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How Did George Everest Feel About Being the Namesake of the World’s Highest Peak?

Margaret Lipman
Published Jul 09, 2024
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Mount Everest is known by many names. In Tibet, it’s Chomolungma (“Goddess Mother of the World”). In Nepal, it’s Sagarmatha (“Goddess of the Sky”). So why do so many people call it Mount Everest, after a man who most likely never glimpsed the mountain and disliked the idea of becoming its namesake?

Born in Wales and educated in military schools in England, Sir George Everest first arrived in India as a cadet with the East India Company at age 16. Demonstrating a talent for astronomy and mathematics, he quickly rose through the ranks to enjoy a prestigious career as a surveyor and geographer. He spent 25 years mapping the Indian subcontinent while working for the Great Trigonometrical Survey, becoming surveyor general of India in 1830.

Nearly a decade after George Everest returned to Britain in 1843, the Great Trigonometrical Survey identified a towering Himalayan summit on the border between Tibet and Nepal that they came to believe was the world’s tallest. Towering more than 29,000 feet (8,839 m) above sea level, it was initially dubbed Peak B and then Peak XV. In 1856, Andrew Scott Waugh, who had succeeded Everest as surveyor general, suggested naming it after his “illustrious predecessor”; hence, Mount Everest.

George Everest, however, was a strong believer in using place names in local languages for geographical features—an objective he had taught Waugh—and disliked the proposal. He had had nothing to do with the mountain’s “discovery” by the British surveyors (though he had appointed Waugh, who had formally observed the mountain, and mathematician Radhanath Sikdar, who calculated its height). He also thought it would be difficult to pronounce for speakers of various Indian languages and especially difficult to write in Hindi.

Waugh and his colleagues had apparently never come across the Tibetan name, Chomolungma. The surveyors had been barred from entering Nepal, and thus never learned of Sagarmatha. In the end, although others put forward Indian names for the mountain they believed to be correct, Waugh’s argument in favor of the Everest name was convincing enough for the Royal Geographical Society. After nearly a decade of consideration, the Society settled on Mount Everest in 1865 (a year before Sir George Everest's death) as an alternative to choosing between the mountain’s local names.

Ironically, the prevailing modern pronunciation of Everest (“Ev-er-est”) differs significantly from how George Everest pronounced his surname (“EVE-rest”).

More about the world's highest peak:

  • Waugh and Sikdar laboriously checked and rechecked their calculations for several years before sending a message to the Royal Geographical Society with news of the world’s highest peak. Strangely, although Sikdar had calculated the elevation as exactly 29,000 feet (8,839 m), Waugh added an extra two feet to the mountain’s height so that the public wouldn’t think the figure had simply been estimated and rounded up. More accurate calculations followed (and the mountain grows about 4 mm per year), and in 2020, the height was calculated to be 29,031.7 feet (8,848.86 m).

  • The first confirmed ascent of Mount Everest took place on May 29, 1953, when Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand reached the summit.

  • It’s possible that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine reached the summit nearly two decades earlier, during the 1924 British Everest Expedition. George Mallory, then on his third Everest expedition, and climbing partner Andrew Irvine were last seen heading for the summit on June 8, 1924, but never returned. Mallory’s body was found in 1999.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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