What’s in a name? A mountain by any other name would be just as high! Nobody really knows exactly where the name “Kilimanjaro” originated, although there are a few theories!
The Wachagga people, who traditionally live on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, will the the first to tell curious visitors that the term “Kilimanjaro” is not a Chagga name. They don’t have a name for the mountain in its entirety, but they do have names for its two peaks: Kibo and Mawenzi.
So where did the name Kilimanjaro come from, then? Although the name Kilimanjaro does not resemble any particular word in the Chagga language, some possible explanations present themselves if we break the word down into smaller components.
In 1860, German missionary Johann Ludwig Krapf wrote that the mountain was known as “Kilima-njaro” among the Swahilis. He claimed that “kilimanjaro” meant either “mountain of greatness” or “mountain of caravans” with “kilima” meaning mountain and “njaro” meaning greatness. However, he did not provide evidence to support his claims.
Another theory is that “kilima” is derived from the Chagga term “kilelema” which means difficult or impossible, while “jaro” could possibly come from the Chagga terms “njaare” (bird) or “jyaro” (caravan).
Yet another theory posits that the name comes from the Wakamba people, who call it “Kiima Kyeu” in Kikamba. This theory is popular with researchers investigating the origins of the name.
Whether it gets its name from the Chagga, the Swahilis, or the Wakambas, one thing remains constant: Mount Kilimanjaro is a majestic mountain. And a mountain by any other name would be just as stunning!