Why are there so many countries in the world with “Guinea” in their name?

What’s with all the “Guineas” in the world? “Guinea” shows up in quite a few country names (four, to be exact). And none of them have anything to do with a furry house pet.

Origins of the word “Guinea”

Though there are many theories on where the word “Guinea” came from, the most popular one is that it was an early word used to collectively refer to the people and region of West Africa. All of the countries that utilize the name Guinea are either located in West Africa, or have ties to the region.

The four “Guinea” countries

map of countries in the world with "Guinea" in their name


The modern-day country of Guinea lies on the West coast of Africa. The country was initially colonized by France and was referred to as French Guinea prior to gaining its independence in 1958. Once the country gained its independence, it simply became known as Guinea. Currently, Guinea has 12.8 million people, which the largest population of all four countries with “Guinea” in their name.

Countries with "Guinea" in the name: facts about Guinea


Guinea-Bissau, which is located immediately north of Guinea, was previously known as Portuguese Guinea (when it was colonized by Portugal). When the country gained its independence in 1973 – which was 15 years after French Guinea – the name Guinea had already been claimed by the neighboring country. In order to differentiate the two countries from one another, Bissau (the name of the capital of the country), was added to the name.

Though Guinea-Bissau is not the smallest Guinea in terms of size or population, it does have the lowest GDP of all the Guineas. If you’d like to learn more facts about Guinea-Bissau, click here

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Countries with "Guinea" in the name: facts about Guinea-Bissau

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Equatorial Guinea

As you may have guessed, Equatorial Guinea is the closest “Guinea” to the equator. The country borders the Atlantic Ocean in central Africa, and is much further south than Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. Equatorial Guinea is the smallest “Guinea” country in terms of both geography (10,830 square miles) and population (1.35 million people).

Countries with "Guinea" in the name: facts about Equatorial Guinea

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is a bit of a wildcard. While the other “Guinea” countries are in Africa, Papua New Guinea is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, just north of Australia.

The name can be traced back to a Spanish explorer who landed on the island in the 16th century. The explorer thought the inhabitants of the island strongly resembled the inhabitants of West Africa. As a result, “Guinea” was added to the name of the country. Papua New Guinea is the largest “Guinea” country and has an area of 178,704 square miles.

Countries with "Guinea" in the name: facts about Papua New Guinea

Why Guinea-Bissau is unique

All of these countries may share a name, but they each have their own story. Of all the “Guinea” countries, Guinea-Bissau has the smallest economy and the highest rate of poverty. It has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of just $1.4 billion USD. By comparison, Equatorial Guinea has a GDP that is seven times larger even though it has a smaller population than Guinea-Bissau.

Why is there so much poverty in Guinea-Bissau? Part of the problem is that it’s a country that is almost completely ignored by the rest of the world. But there are ways to help. Instead of receiving handouts or giveaways, Bissau-Guineans can overcome poverty on their own by learning new job skills. West African Vocational Schools is an international nonprofit that operates three schools in Guinea-Bissau which have trained nearly 2,000 students. Most graduates report a significant increase in their incomes after they graduate.

You can sponsor a vocational student in Guinea-Bissau and help them learn a new job skill. When you join the One Student community, your monthly gift will help young people in West Africa learn life-changing job skills — one student at a time.