Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Canary Isles ....going to the dogs.

The beautiful sandy beaches of the Canary Isles.

 I’m on vacation and so when choosing a topic for my weekend blog post, my thoughts turned to that popular holiday destination of the Canary Isles (OK, I know it’s a tenous link.) But, if like me, you assumed these Spanish islands, located off the north-west coast of mainland Africa, were named after small, brightly coloured birds – just like me, you’d be wrong.
'Canary Dogs.'

In the first century BC, the Romans sent an expedition, their findings reported back by Pliny the Elder:

“The island of Canaria [is] so-called from the multitude of dogs [canes] of great size.”

‘Canary’ dervies from the Latin for dog, ‘canis’, from which our word ‘canine’ is derived. There is also an association with a North African tribe called ‘the Canarii’, so called by Pliny because:

“They partake of their food in common with the canine race, and share with it the entrails of wild beasts."

The coat of arms of the Canary Islands, reflects it's origins.

Subsequent explorers sent by King Juba II of Mauritius, returned to present their paymaster with two of these giant dogs. Some accounts now speculate that these so-called-dogs were actually a species of Monk Seals (or ‘Sea-dog’ in Latin.) – now sadly critically endangered and no longer resident on the Canary Isles.
Monk Seals.

Canary birds do come from the Canary Islands, but it was a case of cart before horse, as explained Virginia Sliverstein in her book, ‘Beautiful Birds’ –

“Canaries were named after the Canary Islands, and not the other way round.”

So there we have it, some not-too-taxing holiday trivia. Enjoy!


  1. You always teach me something! I am glad they're named after dogs. Very interesting article. Thanks Grace.

  2. There is always something new to learn here. Thanks! I did indeed assume that it was named for birds.

  3. I am sorry to say that you don't explain the real origin of the name of the Islands... In Latin Mythology, they thought that the location where the Canary Islands are nowadays was the place where the entrance to the Kingdom of Hades was. That entrance was guarded by a terrible dog with three heads: Can Cerberus. Canary comes from the Latin word "canis", as you say in your post, but because of the fact that Can Cerberus lived there, as the guardian of Hell.
    I am open to any criticism or comment, but I must say that I am from Spain, so I know the story quite well... lol :P

  4. Cintaenglish - wow, that's interesting. Strangely beautiful place to be considered as the entrance to hell - perhaps it was ironic!
    I did also read that there was a possible link to dog-worship amongst the tribes there - similar to the Egyptians and Anubis...Whatever the link, dogs are indelibly linked with the Islands.
    Thank you for your comment,
    Grace x

  5. Thanks Grace. It is also true that it is an island famous for the great amount of dogs living there historically, but we prefer telling that legend. It is like giving the island a double chance for being exotic and interesting :P So, yeah, definitely linked to dogs.
    Cinta xx


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