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argentinamapMy explorations of Argentina began with how the Spanish-speaking South American country came to be called Argentina in the first place. Based on my limited Latin, the name didn’t make any sense.

To be certain, the naming of Argentina is an enigma. It’s derived from the Latin word for silver and first came to be used by Italian explorers, most likely from Venice or Genoa. After a complicated linguistic battle the now Spanish rulers settled on the Italianized version of Argentina. Strangely enough, the country has no particular silver lodes. In fact, the whole concept of Argentina and the La Plata region (plata is the Spanish word for silver) is based on a myth. Way back in the early 1500s, Spanish (or perhaps Portuguese, his origins appear to be a little fuzzy) explorer Juan Diaz de Solis embarked on an expedition to survey South America. He got as far as what is now the Rio de la Plata before being attacked and killed, and possibly eaten, by the local indigenous Indians. The sun had set on de Solis.

Some of the survivors of the expedition opted to stay on as castaways while de Solis’s brother-in-law took the remaining ships and crew back to Spain. It was these castaways that supposedly first heard about a mountain of silver ruled over by a local indigenous king. Led by Aleixo Garcia, a follow up expedition searched for this apparently well concealed silver mountain, making his way across South America as far as the Andean high plains in northern Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. Unfortunately for Garcia, he died in yet another run-in with indigenous peoples as he made his way back through present day Paraguay. Survivors did manage to cart out enough precious metals, though not necessarily all silver, to convince well-healed profiteers back home that what is now Argentina was the mother lode of silver. None was ever found, but after toying with the name in various official documents, the formal name become the “Argentine Republic” by presidential decree in 1860, which remains its official name today. Of course, in common practice the shortened feminine form of Argentina was more popular and the name is how most of the world, including Argentinians, refer to the nation.

And then there was Evita.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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