Where do the mountains get their name from?

How has the term “Mount Everest” become universally accepted in the name of that particular mountain?

Mount Everest is named after a British surveyor from India.

Kilimanjaro, in Swahili, is “The mountain of the god of cold”.

K2 (or Karakoram 2) was the second peak in the Karakoram range.

Today, these peaks all have names, but initially the name was simply given when one member of the expedition said to another: “Come on! Let’s name him after our friend!“.

The peaks have always had more names, for example, Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America was originally known by the Athabascan natives as Denali, which means “high” in their native language. When Russia owned Alaska, it was called Bolshaya Gora. When Frank Densmore became the first European to reach the base of the summit in the late 19th century it was called Densmore’s Peak.
Only in 1896, a gold digger named it after a political candidate from Ohio, and the mountain became Mount McKinley.

Someone has to put a stamp on one of those names to turn it into an official designation, without it, our maps would be an agglomeration of different labels, making it impossible to know what the real name is.

So, for that mountain, who decides which is the “correct” name to print on maps all over the world?

As with many things, it is a bureaucratic matter. In the United States, final decisions on the approval or rejection of all geographical names are left to a government board of directors consisting of six federal departments, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Government Publishing Office, the Library of Congress and the US Postal Service.
The U.S. Board of Geographic Names (BGN) does not provide names or decide from a list how to call a specific location, only responds to proposals from others such as federal agencies, state and local governments (many of which have their own geographic name committees) to approve or deny requests to make specific names the national standard.

Below is an explanation of some mountain toponyms:

Mount Everest

Mount Everest
Mount Everest

The history of the name of this mountain is due to the English colonel and geographer, precisely of Wales, George Everest. It was Everest who was sent to India to study the Himalayas and calculate the height of this monumental massif, during the project called Great Trigonometrical Survey.
History tells us, however, that it was not George Everest who measured the mountain that bears his name. It was an Indian named Radhanath Sikdar in 1852, who managed to measure the height of Everest even if with some wrong calculations. However the calculations, even if partially wrong, were enough to say that Everest was without any doubt the highest mountain in the world with its 8848 meters.
However the name of the mountain was unpronounceable to Westerners and until 1852 it was called Cima XV (in Tibetan, Everest was called Chomolungma, term meaning “mother of the universe”, and “Zhumulangma” in Chinese, and again Sagaramāthā, in Nepalese “God of heaven”).
That’s why it was proposed to call the highest mountain on earth with the name of the scientist who should have measured its height first: and everyone agreed, the mountain would be called Everest.
Colonel Everest, according to the story, was honored, but at the same time very embarrassed because in the local customs there was to call the mountains with names typical of the places where they were, it was a sort of procedure to respect those places. It is worth pointing out that even today in Tibetan language Everest is still called with the original name, and there is no lack of those who every now and then start a petition to restore the ancient name of the highest mountain in the world. But now without success: the name Everest is perfectly connected to that so desired and inaccessible summit and not many people are willing to change it.

Mount Terminillo

Mount Terminillo
Mount Terminillo

Known in ancient times as Mount Gurgure and Mons Tetricus, the Terminillo is one of the most famous symbols of Sabina.
Mount Terminillo was already well known in antiquity: Virgil mentioned it in the Aeneid talking about its “tetricae horrentes rupes” (frightful cliffs of Tetrico); Marco Terenzio Varrone described the “gurgures alti montes” (high mountains Gurguri) and the custom of leading the cattle for grazing.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Loreto Mattei reports that the dialectal name of the mountain was Mount Urulu, a probable deformation of the Latin Gurgures.
In the maps of the Papal State it was indicated with the toponym of mount Gurgure.
Only at the beginning of the nineteenth century it began to affirm on the atlases the toponym Terminillo (widespread since the sixteenth century among the natives), which owes its origin to the fact that the mountain marked the border between the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples and the end of their respective territories.

Mount Acongaua

Mount Acongaua
Mount Acongaua

The origin of the name is uncertain. The Coleti reports the existence, in Chile, of the Aconcagua people, from whom the valley inhabited by them and, consequently, also the mountain, would have taken the name.
According to Secor, the best known meaning is “Centinela de Piedra” (Stone Sentinel), of “Quechua” origin (indigenous breed of Argentina). In this language there are the words “Akon” and “Kahuak“, which would give the meaning of the name.
In the Aymara language (another group of indigenous Argentineans) there are the words “Kon” and “Kawa” which mean “it snowed” and “mountain” respectively. Therefore, according to this language, the word Aconcagua could be translated as “Snowfall”. Other names are: “other of the most feared peaks” or “comes from the other side“.
Although there is no evidence of what would be the correct expression, “Stone Sentinel” is the most used.

Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc

It takes its name from the Alpine Saussurea flower, named after the Genevan scientist Horace-Bénédict De Saussure, promoter of the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786.
Yet for those who lived at its feet for centuries, it was not always a place of beauty, quite the opposite: in ancient times it was called Mont Maudit, the “cursed mountain”, and its glaciers looming over the pastures much more than today had to be exorcised and held back as a dwelling place for evil spirits.
The shepherds of Val Veny and Val Ferret did not care to set foot on those very high rocks and glaciers, among those icy towers that, in the centuries of greatest expansion, collapsed landslide on the pastures of La Palud and Entreves, or near Peuterey…
Tradition has it that the great glaciers that border the mountain walls are home and prison of evil spirits: centuries ago the exorcisms of the curate of Cogne were inclined to confine up there the “manteillon”, ethereal and evil beings whose cloak hid their legless body, forcing them to weave ropes with sand.
But perhaps the most suggestive legend is the one that explains why this “Mont Maudit”, prison of evil beings, became the candid Mont Blanc.
It is told, in the valleys of Valdigne, of a mysterious wayfarer who, among the eternal ice of the great mountain at the head of Valle d’Aosta, buried the evil spirits of which the ancient Mont Maudit was swarming.
He was generously hosted by the inhabitants of an ancient village that stood right at the foot of the mountain, whose inhabitants were plagued by continuous persecution by demons and evil spirits.
The good beggar promised to intercede with Heaven, so that the Lord would free the village and the whole valley from the evil genies that infested the area.
And so a miracle happened: the snow began to fall abundantly on the cursed mountain, covering it with a thick white blanket of snow, which covered and imprisoned forever those unclean spirits.
From that day on, the massif changed its execrable name into the auspicious and serene name of Mont Blanc.

Mount Vinson

Mount Vinson
Mount Vinson

This is the highest mountain in Antarctica, located about 1,200 km from the south pole. About 21 km long and about 13 km wide, it is located within the Sentinel Range and is one of the Seven Peaks of the Planet.
The mountain, like all the others in Antarctica, is surrounded by a layer of ice many hundreds of meters thick, so that only the summit protrudes from the Antarctic ice cap, and also the summit is largely covered by a thick layer of ice.
The mountain was identified and located only in 1957, when it was discovered by a US Navy aircraft.
It was named in honor of Carl Vinson, a U.S. Congressman who was a strong supporter of Antarctic research.

Promontory of the Circeo

Promontory of the Circeo
Promontory of the Circeo

The ancient name of the Promontory, according to legend and by Varro, could have been EEA (or Aeea, Aiaia, Aiaie). The place was then called juga Circea da Silio (Silio lib.8), Circoeum jugum da Virgilio (Eneide VII v.399) and Circoeum Promontorium da Tolomeo (Geografia Universale lb.3 c.1).
Beyond any legend or any other interpretation of fantasy, the oldest testimony that attests, for the first time, the name of the Promontorium is the Pseudo-Skylax Periplo, which around the fourth century before Christ identifies it with the name of Kirkaion and describes it as the place where a monument dedicated to the Elpenore is venerated.
The etymology proposed by V. Berard corresponds to “nesos Kirkes” (island of Circe) which would be the exact translation of the Semitic name ai-aie (island of the sparrowhawk) or Aiaia and therefore Eea.
Lanzuisi argues that if we compare the list of ancient Albenses handed down by Pliny we find the name Querquetulani, inhabitants of the hill Querquetal, which will later be called Celio, (Querquetal means rich in oaks), we can apply the same criterion for Circei (Cercei) that could derive from the adjective querceus that palatized by the first qu of the Volsca language and the elongation of the “e” would be equivalent to “Monte, place rich in oaks“.
The root and shape of the name Circeo has a purely Latin shape and root (circus, quercus), or Greek-Latin (Kirke, Kirkos, kirkoo, kirkinos, kyklos, kikleuo), terms that have in common a similarity with the idea of circular movement. (in Latin circus, circum, circiter…) perhaps because of the characteristic flow of the winds that “circulates” in a rotational direction around the summit of the mountain.
The derivation of the name associated with the “presence” of the Maga Circe, however suggestive, is improbable. The legend seems to have been confused by the ancient Greek navigators, who going towards the Etruscan lands, found singular the similarity of the name of the Circoeum Promontorium with the name of the sorceress Circe (Kirke) of their epics.



Its peaks, together with those of the Meru Mountains, had been named by the Greco-Roman merchant Diogenes Moon Mountains. Diogenes sighted them during the Roman Expedition to the sources of the Nile, around 100 AD.
It is not known where the name Kilimanjaro comes from, but there are several theories.
European explorers adopted this name in 1860, stating that this was the name of the mountain in the Swahili language, assuming that Kilimanjaro could be broken down into Kilima (Swahili for “hill”, “small mountain”) and Njaro which, for some theories, is an ancient Swahili word for white or shining, while for others it is a word of non-Swahili origin; for example in the Kichagga language the word jaro means “caravan”.
The problem with all these theories is that they are unable to explain why the diminutive kilima is used, instead of the most appropriate word for mountain, i.e. mlima. A different approach supposes that Kilimanjaro derives from Kichagga kilemanjaare or kilemajyaro which means “defeating bird/leopard/caravan”.
However, this theory cannot explain why the name Kilimanjaro was not in use in Kichagga before European explorations in the mid-nineteenth century.
In 1880 the mountain, called Kilimandscharo in German, became a part of German East Africa after Karl Peters persuaded local leaders to sign the treaties. The widespread story that Queen Victoria gave the mountain to William II of Germany is false.
In 1889 the Uhuru Peak on Kibo was named Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze, a name used in the German Empire until its defeat in 1918, when the territories became part of Tanganyika, ruled by the British, and the name was abandoned.