How did the Oceans Get their Names?

Quite simply, in the case of the Pacific at least.

Pacific (not of course to be confused with specific) you see, actually means peaceful. It’s not really used anymore, apart from as the name of the ocean, because peaceful already does the job well. The ocean was named by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 (Mar Pacifico in both Portuguese and Spanish) as he enjoyed favourable winds there during the Spanish circumnavigation of the world.

Most of the other seas and oceans have pretty straightforward names, based on their location, or someone insecure enough that they felt they needed a major body of water named after them. The Arctic Ocean, and general Arctic region, have an interesting etymology though. Arctic comes from the Greek word ἀρκτικός (arktikos), meaning northern or near the bear, itself derived from the word ἄρκτος (arktos) meaning bear. This probably doesn’t refer to polar bears, but more likely the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear), which is prominent in the northern sky, or Ursa Minor (the Little Bear), which contains Polaris, also known as the North Star or Pole Star. On a hunch, I wondered if arktos might also be the origin of the name Arthur and its variations. But while there are some who support this idea, it’s not widely-supported, and there are more convincing theories as to the name’s origin. Antartica, by the way, simply means the opposite of north.

As for the Atlantic, if you’re thinking that there’s some link with Atlantis, then you’re right. Both are linked to Atlas, the Titan who was believed by the Ancient Greeks to have held up the heavens (Atlantis means Atlas’ island or Atlas’ daughter). Atlantic was used as an adjective to refer to the coast of Northwest Africa, where the Atlas Mountains are located. It’s unclear if the mountains were named after Atlas, or vice versa, as some believe that Atlas’ name is derived from the word adrar, meaning mountain in the language of the Berber people of North Africa.

The name Atlantic only really began to be applied to the whole ocean around the beginning of the 17th century, though that’s understandable considering at that point we hadn’t known exactly what was there for very long. Before we knew about the exact layout of the planet, the Ancient Greeks and Romans believed in Oceanus, a river encircling the world, and also personified as a divine being. In the centre of the world, they believed, was the Mediterranean Sea. And this is what Mediterranean effectively means, being derived from the Latin mediterraneus, meaning inland or centre of the land.

Things never change as much as we think though. Even though we can separate the Earth’s waters into distinct seas and oceans, they still form one continuous system, not too different from the concept of Oceanus. This system is known as the World Ocean, or global ocean. I prefer World Ocean, and not just for the capital letters.

It’s a nice thought, that whenever you’re at the coast, there’s just one body of water between you and anyone else at any other coast.



I’d like to thank the wonderful IngridMadisonAve for nominating me for the Liebster Award. I highly recommend you check out her excellent blog where she writes about relationships, dating, beauty, and travel.

As I’ve done this before, I won’t replicate the entire process, but I will answer her questions:

  1. What, or who inspired you to blog?  Simply my own interest in languages, and English specifically.
  2. What’s the story behind the name of your blog? Pretty self-explanatory, I think!
  3. What is your idea of perfect happiness? Just having nothing to stress about. That’s enough for me.
  4. If you did not have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time? Reading and writing.
  5. What’s your favorite piece of clothing?  A simple short-sleeved black shirt.
  6. Do you play any sports? Not really. I’ve dabbled from time to time, but when people start taking it seriously I get bored.
  7. What skill would you like to master? Proofreading without getting bored.
  8. What would be the most amazing adventure to go on? Going to a new planet in another solar system.
  9. What’s your favorite drink? It depends on the situation, but maybe Leffe Blonde beer.
  10. What takes up too much of your time? Dithering while writing: I get about an hour’s writing done in three hours.
  11. What are the small things that make your day better? Good music and good books!

16 thoughts on “How did the Oceans Get their Names?

  1. I enjoyed the article very much! I didn’t know the origin of ‘Pacific’ and that it was coined by Magellan. And I didn’t know the origins of most others thought I guessed that the antarctic had to do with the opposite of arctic and atlantic to have originated from atlantis etc…
    I love how you pick themes for your articles 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article! I didn´t know why the oceans got their names. I live in Galicia (Spain), and the is a town called Finisterre, Finis Terrae in Latin because the Romans thought that was the end of the world 😀
    Also, congrats on a well-deserved award!!
    Big hugs,

    Liked by 1 person

      • Welcome! I think the Romans were used to the calm Mediterranean sea, and when they came here and saw those big and scary waves in Finisterre, they said, that´s it, we can´t go further, LOL! It took centuries to develop ships capable of cross the Atlantic ocean, a crazy guy (Columbus) and the desperate kings of Spain to fundraise the adventure! That’s almost all we learn about the subject in Spanish schools 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Not sure how I managed to miss this post. It’s an interesting topic! Once you explained the reasons for the names of the oceans, it makes more sense other than simply having a name! I liked how Antarctica literally means opposite of north. Doesn’t get any easier than that, no? 😁 Also, a huge congrats on your award; you deserve it!! 🎉

    Liked by 1 person

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