How Barbados got its name

Barbados is high on the list of snowbird destinations for many obvious reasons, but history may not be among them. Once landed, however, visitors to the island soon discover that it has a rich, storied past that continues to spice up the Caribbean waters. The story of how the country got its name is one of many fascinating tales.

Barbados’s first inhabitants were Indian tribes, the peaceful Arawaks and the more fierce Caribs, who bestowed their tribe’s name on the entire region. Some historians believe that the Caribs eventually forced the Arawaks from the island, only to abandon it by the early 17th century.

It isn’t certain why the Caribs left, although theories range from slavery under the Spanish to simple migration to both the north and south. Portugese sailors who stopped in Barbados in 1537 enroute to Brazil did note the presence of some Indians on the island, but were more interested in South America. They did make a contribution, however: the sailors named the island “Los Barbados”, after the visible roots of the island’s ficus trees, which resemble beards.

The name stuck, even after the English Captain John Powell arrived in 1625 and claimed the island for KinJames I. Despite later being nicknamed “Little England” for its quick adoption of English traditions and law, Barbados remains “the beard” and a very popular destination.