What The World’s Highest Mountains Names Mean

From the Himalayas to the Andes, mountains have inspired and awed us for thousands of years.

Humans have ascribed all sorts of mythologies and metaphors to these jagged geological features. But while Everest or Kilimanjaro may ring a bell, do you know the meaning behind their names?

Today’s infographic from Alan’s Factory Outlet sorts the world’s highest mountains by continent, and explains the detailed origins of their names.

A Mountain By Any Other Name

Out of the 70 mountains profiled, only 41 are actually considered mountains. The rest are technically either a massif or a volcano (or a dome in one instance).

A massif (French for ‘massive’) is produced when a hard, unbendable rock is pushed towards the surface. They can also be formed when magma hardens once it’s above ground. For the rest of this post, we’ll refer to mountains and massifs interchangeably.

The highest mountains on each continent are considered to be part of the Seven Summits. Mountaineer Richard Bass was the first to scale all seven summits in 1985—and the 55-year old did so in only one year.

The Highest Mountain on Each Continent

NameLocationHeightMeaning of Name
Mount EverestNepal/ China, Asia29,029ft (8,848m)After Sir George Everest, former surveyor of India
Nepali name (Sagarmatha): “Forehead of the Sky”
Tibetan name (Chomolungma): “Goddess Mother of Mountain”
AconcaguaArgentina, S. America22,841ft (6,962m)Various native words: “Comes from the other side”, “Sentinel of stone”, “White sentinel”, “white ravine”
DenaliAlaska, U.S., N. America20,310ft (6,190m)Native Koyukon Athabascan: ‘high’ or ‘tall’
Mount KilimanjaroTanzania, Africa19,341ft (5,895m)Unclear, but some suggest it is a combination of Swahili ‘Kilma’ (“mountain”) and KiChagga ‘Njaro’ (“whiteness”)
Mount ElbrusRussia, Europe18,510ft (5,642m)Derived from Iranian mythology for  legendary mountain ‘Avestan Hara Berezaiti’: “high watchtower”
Vinson MassifAntarctica16,050ft (4,892m)After Carl G. Vinson, a congressman from Georgia who supported the Antarctic Exploration
Puncak JayaIndonesia, Asia/ Oceania16,024ft (4,884m)Sanskrit: “Victorious mountain”

Among these impressive peaks, two are technically volcanoes—Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and Mount Elbrus in Russia. Overall, it’s clear that a majority of their names have been influenced by the native languages in their surroundings.

The 10 Asian Giants

The highest mountains in the world are all in Asia, with nine of the ten highest found in the Himalayan range. Many of their names are derived from Sino-Tibetan languages, and some have mythological or religious influences.

NameLocationHeightMeaning of Name
Mount EverestNepal/ China29,029ft (8,848m)After Sir George Everest, former surveyor of India
Nepali name (Sagarmatha): “Forehead of the Sky”
Tibetan name (Chomolungma): “Goddess Mother of Mountain”
K2Pakistan28,251ft (8,611m)First surveyor labeled each mountain with a K and number. It has no local name due to its remoteness
KangchenjungaNepal/ India28,169ft (8,586m)Lhopo: “Five treasures of the high snow”
LhotseNepal/ China27,940ft (8,516m)Tibetan: “South peak”
MakaluNepal/ China27,838ft (8,485m)Sanskrit origin: “Big Black”, the name for the Hindu god Shiva

The second-highest mountain, K2 in Pakistan, lacks a more flowery name because it isn’t visible by any locals due to its remote location.

Majestic North America

The highest peaks in this region are scattered across three countries, with five volcanoes, four mountains, and one massif. Denali in Alaska, U.S. boasts unique names across nearly seven different Indigenous languages.

NameLocationHeightMeaning of Name
DenaliAlaska, U.S.20,310 ft (6,190 m)Native Koyukon Athabascan: ‘high’ or ‘tall’
Mount LoganCanada19,551 ft (5,959 m)After Sir William Edmond Logan
(Founder of Geological Survey of Canada
Pico de OrizabaMexico18,491 ft (5,636 m)Nahuatl: “Star mountain”
Mount Saint EliasAlaska, U.S.18,009 ft (5,489 m)After Cape Saint Elias
Tlingit: “Mountain behind icy bay”
PopocatépetlMexico17,749 ft (5,410 m)Nahuatl: “Smoking Mountain”
Mount ForakerAlaska, U.S.17,400 ft (5,304 m)After an Ohio Senator, Joseph B. Foraker
Dena’ina: “Denali’s wife”
Mount LucaniaCanada17,257 ft (5,260 m)Named by the Duke of Abruzzi for the RMS Lucania
(A ship he sailed from Liverpool to New York)
IztaccíhuatlMexico17,159 ft (5,230 m)Nahuatl: “White woman”
King PeakCanada16,972 ft (5,173 m)After Canadian surveyor and politician William King
Mount BonaAlaska, U.S.16,550 ft (5,044 m)Named by the Duke of Abruzzi after his racing yacht

Mexico’s highest volcanoes also have a Romeo and Juliet-esque myth that links them. Popocatépetl (active volcano) and Iztaccíhuatl (dormant volcano) are presumed to be lovers, both of whom meet a tragic end. It’s said that the active volcano is avenging its beloved’s death to this day.

Far Beyond the Horizon

Traveling to the southernmost tip of the Earth, you might be surprised to learn that volcanoes even exist in Antarctica. Mount Sidley is the highest, dormant, snow-covered volcano found here.

The only dome on the entire highest mountains list is Dome Argus (13,428 ft or 4,093 m). This is the coldest place on the planet, dropping between -144°F to -133°F (-98°C to -90°C).

Dome Argus is also unique from another angle—it’s the only one on Antarctica with fabled origins, based off the Greek figure Argus, builder of the mythological hero Jason and the Argonauts’ ship. The remaining mountains here are named for scientists and supporters of various Antarctic expeditions.

Under Sea, and Outer Space

All these highest mountains are visible on land, but it’s possible that more secrets remain in the deep blue. The Hawaiian dormant volcano Mauna Kea doesn’t make this list due to its lower elevation above sea level, but it’s actually 33,500ft (10,200m) high from tip to peak—far taller than even Everest.

Everest is still really impressive, but it’s also only a fraction of the size of Olympus Mons, the highest mountain on Mars and in the solar system. New planets are also being discovered every year, presenting further possibilities.

Ultimately, this suggests we’ve not yet peaked at discovering the massive mountains which exist in—and out—of this world.

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