Eve Livaditis
February 2017.

What does the island name 'Gran Canaria' actually mean?

1 answer

In Victorian times Gran Canaria was known as Grand Canary, but the island is not named after the yellow bird, rather the bird takes its name from the island. Gran is Spanish for big or great, reflecting the island's importance rather than size as though it is one of the larger islands in the archipelago, it is not the largest - that honour goes to Tenerife.

It used to be thought that the Canary Islands got their name from the Latin term for 'islands of the dogs' – Insularia Canaria. Indeed the coat of arms of the islands features two dogs supporting the islands' shield.

However recently it has been suggested the Romans in fact derived the name from a North African Berber tribe, the Tkanaren, which they called the Canarii.

This fits in with modern day analysis of DNA from mummies found on Gran Canaria from the island’s original inhabitants, which shows the pre-Spanish native population were of North African origin.