Where Do the Names of Greek Islands Come From?



SantoriniMythical heroes, ancient gods and kings, along with geological features, were the origin and inspiration for many names of famous Greek islands.

Santorini (Thira): The name comes from the ancient Spartan Thiran who first colonized the island. It comes from passers crusaders, who during their passing stood for refueling near the Church of St. Irene, which existed on the island.

Corfu (Kerkyra or Korkyra) is related to two powerful water symbols; Poseidon, god of the sea, and Asopos–an important Greek mainland river. According to myth, Poseidon fell in love with the beautiful nymph Korkyra, daughter of Asopus and river nymph Metope, and abducted her. Poseidon brought Korkyra to the unnamed island and, in marital bliss, offered her name to the place–Korkyra gradually evolved to Kerkyra. Together, they had a child they called Phaiax, after whom the inhabitants of the island were named Phaiakes. This term was transliterated via Latin to Phaeacians. Corfu’s nickname is the island of the Phaeacians.

Crete: Crete was the name of one of the nymphs who guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides garden; garden of the gods and according to mythology, the nymph named the island.

Anafi: According to Greek mythology, the Argonauts as they were returning home from Colchis were caught in a storm and begged ancient Greek god Apollo to save them. Apollo responded to their calls and saw and island pop up in front of them; it became their refuge. The locals claim that the island is so named because it has no snakes.

Folegandros: For the origin of the name of Folegandros are two versions. According to the first one, the name comes from the Phoenician word phelekgundari (helekgundari) which means rocky land. In the second version, the island received its name from the mythological first settler, Folegandros, son of King Minos.

Naxos: There are two main theories about the island’s name. The first is the named in honor of Naxos, the ruler of the first settlers of the island; or the name derives from the ancient Greek word naxai, meaning thysai because of the many sacrifices that took place there in honor of the gods.

Skiathos: According to rumors, the name of Skiathos has origins from the word shadow and Athos as well as the island is geographically in the shadow of Agion Oros.

Mykonos: The Island’s name is inspired by the hero Mykonos, a descendant of the legendary king of Delos Anius.

Skyros: The island got its name from the wild rocky territory skiron or skyros which means stone debris.

Leros: The biggest area of Leros is flat with low mountains, thus the island got its name from the ancient Greek word leros which means smooth and flat.

Moreover, the Greek territory is composed of 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Sea, a truly unique phenomenon of the European continent. Every Greek island is different, each with its own qualities, making it special around the world.