Why are the Solomon islands called the Solomon islands?

solomon islands

Apparently they aren’t. They’re actually just ‘Solomon Islands‘ with no definite article.

I’m trying to research this in a hurry, and as I do so I uncover such a maze of weirdness that it’s almost tempting to make something up.

But perhaps some of the facts (and no doubt my misinterpretations of them) are a bit muddled up.

Anyway, basically it’s because a Spaniard found some Gold there, became convinced that meant there was loads of gold there, and therefore that they might be the sources of the wealth of King Solomon, son of David. The one that liked cutting up babies. Wisdom of Solomon and all that.

(As an aside, one of my favourite representations of this is in Joseph Heller’s ‘God Knows’. I never finished the book, but it basically tells a tale of King David looking back on his life from a sarcastic young Jew to an aging cynic who won’t talk to God anymore. It’s utterly hilarious, and the first thing in a long time that almost made me want to read the old testament in any kind of detailed way.

Anyway, this is a long parenthesis, but I haven’t made my original point yet. Basically, David laments the fact that Solomon is considered wise for telling the arguing parents to cut the baby in half to settle the dispute. Heller’s David basically says that Solomon wasn’t making a clever point, but being utterly serious.)

So Solomon was a King in the middle east right? He was rich and wise (maybe) and all that jazz. So his gold must have come from somewhere.

This leads to one of the popular myths of the age of exploration. The Mines of King Solomon. It was like the Fountain of Youth. Essentially, I think it was a way of explorers getting patronage. A story you tell to the royals and nobles to get them to give you money to go on a wild adventure.


Untold wealth, eternal youth, they were all apparently just around the corner. And boy does it make historical fantasy into an exciting and rich and occasionally pretentious genre.

So when the Spaniard found some gold on some islands, he claimed they were the Islands of Solomon.

But I don’t get how they thought the ancient King got all the way round the world to Oceania. I mean.  A boat is the obvious answer, but doesn’t it take away some of the thrill of adventure in discovering new worlds if you acknowledge people got their before you?

It seems like a bit of a geographical hiccup to me.

History is a wonderful thing, because it gives us these weird little stories. We can find a name we’ve never heard before, and hear how their imagination, or possibly just their desire to keep on getting paid, led to a ‘new world’ in many senses.

Of course, painting it as adventure makes us ignore the slavery and mass murder inherent in imperialism.

Rebranding, again. Makes you think.


Illustration by Lucy.


About Alex Ava

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool.
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6 Responses to Why are the Solomon islands called the Solomon islands?

  1. Don says:

    This answer is a bit weak. Mendana, the first European to land there, was Portuguese. He sailed to the Solomons from Peru. He found no gold.

    Importantly, at that time, no one knew how wide the Pacific was. No idea, because this was long before anybody could calculate longitude.

    Thus Mendana, for a time, believed that he had gone all the way around to Africa.

    For an excellent discussion of Mendana’s voyages, see “The Exploration of the Pacific,” by Beaglehole.

  2. Thanks for extra info. The thinking he was in Africa at least explains the Solomon’s mines connection, although if he didn’t find gold then there’s a different part of the puzzle missing.

    This is what I get for doing a very rush job on the research. Though I maintain that wikipedia says he’s spanish.

    Not the best research obviously, but the experiment is partly about time limitations and fast responses, so it’s kinda to be expected.

    Thanks for encouraging a deeper look.

  3. Pingback: Why are the Solomon islands called the Solomon islands? | Duck and Rabbit

  4. thanks, but I don’t know what cutting up babies has to do with the islands. and also, I know a lot about the bible, but don’t remember reading anything like that?

    • Being slightly facetious, but as referred to in the text, the story is in there. This is taken from the linked wikipedia article on King Solomon, referring to Kings 1:

      “In one account, known as the Judgment of Solomon, two women came before Solomon to resolve a quarrel over which was the true mother of a baby. When Solomon suggested they should divide the living child in two with a sword, one woman said she would rather give up the child than see it killed. Solomon then declared the woman who showed compassion to be the true mother, and gave the baby to her.”

      Alternatively, just go direct to text:
      “And the king said: ‘Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.'” (1 Kings 3:25)

      I’m presenting it dramatically, for the sake of a giggle, but it’s definitely there.

    • GB Magari says:

      Thanks for pointing this out: some people love to offend, makes them feel superior.

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