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Volcano names: the female factor 9 January 2011

Posted by admin in volcano culture.

‘Can anyone tell me why volcanos are named after woman??’ asks Volcanism Blog correspondent Doris in a comment left on 22 December when I wasn’t here. I’ve looked at the issue of volcano names before on this blog, and very interesting it all is (‘From “throat of fire” to “many bats”: the naming of volcanoes’). As you’d expect there is a great variety of volcano names, from the physically descriptive to the highly imaginative, the commemorative to the utterly random. Some of the names do have what might be called a feminine aspect, although it is rarely as simple as a particular volcano being named after a particular woman, unless she is a saint.

There are volcanoes whose names suggest that they have been seen in some way as female: Mexico’s Iztaccíhuatl, ‘the woman in white’ is perhaps the best-known, but there’s also Kick’em Jenny in the Caribbean. Lewotobi in Indonesia consists of two stratovolcanoes, one of which is Lewotobi Perempuan: ‘perempuan’ is very much a female term and can be interpreted as ‘bride’ or ‘wife’ (the other volcano, Lewotobi Lakilaki, represents the ‘groom’ or ‘husband’). The North Sister Field in Oregon consists of two sisters (and a little brother), while a little way away is South Sister, making up the Three Sisters. Over in Alaska, Pavlof also has a sister. Among disputed volcano etymologies, Ecuador’s Chimborazo may mean ‘women of the ice’. Female saints and religious figures are honoured by, among others, Santa Ana (El Salvador), Santa Clara (Galápagos Islands), Santa Isabel (Colombia), St Catherine (Grenada) and Santa María (Guatemala). La Vírgen is one of the volcanoes making up Mexico’s Tres Vírgenes. As for Mount St Helens , that celebrated volcano is only indirectly connected with the saint of that name (mother of Emperor Constantine I), having been named after a British diplomat who took his title from the town of St Helens in north-west England.

Overall there seems to be a significant feminine presence among volcano names, but by no means a predominant one. More research is needed, however. Corrections/additions to the above and suggestions as to further examples are welcome.

The Volcanism Blog


1. Boris Behncke, Catania, Italy - 10 January 2011

Mount Etna in Sicily is not named after a woman but it is considered a female by most of the people living around it – some typical Sicilian lady, often rather a Sicilian mamma, who most of the time is very generous and protective but every now and then gets a bit nervous and slaps her (human) children in the face. The common name applied by the Sicilians is actually not so much “Etna” but “a’ muntagna”, the mountain, or more precisely, the “lady mountain”.

2. Mike Don - 10 January 2011

Fantham’s Peak (the flank cone of Taranaki, NZ) is named after an actual woman, Frances (Fanny) Fantham, said to have been the first woman to climb it

3. admin - 10 January 2011

Thanks, Boris: what you say about Etna reminds me of ‘Mama Tungurahua’ in Ecuador.

The information about Fanny Fantham and Fantham’s peak is just the kind of thing I was hoping to hear about, Mike. Thank you! Found some more here:


4. Mike Don - 10 January 2011

Just remembered another feminine volcano name: Rincon de la Vieja (“The Old Woman’s Corner”) in Costa Rica. Incidentally, I once did a bit of net-searching about the origin of Kick ’em Jenny; taken from a nearby islet, it MIGHT be an Anglicised pronunciation of a French name meaning “the troublesome cay”

5. Paininthe... - 11 January 2011

I don’t want to make an @ss of anyone, but Kick ’em Jack and Kick ’em Jenny? Did you know that Jacks and Jennies are donkeys?

6. admin - 11 January 2011

Well, Paininthe…

You might be on to something there. The Oxford English Dictionary says of ‘Jenny’, ‘Used as a prefix to denote a female animal, as jenny-ass’. And ‘Jack’ is ‘Applied to the male of various animals’ and in particular ‘A male ass, esp. one kept for breeding mules (U.S.)’.

Furthermore, the University of the West Indies website says:

‘Kick ‘em Jenny is named after a small nearby island called Diamond Rock (or Diamond Islet on some charts). Diamond Rock used to be called ‘Kick ‘em Jenny’ prior to the discovery of the volcano in 1939. We are not certain of the exact origins of the name ‘Kick ’em Jenny’, but it seems to relate to the fact that the waters in this region are sometimes extremely rough. It may be a corruption of the French: cay que gêne, ‘the turbulent cay (shoal)’, or it may be a reference to a kicking donkey “Jenny”.’


So there we go.

7. miquel - 11 January 2011

There is Volcán Doña Juana in Colombia, but don’t know what is the origin of that name.

8. Mike Don - 12 January 2011

And another one; Mt. Belinda in the Antarctic

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