The word albatross was borrowed in the late seventeenth century from Spanish albatros, which is an alteration of alcatraz, meaning "pelican" (the definition was originally "frigatebird", but that changed over time). Yes, that's the same as the Californian prison island, which was named after the large population of sea birds found there. The exact origin of the word is uncertain; some etymologists think that alcatraz comes from the Arabic word al-gattas, meaning "the diver" (al-, of course, being the Arabic definite article, and gattas ultimately tracing to a Proto-Semitic root with a similar connotation), and another theory is that alcatraz is from al-qadus, meaning "jar", in reference to the pelicans' beaks. To complicate things further, the word may have been influenced by Latin albus ("white") and/or Portuguese alcatruz ("water wheel bucket"). It's all pretty convoluted.
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.