Five Mountain Names

  • Mount Everest: named after Colonel Sir George Everest (1790-1866), British Surveyor General of India.
  • K2: an early land-surveyor’s shorthand notation, used because nobody lived near enough to the mountain for it to have a local name.
  • Himmelbjerget: “Mount Heaven”, 147 meters above sea level. Denmark’s highest point is in fact Møllehøj, “Windmill Barrow”, at 171 m a.s.l.
  • Kebnekaise: “Kettle Peak”. Sweden’s highest mountain carries this name due to a misunderstanding between local Saami and surveyors, as the mountain with the concave peak is actually nearby Tolpagorni.
  • Mount McKinley: the highest peak in North America, named by a gold prospector in the 1890s after US president William McKinley. The president hailed from Ohio, and there is an on-going conflict between the Congressional delegations of Ohio and Alaska over attempts on the latter’s part to rename the mountain Denali, which was its local name before the area became Anglicised.


  1. #1 Birger Johansson
    January 31, 2011

    “Kebnekaise: “Kettle Peak”. Sweden’s highest mountain carries this name due to a misunderstanding between local Saami and surveyors, as the mountain with the concave peak is actually nearby Tolpagorni.”

    Cue for Terry Pratchett reference 🙂

  2. #2 Martin R
    January 31, 2011

    Feel free!

  3. #3 Richard Simons
    January 31, 2011

    I was going in to a conference in a Windhoek hotel when the Faculty secretary burst out laughing. “Why,” she wanted to know, “would they call a conference room ‘buttocks’?” All of the rooms were named after mountains and they had not bothered to find out the Oshiwambo meaning of ‘Omatakos’.

  4. #4 Chris P Bacon
    January 31, 2011

    Elephant Mountain, east of Barstow, California


    The name is due to the fact that when seen from the west it looks like an elephant, complete with trunk. This was first noticed and named by silver miners on the way to Calico.

  5. #5 Stewart Hinsley
    January 31, 2011

    Mynydd Mawr in North Wales is locally known as Mynydd Eliffant (Elephant Mountain).

    Lancashire’s Pendle Hill means hill-hill-hill. It’s disputed whether Torpenhow Hill (hill-hill-hill-hill) actually exists.

    The Lake District has an Innominate Tarn.

  6. #6 Eric Lund
    January 31, 2011

    @Stewart: We get similar results in North America by combining English with Spanish or First Peoples names. For example, there is an area south of San Francisco known as the Los Altos hills (the the hills hills).

  7. #7 anandine
    January 31, 2011

    Or California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains (mountain snow-covered mountains).

  8. #8 Tor
    January 31, 2011

    I’m pretty sure the name of the great Danish peak is “Himmelbjerget”, without an s.

  9. #9 John
    January 31, 2011

    Well, of course there are the Grand Teton mountains in Wyoming; some explorers were dreaming. And the Sandia mountains in New Mexico, which look like broken watermelons with the sunset cast upon them.

  10. #10 Thinker
    February 1, 2011

    Martin, shouldn’t you do one of these posts for lakes or other bodies of water? I mean, you live right next to Grötfatet (“The Porridge Bowl”)!

    For inclusion in that list, I hereby nominate Långtarmen (“The Long Intestine”, in Lake Mälaren near Drottningholm) and Trälhavet (“The Slave Ocean”, next to Österåker).

  11. #11 Martin R
    February 1, 2011

    Excellent examples, all!

    Thinker, you’re right! Hydronymy is a fascinating subject. Like, “Magelungen”, WTF?

  12. #12 windy
    February 1, 2011

    Denali, which was its local name

    That is pretty much its local name again. Sounds like the Ohioans are in de”nali” about it.

    There’s a strait off Hanko called Hauensuoli / Gäddtarmen – “Pike Gut”

  13. #13 Tsu Dho Nimh
    February 1, 2011

    Arizona’s “Picacho Peak”, a volcano neck stub that is a prominent landmark between Phoenix and Tucson … translates as “peak peak”.

  14. #14 Drivebyposter
    February 1, 2011

    I’m pretty sure most people would still call McKinley McKinley if the name got changed to Denali. It’s been that way too long and it’s ingrained into the culture.

  15. #15 G.D.
    February 2, 2011

    I guess Canada’s Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump is more of a ridge than a mountain (or hill). else it would presumably take the lead here.

  16. #16 G.D.
    February 2, 2011

    Sorry for the ambiguity; “Canada’s” is not part of the name. It’s “Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump”, and it is IN Alberta, Canada.

  17. #17 prosaica
    February 17, 2011

    I just wanted to add that there is something named _after_ a mountain. To be precise, K3 surfaces have been thus named by André Weil in honor of K2 (which he had actually seen, if not climbed).

  18. #18 Martin R
    February 17, 2011

    “In algebraic geometry, a supersingular K3 surface is a K3 surface whose l-adic cohomology is generated by algebraic cycles”

    Well whaddaya know?

  19. #19 Martha
    May 4, 2011

    Some Oregon geographic names:
    Jump Off Joe Canyon, in Gilliam County, Oregon
    Jump-off Joe Mountain, in Grant County, Oregon
    Jumpoff Joe Creek, in Josephine County, Oregon

    And then there’s the State of Washington:
    Jump Off Joe, a butte in Benton County, Washington
    Jump Off Joe Lake, in Stevens County, Washington
    Jump Off Joe Point, in Garfield County, Washington
    Jumpoff Joe Creek, one of two streams in Stevens County, Washington

    One wonders, Who was Joe?

  20. #20 RM
    May 17, 2011

    I heard a lovely story, possibly apocryphal but who cares, while working in Jordan: a British cartographer making the first map of a wild part of the country asked a passing bedouin what the name of the prominent hill on the horizon was. The bedouin replied ‘Wallahi ma baraf’, and so it was named on all the maps up to the present day. ‘Wallahi ma baraf’ means ‘Oh God, I dunno’.

  21. #21 dustbubble
    June 29, 2011

    Hill near here called “Deid For Cauld” (Dead of (or, Will Die of) Cold).
    Accurate enough, I fear.
    And the “Deaf Heights” not so far away.

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