Where does the name of Honduras come from?

The answer is easy if you ask any Honduran citizen! Christopher Columbus, that great seafaring adventurer who discovered America randomly arrived at the Honduras coast in August 1502. His first stop was at the Island of Guanaja. His second was in what today is the Bay of Trujillo. After claiming the land for the Spanish Crown and holding the first Catholic Eucharist on mainland America, he continued his exploration towards the east. If you consider that his vessels only had wind propulsion, this must have been an especially hard trip. This since the prevailing winds are out of the east, which is the direction he was heading into.

Eventually, he made it to a cape, where the coast turns south. He is reputed to have thanked God for finally reaching this landmark, that he named Cabo Gracias a Dios. History tells us that he said “gracias a Dios hemos salido de estas honduras…”. (“Thank God we are out of these depths!”). This cape, today, is the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. Thus, according to tradition is where the name of Honduras comes from.

Can a Toponym on a Map Give a City or Country its Name?

This week, I was fortunate to have Dr. William V Davidson stay at our Bed and Breakfast in the Cangrejal River. We started a relationship some years ago when he wrote to me inquiring about Ceiba trees in the area. I thought he was an academic with a weird interest in Ceiba trees. It turns out that he is an accomplished geographer who has studied Honduras with passion for the better part of the last 6 decades. It happens to be that his interest in Ceiba trees is because they have a unique function in geography throughout the world. Ceiba trees are so massive and tall, that they stand out as geographical markers for points of interest!

Back then, he shared a map from the 18th century regarding the coast of Honduras. In it, you can see a point called “Cotton Tree Point”. Ceiba trees are also known as cotton trees because their flower produces a cotton like product that the Maya used to stuff their beds with. The Map clearly shows the “Cotton Tree Point” where the city of La Ceiba stands today! Could it have been the same Ceiba tree that gave the city its name in the Nineteenth Century? Probably so!  It certainly makes the point of using a Ceiba tree to mark a spot that can be seen from afar!

map of La Ceiba
How a toponym on a map can create a name for a city!

An Unusual Atlas of Historical Maps of Honduras!

Dr. Davidson was kind enough to gift me a copy of his exceedingly rare book: Honduras: an Atlas of Historical Maps, which he published some years back. I had no idea the book existed but was deeply honored with his gift. The book is an unusual and complete collection of maps dating the very first map of the coast of Honduras. The author is no other than Bartholomew Columbus, who was on that first voyage the came across the “Indies”.

Where does the name of Honduras come from
The cover of the Historical maps atlas of Honduras, by Dr. William V Davidson

As I went through the book, and Dr. Davidson explained some of the maps, I became aware of certain geographical facts I did not know. First, and above all, most maps of the new continent included the coast of Honduras! Second, the Caribbean Coast of Honduras faces the north, and the main winds and currents flow from East to West. (This of course I am fully aware of). Thus, the best natural ports in the Caribbean Coast of Central America are naturally located in Honduras. What we call the Bay of Trujillo today is without doubt the best of these natural ports. Third, because of the previous comment, explorers that were visiting Honduras in those days felt safer making use of the ports in the coast of Honduras, rather than in the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as what today is the Coast of Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

An Innovative Scientific Theory:

Dr. Davidson went on to explain that he did not agree with the origin of name of Honduras. For one, the coastline of Central America is not that deep, and the Caribbean Coast of Honduras is no exception. It is certain that Christopher Columbus was ecstatic when he cleared Cabo Gracias a Dios. He was probably preoccupated dealing with the difficult task of sailing into the wind more that dealing with storms. In any case, sailing south with the prevailing winds coming out of the east was far easier! Perhaps, that preconceived notion that the name of the country comes from Columbus himself is far fetched and not true!

The Bay of Trujillo was the Bay of Fondura in the Earliest Maps of the North Coast of Honduras!

It turns out that in the early sixteenth century, there were many trips and many different maps made of the coast of Honduras. Many of them referred to the Bay of Trujillo and Punta Castilla as “Fondura” or “Cabo de Fondura”. The Spanish name seems natural, “fondura” comes from “fondear” which is to lay anchor off the coast. There was no better place to lay anchor along the coast of Central America than what today is the Bay of Trujillo. The name appears as a reference in several early maps of the area. It was an important geographical reference even before the town of Trujillo was established in 1525. The conquest of Honduras did not begin until 1521. However the name Cabo de Fondura o Fonduras already appeared in several different maps by then!

The area had been claimed by Columbus for Spain, but it had not been colonized. However, even then, the Cuban  and Hispaniola slave runners would travel to the coast of Honduras to capture slaves to take back to Cuba. This did not last long. Probably due to two different reasons.  The first is that the native population along the Caribbean Coast of Honduras was limited. Second, because locals kept dying from the plagues brought inadvertently by the European Conquistadors. As a result, African slaves were a better source of wealth than the local Native Americans; for one they lived longer.

In any case, the Bay of Fonduras was the preferred anchorage whenever there were expeditions to the North Coast of Honduras. Heck there is even a tale of natives from the Bay Islands that were captured and taken to Cuba. Once in Havana, they managed to free themselves and commandeer their vessel to make it back home safely. Probably not true, but an interesting story!

Indeed, we can Say that Name of Honduras come from this Toponym Used in Early Maps!

It is interesting to note that back in the early Sixteenth Century, Spanish as a language was still undergoing many changes. There were many different “Spanish Dialects” depending on the region of Spain. During this period, the “f” in many cases became an “h”. As a result, before we knew it, the Cape of Fondura became the Cape of Hondura or Honduras! Thus, the name of Honduras was first written on a map. This led it to became the actual name of the Modern Republic of Honduras! Although this story may be less “romantic” or “passionate” than attributing the name to a phrase by Christopher Columbus himself, there is more “scientific evidence” to this story! In any case, it has without doubt captured my imagination.

I find it fascinating that the first cartographic efforts to define the coast of Central America, and America, to that matter, all include the coast of Honduras! Somehow, this small little piece of paradise became the center of the New World for a short period of time. It is also amazing that the center of the World somehow was transferred from the Mediterranean Sea to the Caribbean Sea. The dominant European countries, all became involved in this new World. Such is the case not only of England and Spain, but also of Portugal, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

Back on Track with my Blog and Travel Guide!

I must confess that Covid19 has had me rather locked up and uninspired. The visit by Dr. Davidson, and his close friend, Craig Revels has gotten me all winded up! I am excited about new information, mystical historical maps of the Coast of Honduras. This creates a new vision about where the name for the country of Honduras come from. I can not say for sure that the interpretation that Doctor Davidson proposes is accurate. But it certainly is fascinating and provides us with another, more down to earth idea of where it comes from. The fact is that regardless of whether the interpretation that my now friend, Bill Davidson proposes is true or not, it opens a new door to investigate and learn more about this magical country in Central America we call Honduras!

There is no doubt in my mind that there is no better natural port on the Caribbean along the Central American coast than the Bay of Trujillo. It is not strange that Honduras name comes from a toponymic found in early maps. In any case, I would love to hear what you think, and get input from you regarding this. The same applies for other themes that relate to Honduras!