Saturday, November 14, 2015


African Guinea - J.B. Homann, Nuernberg (1743)

The name Guinea has always been confusing for me. Several countries are named Guinea.

South-America: Guyana
Africa: Guinée, Equatorial Guinea (2000 km apart from each other)
Oceania: Papua New Guinea

The origin of the term is uncertain. It entered English and other European languages by way of the Portuguese word Guiné, applied by fifteenth-century mariners to the African coast south of the Senegal River. How the term entered Portuguese is unknown. Some have linked it to various Berber words for dark-skinned people, others to the major commercial city of Djenné, located far inland on the Niger River. A third theory holds that 'Guinea' comes from the medieval kingdom (or empire) of Ghana, located in modern Mali and Mauritania.
A guinea (British coin)

In the eighteenth century, European geographers applied the term 'Guinea' very broadly to the West African coasts. As this area had long been the main source of gold for Europe and the Mediterranean region, British gold coins minted between 1663 and 1813 were called 'guineas', eventually valued at one pound plus one shilling.

New Guinea north of Australia (ca. 1600)

The designation of 'New Guinea' for the massive island north of Australia dates to 1545, when it was bestowed by the Spanish mariner Yñigo Ortiz de Retez on the basis of the indigenous inhabitants’ physical resemblance to the people of Africa’s Guinea coast.

Guyana in South America - Jan Janssonius (1636)

Guinea is occasionally confused with Guyana (Guiana), a term referencing the northeastern coast of South America. Both refer to coastal strips that were formerly divided among European powers:  The two terms are not etymologically related, as 'Guyana' probably stems from a local word meaning “land of many waters.”

source: GeoCurrents

next episode: Gene day


  1. A very educational post! The guineas may not have been minted beyond 1813, but as a child in the 1950s and 60s I remember seeing items (usually furniture) priced in guineas.

  2. I Still get confused with the word Guyana (Guiana) myself...good post, Thanks.


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