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George Everest Didn’t Want Mount Everest Named After Him

The British surveyor preferred using native place-names. He died shortly after arguing against the mountain being named in his honour

In the 1800s, the Great Trigonometrical Survey was a project designed to survey the entire Indian subcontinent. It started in 1802 by William Lambton, a British infantry officer, under the East India Company. After Lambton, George Everest took control of the project, followed by Andrew Scott Waugh and James Walker until its completion in 1871.

In 1852, the survey identified a mountain on the border of Nepal and Tibet as the world’s tallest. The British initially referred called it Peak XV until Waught proposed that it be named for his predecessor. Born in Wales on July 4, 1790, George Everest spent much of his adult life in India working as a geodesist. He returned to Great Britain following his retirement in 1843 and was knighted in 1861. George Everest always preferred using native place-names while working as a surveyor.

Foreigners were barred from Tibet and Nepal at the time and local names were claimed by Waugh to be unconfirmed or unknown. In 1856, Waugh wrote to the Royal Geographical Society, saying, “I was taught by my respected chief and predecessor, Colonel Sir George Everest to assign to every geographical object its true local or native appellation. But here is a mountain, most probably the highest in the world, without any local name that we can discover, whose native appellation, if it has any, will not very likely be ascertained before we are allowed to penetrate into Nepal.”  The society decided in 1865 to call the world’s tallest peak Mount Everest.

George Everest opposed to the mountain being named after him and told the society in 1857 that “Everest” could not be written in Hindi nor pronounced by “the native of India.” Sir George Everest died at 76 years old later that year. It’s unknown if George Everest ever saw his namesake mountain, the one he did not want named in his honour.

And then in the early 20th century, Swedish explorer Sven Hedin discovered the Tibetan name for Everest on a map drawn by geographer D’Anville in 1733. The Tibetans called it Chomolungma (pronounced CHOH-moh-LUHNG-m). Also spelled Qomolangma, the name means “Goddess Mother of the World.” In the early 1960s, the Nepali government coined the name Sagarmatha, which means “Godess of the Sky.”

Papers relating to Mount Everest in proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. I (1857)