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What is Canada old name?

The Origins of the Name “Canada”

Canada did not always go by the name we know today. The country has had several different names throughout its history before becoming universally known as “Canada.” Let’s explore the origins and evolution of the name “Canada” over time.

In quick summary:
– The original indigenous peoples had their own names for the land before European settlement.
– The first European name used was “Kanata” derived from the Iroquoian word meaning “village.”
– Variants like “Canada” and “New France” were common in the 16th-18th centuries.
– “The Canadas” referred to southern portions divided into Upper and Lower Canada.
– In 1867, the name Dominion of Canada was officially established for the confederated country.

Indigenous Names Pre-Colonization

Before European settlers arrived, the indigenous First Nations peoples had their own names for the lands that would become Canada. These names often varied between tribes and languages.

Some examples include:

– The Mi’kmaq name for parts of eastern Canada was “Migumaa,” meaning “our mother.”

– The Cree called parts of central Canada “Aski,” meaning “land/earth.”

– The Ojibway referred to areas around the Great Lakes as “Anishinaabewi,” meaning “the people’s land.”

So Canada did not have one unified indigenous name, as it was home to dozens of unique First Nations with their own distinct cultures and languages. The native peoples viewed the land in spiritual terms, rather than as a singular country or territory.

The First European Name: Kanata

The first known European name for Canada stems from Jacques Cartier, the French explorer who claimed parts of eastern Canada for France in 1534. Cartier learned a local Iroquoian word “kanata” meaning “village” and used it to describe the new territory.

In his journals, Cartier noted that the St. Lawrence Iroquoians used the word “Kanata” for the town of Stadacona, near present-day Quebec City. Cartier began applying Kanata as a name for the wider region.

Over time, European mapmakers turned Kanata into “Canada,” likely influenced by the Latin term “terra canadensis” meaning “land of Canada.” So the current name Canada evolved from the indigenous word Kanata, even though Cartier was originally only using it for a specific town.

16th-18th Century European Names

In the 16th to 18th centuries, European colonizers used various names for their North American claims. Different names were sometimes used concurrently for the same regions. Key names included:

– New France: The French colony covered much of what is now Canada and parts of the United States. New France served as the administrative name until 1763.

– The Canadas: After the 1763 Royal Proclamation divided New France into Upper Canada and Lower Canada, the two regions were collectively referred to as “The Canadas” in the late 18th-early 19th centuries.

– British North America: With the influx of British colonizers after 1763, the areas now in Canada were sometimes called the British North American colonies.

So while “Canada” had already emerged, it was not the only or even most common European name during this period. “New France” and “The Canadas” were also widely used.

The Name “Canada” Becomes Official

It was not until the 1867 Constitution Act that the name “Canada” was formally established for the new Dominion of Canada. This act united the colonies of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia into a confederated country.

While debated, “Canada” was ultimately chosen as the official name for this new nation, without the “New” prefix used under French rule.

So 1867 marks the point when “Canada” went from being a loosely associated name to the formal title for the modern country. Over 150 years later, that name remains, representing a unique blending of indigenous and European influences.

Key Points in the Evolution of “Canada”

To summarize the key developments:

1534 Jacques Cartier adopts the Iroquoian word “Kanata” meaning “village” after hearing it used by a St. Lawrence Iroquoians for a specific town.
16th-18th centuries Variants like “Canada” and “New France” used interchangeably for French colony in parts of what is now Canada.
1763 The Royal Proclamation divides New France into Upper Canada and Lower Canada, collectively referred to as “The Canadas.”
1867 The British colonies unite to form the Dominion of Canada, officially adopting “Canada” as the name.

This table summarizes the evolution from indigenous origins, through French and British colonization, ultimately leading to Canada as the formal name.

Why Did “Canada” Prevail Over Other Options?

With the array of different names used for this country historically, it raises the question – why did “Canada” become the enduring choice? There are several contributing factors:

Recognition and Usage

While not universally used, “Canada” had been employed alongside other names for over 300 years. It appeared on many maps and texts, especially in reference to the St. Lawrence River valley. This helped establish recognition and associations with Canada among Europeans.

Distinction from the United States

Choosing “Canada” provided distinction from the newly independent United States. It allowed the country to assert its unique identity, rather than being perceived as an extension of America.

Francophone Roots

“Canada” derived from New France, so it resonated with French Canadians in Quebec. Choosing this name recognized the profound French cultural influence.

Flexible Meaning

Unlike “New France,” Canada did not limit associations with any single European power. Its meaning was malleable, originally derived from indigenous languages. This flexibility allowed it to represent a multicultural country.

Brevity and Simplicity

“Canada” was short, simple, and easy to say. This benefited communication and recognition. It contrasted with longer names like “The United Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.”

In summary, while not the only option, Canada had the right blend of familiarity, French links, adaptability, and simplicity to serve as the name for a young, diverse nation seeking its own identity. The origins may be indigenous and colonial, but Canada ultimately developed its own unique culture and significance.


Canada’s name has undergone an evolution from diverse indigenous languages, through French and British colonialism, ultimately emerging as the sovereign nation of Canada. The current name blends European and First Nations influences.

While not necessarily the intention, Canada’s name celebrates the input of indigenous peoples, through the Iroquoian root word Kanata meaning “village.” This originated as just a description for one Iroquoian settlement but was adopted more broadly by Jacques Cartier.

Over many decades, Canada developed its own distinctions from the European powers that colonized it. The name Canada reflects the multicultural dream of a country founded by indigenous peoples, France, Britain, and the many diverse immigrants who followed. The name remains a symbolic bridge between First Nations past and a uniquely Canadian future.