How was Costa Rica named?

Although the true origin of the name is lost to history, it seems likely to have been a bit of Public Relations spin.

Costa Rica was "discovered" by none other than Christopher Columbus on his last voyage in 1502. While he reported back that he had seen "more signs of gold" than in any of his previous voyages, it is unlikely that he came up with the name Costa Rica ("rich coast"), despite getting credit for it in some tales.

According to other accounts, a later Spanish Conquistador, Gil González Dávila, was able to get some gold from Costa Rican natives in 1522, but failed to establish a permanent settlement. Returning to Spain, he used the gold to put the best face on his failure, claiming that it was indeed a "rich coast."

Ironically, there wasn't actually much gold in Costa Rica, and for the next couple of centuries it attracted far less interest from Spain than the rest of Central America. A Spanish governor in 1719 called it "the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all America." And unlike the rest of the peninsula, there wasn't a large population of mestizos available to work the land as forced labor. So colonists had to work their own farms.

But this had the unexpected result of creating a more egalitarian society than other Central American countries after independence, which persists today in the lack of a huge gulf between rich and poor. This is a huge part of its appeal to me.

There are a few theories about how Costa Rica got its name.

The folk theory is that when Chris Columbus discovered Costa Rica, he believed the land to be full of gold and precious metals; thus naming it Costa Rica (rich coast)

Another theory is that in 1522, Gil Gonzales Davila, another Spanish conquistador; went on a, not very successful expedition and brutally stole the little gold that indigenous people had managed to gather throughout the years. Back in Spain, as an attempt to save face, he proclaimed the trip was a success and suggested the area should be called Costa Rica (rich coast).

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