Breton Discoverers

Breton Discoverers

Our What's in a name series leads us to focus on places named after Breton explorers.

Starting in the fifteenth century, European sailors ventured further and further away from their countries of origin and discovered unexplored lands that they typically named after the first person to see it, the captain of the ship, or the person who financed their expeditions.

Brittany is a region of France that has the longest coastline of all, and by far the highest percentage of sailors, merchant marines and fishermen in its population. These people also are of Celtic heritage, which means that many patronyms are immediately recognizable as being of Breton origin.

As a result, it is easy to measure the special place that Breton sailors have had in the age of discovery, particularly when looking at islands of the Southern hemisphere, who were mostly discovered between the seventeenth and nineteenth century. The map above lists some of the most prominent of islands that were named after Breton sailors: Kermadec, Beauschene, Crozet, Marion, Huon, Kerguelen, Bouvet, Le Leizour...

The most prominent group named after Bretons is Iles Malouines - Malouin means someone who comes from the city of St Malo in Brittany. In English, the islands are named the Falkland Islands, after a prominent British politician. However the Argentines, who claim the territory, have kept the original Breton name, calling it Islas Malvinas.