How Did Madagascar Get Its Name?

Panoramic Images/Panoramic Images/Getty Images

Early Portuguese explorers gave Madagascar its name because of reports by Marco Polo of an island by that name, although it was most likely not the same island. The native inhabitants of Madagascar are called the Malagasy.

The first European name given to Madagascar was Saint Lawrence. It was given by a Portuguese explorer named Diogo Dias who discovered the island accidentally. Madagascar was most likely uninhabited until approximately 2,500 years ago, when settlers from Indonesia and east Africa traveled to the island and intermarried. British, Dutch, Portuguese and French explorers attempted to establish colonies on Madagascar but none were successful, so the surrounding waters became a common target for piracy.