How Havana Got Its Name
By Roberto F. Campos, Photos: Publicitur
Historians have suggested several hypotheses: first, that the word comes from the name of a Taino cacique called Habaguanex, who controlled the area where the village was first settled. The other version says that the region was actually named Jabana. Jabana is a Taino word that comes from the dialect of the Arahuacos who settled in the western part of what is Cuba today.
Apparently, this is what aboriginals used to call a savannah, a big plain, located in the Havana and Matanzas provinces.
It’s also said that the name of the Cuban capital comes from the word Abana, which means “she is crazy” and refers to the legend of an indigenous girl named Guara.
Other people said that the name comes from the word ‘Haven’, which in the Germanic languages means “port” or “anchorage” - a less probable hypothesis.
What’s for certain is that the San Cristóbal de La Habana Village was founded on November 16, 1519, by Spanish explorer and conqueror Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar.
With the passing of the years, the city only kept the last part of its founding name – the one that’s attributed to the Taino cacique. So, Havana or La Habana – as it is called in Spanish – started to be known, centuries ago, as Cuba’s most important city, where the country’s main port was located and the center of the socio-economic and cultural life.
Because of its privileged geographical location, Havana was also referred to as the Key to the New World. In addition, most of the wealth extracted from the Spanish colonies in America passed through Havana in transit to Europe.