How Canada Got Its Name

Jacques Cartier, Explorer
Jacques Cartier, Explorer. Rischgitz / Hutton Archive / Getty Images

The name "Canada" comes from "kanata," the Iroquois-Huron word for village. Aboriginal people used the word to describe the village of Stadacona (present-day Quebec City) to French explorer Jacques Cartier during his trip along the St. Lawrence River in 1535.  

Cartier used the word Canada to refer to both the settlement of Stadacona as well as the surrounding area, which was then under the purview of Iroquois Chief Donnacona.

By 1547, maps were showing the name Canada applied to everything north of the St. Lawrence River. Cartier referred to the St. Lawrence River as the "riviere du Canada" and the name began to take hold. Even though the French called the region New France, by 1616 the area along the great river of Canada and the Gulf of St. Lawrence was still called Canada. 

As the country expanded to the west and the south in the 1700s, "Canada" was the unofficial name of an area spanning the American midwest, extending as far south as what is now the state of Louisiana. 

After the British conquered New France in 1763, the colony was renamed the Province of Quebec. As British loyalists began heading north during and after the American Revolutionary War, Quebec was divided into two separate parts. 

Canada Becomes Official

In 1791, the Constitutional Act, also called the Canada Act, divided the Province of Quebec into the colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada.

This marked the first official use of the name Canada. In 1841, the two Quebecs were united again, this time as the Province of Canada.

On July 1, 1867, the Confederation Convention formally combined the Province of Canada, which included Quebec and Ontario, with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as "one Dominion under the name of Canada." July 1 is still celebrated as Canada Day.


Other Names Considered for Canada

Canada wasn't the only name considered for the new dominion, although it was ultimately chosen by unanimous vote at the Confederation Convention. 

Several other names were suggested leading up to Confederation, some of which were later repurposed elsewhere in the country. The list included  Anglia (a medieval Latin name for England), Albertsland, Albionora, Borealia, Britannia, Cabotia, Colonia, and Efisga, which was an acronym for the first letters of the countries England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, with the "A" for "Aboriginal."

Other names floated for consideration were Hochelaga, Laurentia (a geological name for part of North America), Norland, Superior, Transatlantia, Victorialand and Tuponia, an acronym of sorts for The United Provinces of North America. 

The Dominion of Canada

The "Dominion" part of the name was decided on instead of "kingdom," to denote that Canada was under British rule but was still its own separate entity. After World War II, as Canada became more autonomous, the full name "Dominion of Canada" was used less and less.

The country's name was officially amended to simply "Canada" in 1982 when the Canada Act was passed, and it's been known by that name ever since.