In 1514, Diego Veláquez founded the city San Cristóbal de la Habana, which meant "Saint Cristopher of the Habana" and later became the capital of Cuba. Habana was the name of the local people group, and nobody is exactly sure where that comes from, but it's theorized that the appellation derives from Habaguanex, who was a chief of the Native American tribe. His name is Taíno, which is an Arawakan language, but nothing else is known. When Habana was borrowed into English, the b was switched to a v because of a linguistic phenomenon known as betacism, which is a confusion between the voiced bilabial plosive and voiced labiodental fricative sounds that occurs in many Spanish dialects. Usage of the word Havana in literature understandably peaked during the Spanish-American war, but it still is being propped up a lot because it represents a type of cigar, a color, and a type of rabbit as well as the city.
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.