Origins of Panama’s provinces names

Panama means abundance of butterflies.

This post is also available in: Spanish

Origins of Panama’s provinces names. The Republic of Panama currently has 10 provinces and many of their names represent the culture and traditions of the different regions. Some have their origins in the different Amerindian dialects of the different tribes that at one point or another occupied a particular area. Here is a list of what the different names of the provinces mean.


Origins of Panama’s provinces names

Origins of Panama’s provinces names: Panama means abundance of butterflies.

Panama took this name, according to some historians due to a majestic tree that is known locally as Panama. It has leafy shade and it was very common and native families used to get together under its branches. Others believe that the name Panama means abundance of fish and butterflies.


The meaning of Darien has its roots in the dialect spoken by the Cueva indian, an indigenous tribe that was exterminated by the Spanish conquerors in the XVI century. It comes from the name Tanel or Tanela, the river that flows into the left bank of the lower Atrato. The Tanela river (the Aluka Tiwal of the natives), Spanish version and degenerated by pronunciation, eventually became Darien.

A map refers to Colón as Aspinwall.

A map refers to Colón as Aspinwall.


This province is of great importance for the Panama Canal and believe it or not for many years did not have a particular name. However, John Lloyd Stephens, who planned the Panamanian railway suggested that it should be called William Henry Aspinwall, who was one of the Pacific Mail directors, the company that was financing the railway.

Panama West is a satellite town.

Panama West is a satellite town.

Finally on February 27 of 1852 Colón was officially founded. The name Aspinwall-Colón continued to cause discontent in the population, until Colombia, of which Panama was part, returned to sender all the mail that had been written the address Aspinwall Colón. Since then its official name has been Colón.

Panama West

This is the newest province in the country and created by the Law 110 of December 30, 2013.

Its name is not associated to a historical event and mainly it has to do with the geographical position in which is located. It is also known as “satellite town”.


This province was baptized after the mighty Cocle River in the north and Cocle River in the south, which cross its territory. Some historians believe that the name has to do with the Chieftain Cocle, who dominated the Central Plain.


The word Veraguas has different origins and meanings. It is likely that the word Veraguas has Arabic influences.

However, it is not known exactly, the word Veragua was used to refer to the native inhabitants of the place to refer to the Quibian lands or if Admiral Cristobal Colón baptized with this name the lands.

Some writers said that in the Ngäbe exists a word “Bera Gwa” which means “sea bass”.

The majestic Coclé River.

The majestic Coclé River.


Historical data about the province confirmed that it was given that name to honor the General Tomás Herrera. He was a military man and a politician from the newly created country of New Granada, president of the Republic of Colombia and Head of State of the Free State of the Isthmus from 1840 to 1840.

The etymology of Herrera, from which the Spanish surname Herrera is originated is a derivative of the Latin word ferrum, whose meaning is iron.

Los Santos

Los Santos province took its name from its former capital, the Villa de Los Santos, that was founded on November 1569, the date of the catholic festivity of “All Saints Day”.


According to historical information Chiriqui means “valley of the moon” for the Ngäbe-Buglé people.

The Amerindians at the moment when the Spanish conquerors arrived, they called this region Chiriquí or Cheriqué, word that means “valley of the moon’.

Origins of Panama’s provinces names: Bocas del Toro

There are a lot versions about how this province got the name of “Bocas del Toro”. Some scholars said that the last chieftain to inhabit this region was a strong character and was a tireless fighter better known as “Boka Toro”.

Another theory is that in one of Christopher Columbus voyages, due to the strong storms along the coast and trying to find food in the nearby Bastimentos island, he saw a boulder in the shape of a “bull lying down with the mouth open”.

The third explanation is that between the entrance from the sea to the mainland, the waves that hit the boulder of Bastimentos island make a sound similar to a bull roaring with great force.


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