Mount Everest was named after Sir George Everest, a previous British Surveyor General of India, in 1865. But Everest didn’t even want it named after him, and it’s believed he never saw the mountain.
In the span of many decades during the early 1800s, the Great Trigonometric Society of British India surveyed the area, which is now Mount Everest, from a resort 140 miles away in Darjeeling, India. It was described as a “stupendous snowy mass” and initially named “Gamma” and then changed to “peak b” in 1847.
At the time, a peak called Kanchenjunga was considered the highest mountain in the world, but “peak b” was suspected to be higher (Kanchenjunga became the third-highest mountain in the world). Over the next few years, the height of the mountain was confirmed and renamed “Peak XV.”
In 1856, the British announced that the official height of the peak was 29,002 feet (8,839.8 meters)(the summit is now calculated at 29,031.7 feet or 8,848.86 meters). That same year, Andrew Waugh, the current British Surveyor General of India, recommended that the mountain be named after his predecessor, Sir George Everest.
But Everest did not want the mountain to be named after him and believed the mountains in the area should use only local names. He also thought his name would be too difficult for locals to pronounce. The problem with finding a local name was that Nepal and Tibet, at the time, were closed to foreigners, and any name they had for the peak was unknown. Despite Everest’s objections, the Royal Geographic Society decided to name the highest mountain in the world after him.
It wasn’t until the early 1900s when Sven Hedin, a Swedish explorer, discovered the locals in Tibet called the mountain Chomolungma, a centuries-old Tibetan word. It meant “Goddess Mother of the World.” Hedin found that the name had been published on a map in Paris in 1733 by a geographer named D’Anville. It was also discovered that the Nepali name for the mountain was Sagarmatha, which meant “Goddess of the Sky.”
Sir George Everest spent much of his adult life in India. He was employed at the East India Company before joining the Great Trigonometrical Survey in 1818. Everest worked his way to superintendent in 1823 and then surveyor general of India in 1830. He retired and returned to Great Britain in 1843, having worked on the survey for 25 years, and was knighted in 1861. Everest died in 1866, a year after the mountain was named for him.
Sources: Montana State University, History.com, National Geographic