Krakatoa is famed for being the site of one of the most cataclysmic volcanic eruptions in modern history, which in 1883 caused a myriad of environmental issues and may even have been an inspiration for Munch's The Scream painting. But where does the name for that volcano derive from? Well, no one knows for sure. When the island was first listed on a map, it was written as Pulo Carcata, pulo meaning "island" in Indonesian and being the etymon of the country name Palau. Carcata was just one variation of dozens, with other listings spelled as Crackatouw, Cracatoa, Krakatau, Krakatao, and Karata. After the island erupted to leave a new island in the former caldera, it was renamed Anak Krakatau, or "child of Krakatoa". This was Anglicized to become just Krakatoa and the word spread from there. So what does Krakatoa mean? There are several competing theories, none of which are likely to ever be completely confirmed. It could be onomatopoeia for the sounds local birds make, from Sanskrit karkataka, meaning "crab", or from Malay kelakatu, meaning "white-winged ant". Any of these origins would be fascinating, however, for this equally fascinating island.
Adam Aleksic is a sophomore studying linguistics and government at Harvard University. He also has disturbing interests in politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.