Kiribati is an archipelago nation out in the Pacific Ocean, and until recently I always thought it had some kind of exotic native name. I also believed that it was pronounced like it was spelled, and, boy, was I wrong on both parts. It's actually pronounced kiri-bas, because that's the way plurals work in the local Gilbertese language. Now the word for the nation comes from the English name Gilberts (yes, there was a lot of modification), which was named after Captain Thomas Gilbert, who did a lot of discovering of islands in the Pacific-Indian ocean area. Yes, the local language is also named after him; he made a real impact on the culture, apparently. Anyway, the surname Gilbert comes from the Proto-Germanic roots gislaz, meaning "pledge", and berhtaz, meaning "bright". Respectively, these terms come from Proto-Indo-European gheydh, meaning "desire", and Proto-Indo-European bherhg, or "to shine". Despite all these IE roots, I think it's really cool how a common English last name came to be applied for not only a country's name but also the language they speak there.
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd