The Ebola virus was first identified by a team of researchers in 1976 in a small Congolese city named Yambuku. One evening, the scientists had a meeting to figure out how to classify it, and one of them, Dr. Pierre Sureau, suggested that the pathogen be named after the village, but another, Dr. Joel Brennan, said he was concerned that the name might negatively impact its residents. Finally, Karl Johnson, the lead researcher on the team, suggested that they mitigate that by naming it after a local tributary of the Congo River, the Ebola River (they didn't name it after the Congo because there was already a disease named after it). Later on, that name stuck. The river itself gets its name from a Lingala word meaning "black"; that puts it in the Niger-Congo language family.
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.