Ivory Coast - Names

Names

Portuguese and French merchant-explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries divided the west coast of Africa, very roughly, into five coasts reflecting local economies. The coast that the French named the Côte d'Ivoire and the Portuguese named the Costa do Marfim — both, literally, being "Ivory Coast" — lay between what was known as the Guiné de Cabo Verde, so-called "Upper Guinea" at Cabo Verde, and Lower Guinea. There were also a "Grain Coast", a "Gold Coast", and a "Slave Coast", and, like those three, the name "Ivory Coast" reflected the major trade that occurred on that particular stretch of the coast: the export of ivory.

Other names for the coast included the Côte de Dents, literally "Teeth Coast", again reflecting the trade in ivory; the Côte de Quaqua, after the people that the Dutch named the Quaqua (alternatively Kwa Kwa); the Coast of the Five and Six Stripes, after a type of cotton fabric also traded there; and the Côte du Vent, the Windward Coast, after perennial local off-shore weather conditions. One can find the name Cote de(s) Dents regularly used in older works. It was used in Duckett's Dictionnaire (Duckett 1853) and by Nicolas Villault de Bellefond, for examples, although Antoine François Prévost used Côte d'Ivoire. But in the 19th century it died out in favour of Côte d'Ivoire.

The coastline of the modern state is not quite coterminous with what the 15th and 16th century merchants knew as the "Teeth" or "Ivory" coast, which was considered to stretch from Cape Palmas to Cape Three Points and which is thus now divided between the modern states of Ghana and Ivory Coast (with a minute portion of Liberia). But it retained the name through French rule and independence in 1960. The name had long since been translated literally into other languages which the post-independence government considered to be increasingly troublesome whenever its international dealings extended beyond the Francophone sphere. Therefore, in April 1986, the government declared Côte d'Ivoire (or, more fully, République de Côte d'Ivoire) to be its formal name for the purposes of diplomatic protocol, and officially refuses to recognize or accept any translation from French to another language in its international dealings.

Despite the Ivorian government's request, the English translation "Ivory Coast" (sometimes "the Ivory Coast") is still frequently used in English, by various media outlets and publications.

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