In Greek mythology, Atlas was the Titan tasked with holding up the heavens, and, today, an atlas is a book of maps. So how are they connected? The latter was named after the former because the mythical character was frequently depicted on the front covers of early atlases, as well as on a bunch of influential maps by cartographer Gerardus Mercator. The word first started to refer to map books in the 1630s, but the titan's name was around for longer and came from Greek in the 1580s. There are several theories as to where Atlas ultimately derives from: it has been suggested that it could come from the Proto-Indo-European root tele, meaning "to bear"; from the Berber word adrar, meaning "mountain"; from Proto-Indo-European dweh, meaning "far"; or from the name of a specific mountain in Mauritania.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.