The Etymology Of "Brazil"

How Brazil ended up with its name is still a mystery to this day, there are, however, some theories that have been put forward that might explain the origin of the name for this country.

First, there is no connection between the Brazilian nut, Brazil nut or Brazil nut tree and the countries name. The Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa) is native to the following South American countries, eastern Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Eastern Colombia, Guiana's, Eastern Peru and Eastern Bolivia.

Although having the name, Brazil nuts, the country that exports the most is not Brazil, but Bolivia, where they are called "almendras". In Brazil they are called castanhas-do-Pará (literally "nuts from Pará"), the people of the Acre state call them " castanhas-do-Acre", the most common indigenous name for this nut in Brazil is "sapucaia" and in the Orinoco area they are called "juvia".

Image of Brasil showing up on the map of Ireland by Abraham Ortelius in 1572

Brasil showing up on the map of Ireland by Abraham Ortelius in 1572.

There is a ancient Irish legend that proclaims there is a phantom island in the North Atlantic that is cloaked in mist, except for one day every seven years, and even then it was still not reachable, this island was called Brazil, or Hy-Brazil amongst many other names. On a map from Catalonia dating back to 1480 an island can be found, named "Illa de brasil" that lies to the south west of Ireland, the supposed location of the mystical island.

If Hy-Brazil is translated from its origin Celtic "bress" then the island would have been called the "Blessed Land' in English. There are some historians that claim that the navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral, the Portuguese explorer that is claimed to have found Brazil, though he had found the legendry island when he made landfall on Brazil in 1500 and called this new land by that name.

This runs contry to the fact that the first name Brazil was given was Ilha de Vera Cruz (Island of the True Cross), later Terra de Santa Cruz (Land of the Holy Cross) and only later Brazil.

The most popular theory on how Brazil came by its name is linked to another tree, the brazilwood tree (Caesalpinia echinata). The early Portuguese explores found a tree that had a deep red hue on the inside and called it " pau-brasil" , a stick is called "pau' in Portuguese and the 'brazil is said to come from the Portuguese word for ember which is " brasa".

 

This name, " pau-brasil", had been used before to name similar trees from Asia but the dye that is produced from these trees was inferior to the trees from Brazil and this tree, and its produce, soon became a very important export and contributed greatly to the economy of this part of the world and Portugal and hence the logical conclusion in calling the land it came from, Brazil.

Image of a plank of wood from the Brazilwood tree

A plank of wood from the Brazilwood tree showing its fantastic red hue.




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