In antiquity, Sri Lanka was known to travellers by a variety of names. According to the Mahavamsa, the legendary Prince Vijaya named the land Tambapanni (“copper-red hands” or “copper-red earth”), because his followers’ hands were reddened by the red soil of the area. In Hindu mythology, such as the Mahabharata, the island was referred to as Lankā (“Island”). In Tamil, the island is referred to as Eelam.
Ancient Greek geographers called it Taprobanā (Ancient Greek: Ταπροβανᾶ) or Taprobanē (Ταπροβανῆ) from the word Tambapanni. The Persians and Arabs referred to it as Sarandīb (the origin of the word “serendipity”) from the word Cerentivu.Ceilão, the name given to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese Empire when it arrived in 1505, was transliterated into English as Ceylon. As a British crown colony, the island was known as Ceylon; it achieved independence as the Dominion of Ceylon in 1948.
The country is known in Sinhalese as Śrī Laṃkā (Sinhalese: ශ්රී ලංකා) and in Tamil as Ilaṅkai (Tamil: இலங்கை, IPA: [iˈlaŋɡai]). In 1972, its formal name was changed to “Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka”. Later in 1978 it was changed to the “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka”. As the name Ceylon still appears in the names of a number of organisations, the Sri Lankan government announced in 2011 a plan to rename all those over which it has authority.