Chile's Garden City

Patagonia, Where does its Name Come From?

Monument to Ferdinand Magellan in Punta Arenas, Chile.
Monument to Ferdinand Magellan and his encounter
with the Patagonians, Punta Arenas, Chile
Patagonia is the name given to the southernmost part of South America shared by Chile and Argentina. The Western area is part of the Chilean territory, while the Eastern Patagonia belongs to Argentina, the Andes Mountain Range partially separates both portions.

On the Argentine side, the provinces that make up Northern Patagonia are part of Mendoza, La Pampa, and Buenos Aires, and entirely the provinces of Rio Negro, Neuquen, and Chubut. Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego make up the Southern Patagonia. On the Chilean side, the Patagonia is formed by part of the Xth. Region of Los Lagos and entirety the XIth Region of Aysen and the XIIth Region of Magallanes. 

Its Southern end is located only 800 Km. from the Antarctic Continent. For the great natural attractions that its territory comprises, its nature in many parts still untouched by man and the security that it offers for the visitor, nowadays Patagonia is one of the great tourist destinations of the world.

Origin of the name Patagonia

Today there are several hypotheses regarding the name of this geographical region. It has been 500 years since the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the globe, proving what almost no one believed at the time, that the Earth was round. Magallanes spent the Winter of 1520 in the current Argentine region of San Julian, where he made contact with the local natives. One of the hypotheses states that the name Patagonia would come from a popular cavalry novel from the early 1500s. Supposedly Magellan would have read the novel whose monstrous character "Pathagon" seemed much like the local natives of San Julian, wrapped in furs, who hunted animals with bow and arrows. During his contact with the aboriginal population, Magellan would have related the appearance of these with the fictional character.

One of the faces of the monument with the Patagonian
Indian. It is said that the visitor who kisses his toe,
will one day return to Punta Arenas.
  But the most commonly accepted version says that the origin of the term
"Patagon" (Big Footed), is because the native population contacted by the Spaniards in San Julian, Atlantic coast, were very tall and had large feet. 
In fact, another of the explorers and chronicler of the travel, Antonio Pigafetta in his narration of Magellan's voyage around the World, tells without giving further explanation that the Captain of the expedition, seeing the natives called them "Patagoni" (Big Footed). 
In 1551, and confirming the above, the Spanish historian Francisco Lopez de Gomara wrote that the Patagonians were so called because their feet were disproportionate.

For his part, the Spanish sailor and historian Martín Fernandez de Navarrete, in one of the volumes of his "Collection of Voyages and Discoveries which the Spaniards made by sea from the end of the XVth. Century", where he collects all the information that he considered of interest obtained from the chronicles of the travel and later declarations of the survivors of the expedition, recalls the story of the first encounter between Europeans of the Magellanic expedition and the natives when he says: "All of them were taller than the tallest man in Castile" and that "they were called Patagonians because their feet were misshapen, although not disproportionate to their stature."    

Exaggeration or not, it is clear that the inhabitants of Patagonia, at least at that time, were exceptionally tall, not only in the eyes of the discoverers in 1520, but also based on several other accounts from that period.