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Croatian islands: How were they named?

Croatian islands: How were they named?

Croatian islands: How were they named?

How did some of the Croatian islands get their names? Some got them from ancient history and mythology, but some Islands got their names for completely different reasons.

There are many theories about how some Croatian islands got their names which they are known by today. We reveal the most likely origins of the names of some of those islands.


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Brač (Photo: Perica Oreškovic/Unsplash)

The Greek name of the island known today as Brač was ‘Elaphousa’, apparently derived from elaphos (stag). Based on this, it has been speculated that the original name of the island may have been derived from the word for ‘stag’. Polybius and Plinius record the name of the island as ‘Brattia’ which then developed to Brač. 


Croatian islands: How were they named


In the past, Cres and Lošinj were a unique island. Only with an artificially dug canal near Osor, probably in Roman times, two islands were created in order to shorten the so-called Amber Route.

There are a couple of theories about how the island of Cres got its name. One is it is derived from the Proto-Indo-European ‘(s)quer’ meaning ‘cliff’. Another, and more historically correct one, is from classical antiquity when the town was founded and inhabited by ancient Greeks who called it ‘Chersos’, meaning ‘barren land’ or ‘uncultivated land’. This eventually was modified into Cres. 

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The Cres-Lošinj archipelago was called Apsyrtides in ancient times. The name is associated with the legend of the mythical hero Apsyrtus.

The story says that Agronaut seafarers led by Jason stole King Aeëtes’ golden fleece and his daughter Medea and ran from king’s son Apsyrtus who pursued them. When he ultimately caught up with them near Osor, Jason and Medea tricked him and killed him and parts of his body created the Apsyrtides, the Apsyrtus islands. 


Hvar (Photo: Marcus Löfvenberg/Unsplash)

The island was known as ‘Pharos’, meaning ‘lighthouse’, by the Ancient Greeks. However, it’s not clear if the name really comes from the Greek word for lighthouse. 

As part of the Roman province of Dalmatia, the island was known as ‘Pharia’ and, later, ‘Fara’. Under the linguistic influence of the newcomers, the official name became ‘Quarra’ because Slavic languages did not originally have the ‘f’ sound. Later, the name was changed further to Hvar. 


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Korčula (Photo: Milica Spasojevic/Unsplash)

Korčula is an adaption of the island’s original name given to it by the Greeks which was ‘Korkyra’. Since the Greek island of Corfu was also named Korkyra, Melaina (dark, black) was added so Korčula was originally known as ‘Korkyra Melaina’.

Korkyra is connected to the legend of the beautiful nymph Kerkyra, daughter of Asop, God of Rivers. Poseidon, the God of the Sea, fell in love with her, kidnapped her and held her in captivity on the island.


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The island of Krk has been habitated for about 10,000 – 15,000 years before Christ. The first known inhabitants of Krk were the Japods, an Illyrian tribe, inherited by the Liburnians. In their time, all the Kvarner islands were called Apsyrtides and Elektrides (Amber islands) by the Greeks because they traded the highly prized fossilized tree resin amber from the Baltic for the whole Mediterranean.

The Liburnians called the island “Curicum”, the name meant those who inhabited the stone island Kar-ikt. This was later shortened to the Croatian name Kark, then Kerk and Krk which the island is known today as.


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Ancient Greeks again had an influence in the origins of the name of the island after the originally called it ‘Melita’ or ‘honey’ which over the centuries evolved to become the Slavic name, Mljet. 


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Pag (Photo: Mate Melege/Unspash)

There are many theories about how the island of Pag got its name, but the most accepted is that is derived from the Latin word ‘Pagus’ which means ‘boundary staked out on the ground’. The word pagus itself is the stem for Romance languages’ words for state or country. 


 Croatian islands: How were they named?

(Photo: Boudewijn “Bo” Boer/Unsplash)

The island of Rab was first mentioned around 360 BC and then by Greek and Roman geographists by the name ‘Arba’. That name belonged to the Liburnians, so far the oldest known inhabitants of the island. 

Arba was also the name of the Liburnian settlement in the modern city of Rab. It is not certain how old this name is. The Illyrian-Liburnian word Arb meant ‘dark, obscure, green, forested’. Therefore, the name Arba should be comprehended as a toponym meaning ‘Black Island’, due to the rich pine forests that once grew on the island. In the Croatian language, it became Rab, a form that probably goes back as far as the 7th century. 


Croatian islands: How were they named?

Šolta (Photo: Håkon Grimstad/Unsplash)

Šolta is situated west of the island of Brač, south of Split and east of the Drvenik islands, Drvenik Mali and Drvenik Veli.

The island has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and was first mentioned by Pseudoskilaks in the 4th century BC. Kr. under the name of Olyntha. The island was later named Osolent. With the arrival of the Croats, the name was Croatized to Sulet. The island was known by that name until the turn of the century, when under the influence of the Venetian authorities the Croatian name was Romanized into the form of Šolta.


 Croatian islands: How were they named?

Vis (Photo: Pero Vojkovic/Unsplash)

In the 4th century BC, the Greeks founded the colony ‘Issa’ on the island of what is today Vis. Issa is thought to have meant ‘spas’ in Illyrian as there were large baths there in Roman times.

It was then known as Lissa under the rule of the Republic of Venice. This was then modified further by the Croatians to Vis. Issa is also the former name of the Greek island Lesbos. 

Check out how some Croatian cities and towns got their names here.

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