Origin of the Name Belize

by McNab Editorial Team

One has to wonder where an exotic name like Belize comes from. Throughout periods of history, Belize has had different designations. Historians do not know with absolute certainty, but there are a few theories.

In the early years of the 16th century, the age of conquest brought Europeans to what they considered the “New World”, in search of wealth and power.

While the modern nation of Honduras does not share a border with Belize, the two countries have always shared access to the Bay of Honduras.

Christopher Columbus himself visited the waterway on his fourth and final voyage to our shores. In 1502. In the initial days of the logwood settlements, Belize was called the Bay of Honduras, from the Spanish word “Hondo” meaning “deep”. Later it was called British Honduras – from 1862 until June 1, 1973, when as a self-governing colony, it was renamed Belize.

The Stories Behind the Name “Belize”

There exist a few espoused possibilities of the etymology of the name Belize. One logical explanation dates back to 1677 from the journal of a Dominican priest named Fray Jose Delgado. It is believed that the name was provided by the priest’s translator and originated from the Maya word “Balix”, which means “muddy waters”, a reference to the Belize River.

Another possibility could be a derivation of the Maya word “Belikin” meaning “land facing the sea” referring to the coastal settlements of the ancient Maya.

From the Encyclopedia Brittanica, we have another plausible explanation. The name was derived from a Scottish Buccaneer name Captain Peter Wallace.

In an Almanac dating back to 1827, Wallace was credited with discovering the mouth of the Belize River. Moreover, he used the river as a place of retreat and began a settlement around the Belize River in 1638.

Oral folklore tells us that Wallace (or his followers) gave his own name to Belize. Since Spaniards could not pronounce ‘W’, it was substituted by a ‘V’, creating Vallis. It was later changed to ‘B’, resulting in Balise.

Over time, the name Wallace continued to be slowly modified by the pronunciation of Spanish, Mayan, and also by all the different languages used by the many ethnic groups who emigrated.

No matter, the name Belize, like the country itself, is exotic and unique.

Written by Nellita Castillo

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