The Etymology of Rio

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Below, I went through the etymology of many names that will be familiar to those that know Rio de Janeiro. You’ll find that, where possible, they adhere to the format below and, in some cases, they include other details. The list below is not all-inclusive.

Current: Portuguese (English)
Original: Portuguese (English)


Neighborhoods

Arpoador (Harpooner)
unknown/none

Note: It was once a place for harpooning whales

Bangu (Black Shield, Big darkened wall)
unknown/part of Campo Grande

Note: The Tupi word bangu’u likely references the shadow of the Pedra Branca Massif. Another possible origin is the African term banguê, a place on the sugarcane mill where slaves stored bagasse, for feeding the cows. The latter term then began to be used to describe a primative transportation device, like a stretcher, for sugarcane and construction material

Copacabana (Luminous place / Blue Beach, View of the Lake)
Sacopenapã (Path of tiger herons)

Note: Current name is perhaps Quechuan, or of Bolivian indigenous origin. Original name is the same as the Lagoon, related to old parish delimitations) [1]

Flamengo (Flemish)
Uruçumirim (Small Bee)

Note: Current name either due to Dutch invasion, Dutch prisoners, or sightings of flamingos. Also called Aguada dos Marinheiros (Sailor’s fresh water supply), and Praia do Sapateiro (Cobbler Beach) in the interim

Humaitá (Black Stone)
Praia da Piaçava (Piassava Beach)

Ilha do Governador (Governor’s Island)
Ilha de Paranapuã / Ilha dos Maracajás (Seaside Hill Island / Margay Island)

Note: It was a sesmaria and sugar mill owned by Rio’s first governor, Salvador Correia de Sá

Ipanema (Bad Water)

Note: The name also references the second Baron of Ipanema, from inland São Paulo, who invested his capital from a metal processing plant into what would become Rio’s Ipanema

Madureira (from tentant and cattle drover Lourenço Madureira)

Penha (either from Our Lady of Peñafrancia or from the word for cliff) [2]

Recreio dos Bandeirantes (Fortune-hunters Playground)

Note: The company which originally sold lots of land there had the same name

Tijuca (Rotten Water)

Note: Tijuca got its name because it was on the way to Tijuca Lagoon, in Barra da Tijuca


Favelas

Cidade de Deus (City of God)

Note: Dom Hélder Câmara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop, suggested the name to Carlos Lacerda, then-governor of the state of then-Guanabara. The housing complex was actually supposed to be inhabited by government employees, but due to 1966 floods, residents of favelas in the Zona Sul were moved there instead [3]

Complexo do Alemão (German’s Complex)
Unknown/part of the parish of Inhaúma (Black Bird, ie Horned screamer)

Note: The “German” in this case, was actually a Polish immigrant, WWI refugee and land owner. Before it was a Complex, it was simply known as Morro do Alemão (German’s Hill)

Complexo do Maré (Tide Complex)
Comunidade Morro do Timbau (Timbau Hill Community)

Note: The name Maré is due to the swampy area there and the tide that would eventually come in, which gave way to the construction of stilt houses

Morro da Mangueira (Mangueira Hill)

Note: The Mangueira Hat Factory was located on a street at one of the entrances to the favela. The factory “lent” its name to another favela, in Leme, called Chapéu-Mangueira

Morro da Providência (Providence Hill) [4]
Favela (Weed)

Note: It took on the current name in the 1940s with the installation of the Divina Providência chapel there

Morro do Salgueiro (Salgueiro Hill)

Note: Portuguese immigrant Domingos Alves Salgueiro had 30 shacks in the favela and became a point of reference for those going there

Rocinha (small farm) [5]

Santa Marta / Dona Marta (Saint Martha / Lady Martha)

Note: Priest Clemente Martins de Matos bought lands in current-day Botafogo and denominated the hill with his mother’s name

Vidigal (named after Major Vidigal) [6]


Other

Corcovado (Hunchbacked)
Pináculo / Pico da Tentação (Pinnacle / Temptation Peak)

Note: The original name references the Mount of Temptation, showing that religious connotations existed there prior to the Christ statue

Cristo o Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)
Mirante do Chapéu do Sol (Sun Hat Viewpoint) [7]

Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon) [8]
Piraguá or Praguá / Sacopenapã / Capôpenypau (Fish Cove / Path of tiger herons / Lagoon of shallow roots)

Note: Also called Lagoa de Amorim Soares / do Fagundes (due to other owners), in the interim

Maracanã (parrot)

Pedra da Gávea (Topsail Rock)
Metaracanga (Decorated/Crowned head)

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