a very special case, since all over Europe there are other rivers that share the letters “d” and “n”. Such rivers are the Dnieper in Russia, the Dniester in Ukraine, and the Done in Scotland (make sure you don’t mistake it for the other 6 rivers in Great Britain which names are also Don). This fact comes from a common origin: the root of the Proto-Indo-European *dānu, which is simply translated as “river.”



Let’s talk about the largest hot desert in the world. This desert, which is located in the northern part of the African continent, has an extension equivalent to China or the United States. It covers 11 countries, including Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. The name of this large territory comes from the Arabic aṣ-Ṣaḥrāʾ al-Kubrā, which means “the great desert.” The name is also related to its characteristics, since it is also associated with the adjective ṣaḥrā, meaning “yellowish red”.



The longest river in Africa is one of the most famous in the world and flows through ten countries, including Tanzania, Sudan, and Egypt. The term Nile comes from the Arabic ‘nīl and the Greek Neilos, meaning “river.”


Now you know it, the names of these well-known places might not be very creative, but surely are interesting. Did you expect any of these origins?

If you would like to know more about translation fun facts from around the word, check out these 5 brands whose names got them some troubles in foreign countries.

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