Naming Mount Everest

George Everest was born in 1790 at the Manor of Gwernvale in Crickhowell, Powys. He died at the age of 76 in 1866.

In 1818 he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery and was the assistant to Colonel William Lambton, who had started the Great Trigonometrical Survey of the sub-continent in 1806. When William Lambton died George Everest took over his position and in 1830 he became the Surveyor-General of India.

In 1852 the highest mountain was located and recorded, this mountain was named Peak XV. Everyone who worked on the survey was keen to keep local names used by the people who lived in the surrounding area. Andrew Waugh (George Everest’s successor) said that he could not find any local name that was used.

Because of Tibet and Nepal’s exclusion of any foreigners entering their country Waugh’s search for a local name was near impossible to find out.

Local names did exist and had appeared on a 1733 map published in Paris. These names were “Chomolungma” from Tibet and “Deodungha” from Darjeeling. Andrew Waugh argued that with different local names it would be difficult to choose one name in favor over all others. So, Andrew decided that Peak XV should be named as Mount Everest, after George Everest, his predecessor as Surveyor General of India.

He wrote:

“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. In the meantime the privilege as well as the duty devolves on me to assign…a name whereby it may be known among citizens and geographers and become a household word among civilized nations.”

In 1857 George Everest opposed the name that was suggested by Andrew Waugh, he told the Royal Geographical Society that “the native of India” could not pronounce it and also that Mount Everest could not be written in Hindi. In 1865, despite the objections from George Everest the Royal Geographical Society officially adopted Mount Everest as the name for the highest mountain in the world.

George Everest
George Everest © Royal Geographical Society

Qomolangma is the official Tibetan name for Mount Everest and Zhumulangma is used by the Chinese. During the early 1960’s, the government of Nepal decided there name for Mount Everest would be Sagarmāthā, this was allegedly to supplant the Tibetan name amongst the local people, which the government felt was “not acceptable”.

An article was published in the Chinese People’s Daily newspaper during 2002 referring against the use of “Mount Everest” for the mountain in English, stating that it should be called “Mount Qomolangma”, based on the local name used by the Tibetan people.

The article also argued that the Great Trigonometrical Survey did not “first discover” the highest mountain, as since around 1719 it had been known to the Tibetans and mapped by the Chinese as “Qomolangma”.

Today, the highest mountain in the world is known as “Sagarmatha” to the Nepalia people, “Chomolungma” to the Tibetan’s and “Mount Everest” to the rest of the world.