Where did the Canary Islands get their name from?

The Canary Islands are part of Spain but situated 70 miles off the coast of Africa, the closest one is Lanzarote.

There are seven main islands Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Palma, Gomera and El Hierro.   

Just where did the Canary Islands get their name from?


presa canario   3 yellow canaries

The dog? Or the Canary?

It’s a bit like the chicken and egg question, which one came first? Let’s look at both and some other possibilities……


The name Islas Canarias can be translated as ‘Islands of the Dogs’ and indeed Gran Canaria as ‘Big Dog’.

King Juba reported that one of the Fortunate Isles is called Canaria after the dogs (Presa Canario) that live there. It is also said that Juba was given two of the dogs and is reported to have written ‘canes’ dogs on his map so that he could show people where his dogs came from.

There are two dogs on the coat of arms for the Canary Islands.


The wild canary ‘serinus canarius’ was introduced from the Canary Islands into Europe in the 16th Century.

Other Possibilities

The people from Gran Canaria were called ‘Canarii’, they are thought to be of North African origin.

The latin verb ‘canere’ means to sing, Shakespeare referred to 'Canary’ as having too much Malmsey (Malvasia wine) to drink or dancing.

There was a large Monk Seal colony which could be found in the islands during the 15th century, known as ‘Cannis Marinus’ in Latin or Sea Dogs.

What do you think, comments please?!

Are the islands named after the dog, the bird, the people or the seals!

Related article:

Where did Lanzarote get its name?

Origin of the name Islas Canarias

Today most historians tend to believe the name came from the name of the original inhabitants from the tribe "Canarii" from North Africa.
I would like to refer to this quote:
"En relación con Canaria debemos tener en cuenta que la teoría de que el nombre de la isla procede de los perros que abundaban en ella isla está perdiendo terreno a favor de la opinión defendida por un importante grupo de studiosos que apunta a que derivaría de Canarii, nombre de una tribu norteafricana que vivía en el Monte Atlas."
La Gran Aventura de Canarias. Madrid 2003. P. 26

Bjarne Jensen


Thanks Bjarne, I have translated your Spanish quote which explains that: The theory is now moving away from the dogs in favour of the opinion of an important study which showed that the name is derived from the Canarii, a North African tribe who lived in Monte Atlas.

Until I researched the post I had always thought the name was after the Presa Canario dog and hadn't heard reference to either the Canarii or the Monk Seals before. Saludos, Jules

Canarian name

Yes, the name came from the Canarii tribe, which inhabited Gran Canaria. Later, this name was applied to all the islands, similar to what happened with the name Guanche, which designated the inhabitants of Tenerife. Later, all pre-Hispanic natives became known as Guanches, although the belonged to different tribes and had different names.

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