You would have expected that the Canary Islands were named after canaries because of all the birds found on the islands, but it's actually exactly the opposite. The islands (discovered in Ancient Greek times) were already called the Canary Islands when people decided to associate a bird common to the area by name in the 1650s. Meanwhile, the Canary Islands were named after a completely different animal. It's likely that the name comes from the earlier Latin phrase Canariae Insulae, which meant "dog islands", canarius being the Latin word for "canine". This was likely named after all the dogs living there (and ironically not the birds). Anyway, canarius is a conjugation of canis, meaning "dog", from Proto-Italic ko, which in turn is from Proto-Indo-European kwo. Both of these other words also meant "dog". Surprisingly, usage of the word canine in literature is over four times as much as usage for its linguistic cousin, canary.
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.