Rio de Janeiro, the crowded but beautiful Brazilian city, fondly called Rio, is famous across the world for its beaches, mountains, carnivals, samba, football and the majestic statue of Christ the Redeemer watching upon the lively town from its iconic location.
In Portuguese, the word ‘Rio’ means River and ‘Janeiro’ is the word for January. So the city’s name ‘Rio de Janeiro’ translates to ‘River of January’.
Now you wouldn’t find it surprising that the city was named after a natural feature, for Rio is indeed a natural masterpiece, tucked into a pocket on the Atlantic coast and bordered by both – the mountains and the ocean.
But the humorous fact is that the name we all know this city by was bestowed upon it by mistake! There is in fact no river in Rio! The Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Lemos (the European who discovered Rio) arrived at a massive bay in Brazil (called Guanabara Bay in the local tongue) on 1st January, 1502. The explorers mistook the bay to be the mouth of a river and hence, decided to name it ‘River of January’ owing to the month of its discovery.
Another theory suggests that it was actually named ‘Ria de Janeiro’ which would’ve been a factually correct name because ‘Ria’ stands for ‘Bay’, which is indeed what the Portuguese had stumbled upon, but then somebody confused the word ‘Ria’ with the word ‘Rio’, and ended up calling it ‘Rio de Janeiro’.
Either ways, nobody bothered to rectify the nomenclatural error and eventually, the city which was developed by the bay took up the same name.
The Portuguese founded the actual city on 1 March, 1565 and they named it ‘São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro’, in honour of St. Sebastian, the saint who was the patron of the erstwhile Monarch D. Sebastião of Portugal.
So if you’re ever visiting Rio and you chance upon the meaning of the city’s name, don’t start complaining that you can’t find a river!
(Image credits: lebar.in)