How the Oceans got their names? - Answers

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How the Oceans got their names?

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World map showing world oceans

There is only one ocean on planet Earth.


Different names have been given to the 5 oceans based on geographical, navigational, scientific, and historical reasons. Historically, explorers and geographers have recognized the existence of 4 oceans – the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic. The Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean, is a more recent addition to the list. The oceans and seas of the world cover close to 71 percent of the Earth with exposed land making up the rest.

The term ‘ocean’ comes from the Latin word “ōkeanos” which translates to the “great stream encircling the earth’s disc”. This was used by the Greeks to describe the single mass of water that they believed surrounded the earth. Ōkeanos was used with contrasting reference to the inland waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Origins of Ocean names

Pacific Ocean

The largest of all oceans, the Pacific spreads over 64 million square miles. The name Pacific comes from the expression “Mar Pacifico” which was used by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 to describe the calm waters of the ocean as he saw it.

Atlantic Ocean

The second largest ocean covers around 32 million square miles. In Greek mythology, Atlas, son of the Titan Iapetus and Oceanid Asia or Clymene, was ordered by Zeus to uphold the weight of the heavens upon his shoulders, as a punishment for eternity. He gets the name Atlas from the Atlas Mountains of northwest Africa and personifies strength and vigor. The name Atlantic is inspired by Atlas and the waters off the west coast of Africa came to be referred to as Atlantic.

Indian Ocean 

Spread over 28 million square miles, the Indian Ocean gets its name from the Indian coast which served as a reference for early maritime explorers. This is the only ocean to be named after a country.

Arctic Ocean

The Arctic is the smallest of all oceans covering just 5 million square miles. The ocean gets its name from the Greek word “Arktos” meaning bear. Early Greeks identified the constellation – Ursa Major or Great Bear, as the navigational guide pointing to the North Star or Polaris.

From that period, mariners have used this information to navigate the seas with reference to the North Star. The image of Atlas carrying the earth on his shoulders is symbolic and displayed in world maps in the above context.

Southern Ocean or Antarctic Ocean

The ocean covers 20.32 million square miles in the southern hemisphere. The name “Antarctic” refers to the opposite of the Arctic. While the Arctic Ocean lies in the northernmost part of the Earth, the Antarctic or Southern Ocean covers the southern part of the planet.

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Related Maps and Info:

World Ocean Map
World Ocean Map
Largest Oceans and Seas
Largest Oceans and Seas

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