Everest (British), Oomolangma (Chinese), Sagarmatha (Nepalese), Chomolungma (Tibetan)

SO SUCCESSFUL WAS the first Jesuit mission to China started in 1601 by Matteo Ricci that by 1617 they were ordered to leave. However by taking refuge in the houses of their converts, many missionaries managed to stay until 1692 when the Emperor Kangshi opened China to Catholicism.

In 1708 following his conquest of China the Emperor sought to have a map of his dominions drawn by the Jesuits who started work around the Great Wall. In each province they found early Chinese maps but as there were none of Tibet a two year embassy was sent and a map was produced. When seen in Peking this was rejected by Father Regis as it had neither fixed points nor measured distances. Because of Tibet's strategic importance and its potential wealth, the emperor ordered two lamas, Curqin Zangbu and Lanben Zhainba, skilled in mathematics and geometry to return to Tibet and conduct a survey extending from Xining to Lhasa, and then west to the source of the Ganges around Kailas (Kangrin Boche)1. Between 1712 and 1717 this was completed and was added to the great map of the whole Chinese Empire. It was printed in the Man language in copper plate in 1719, in the Han language in wood plate in 1721, and finally a copy was sent to Louis XV, King of France where it was placed in his private library at Versailles. A copy was made in Paris by Father Du Halde2 who then sent it to J.B.B.D'Anvillc when it was reduced in size.

This map, D'Anvillc's 'Carte Generale du Tibet ou Boutan... Avril 1733" is to be found in Du Halde's 'Description... de La Chine" published in 1735. In the position of Everest there is the name "Tchoumou Lancma'. whilst a translation of the Original Chinese ideogram is "Jumu Langma Alin"3.

The 'Discovery" of 'Peak b", later 'Peak h", and then 'Peak 15", and finally 'Everest" by the Survey of India was first made in 1846-7.4-6 Between 1848-50, Joseph Hooker, later Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and President of the Royal Society explored the Sikkim Himal. At Tongloo, south west of Darjeeling on the Singalila ridge he saw 'a white mountain mass of stupendous elevation called by the Nepalese, Tsungau". In a later footnote he states 'that it is better known as Everest", but it is almost certain that the peak to which he is referring is Makalu (Peak 13) as Everest is virtually invisible from this point.7
When Andrew Waugh, the successor to George Everest as Surveyor General of India, decided in 1856 to name 'Peak 15", 'Everest", there was immediate dissent from Brian Hodgson, resident in Kathmandu, who considered that the local Nepalese name was Devadhunga (Divine Rock). This name was not accepted by the Survey of India as it was a name used in myth to apply to a snow range. The same peak was seen by H. Schlagintweit from Kaulia, a hill outside Kathmandu and was named by him Gaurisankar (Gauripavarti), but again the Survey of India did not accept this as Peak 20,30 miles west of Everest already had this name. Schlagintweit also painted a peak from Phalut near Tongloo on the Singalila ridge which he called 'Gaurisankar or Everest" but this was clearly Makalu (Peak 13), and not Everest nor Gaurisankar.8'910
Whilst in Nepal, Brian Hodgson had access to accounts of Nepalese embassies sent to Peking in 1793 after the Sino-Gurkha war. These followed the Nyelam valley through the Himalaya to Tengri and then turned east parallel to the Tsangpo valley to Lhasa. No particularly high peak was noted but the work 'Langur" appears in their accounts which probably refers to the Himalayan chain, but as Hodgson points out it can be used non- specifically for a mountain, a pass, a range or even a village.11
Towards the end of the 19th Century the Survey of India considered various Tibetan names for Everest. These included, "Jomokangar'. "Jhomogangar'. and "Chamokankar'. but no real evidence was available that these applied to Everest. The word "Chomokankar' was used in an early Tibetan geographical text for a peak in a similar position to Everest, whilst 'Chomouri' appears to have been another local name.1213
The Pundit Kishen Singh (A.K.) found a peak "Jomogangar'. 215 miles northeast of the position of Everest which since 1872 had been shown on maps of Tibet. He said 'it was a noted object of worship being considered a female divinity". Hari Ram, (Pundit M.H., or No.9), who circumnavigated Everest in 1871 and 1885 never identified any particularly high peak, nor heard the name of one.14
Other names for Everest that were discarded by the Survey of India were 'Deodangar, 'Bhirab Langur", 'Bharab-Than", 'Nyanam", "ChingopamariVGualham'. "Tangla'. and "Gualham- Thangla".

In 1889, L.A. Waddell, later medical officer to Young husband's mission to Lhasa was given a Tibetan picture map of the region south of Tengri, but the mountains shown, some of which are named "Lapchi Kang'. are almost certainly west of the Everest group and seem more likely to belong to the Gaurisankar-Menlungtse group of peaks.15
The first surveyor to visit Khumbu and the Nepalese side of Everest was Natha Singh, of the Survey of India. He was alone as no Europeans were allowed outside the valley of Kathmandu in 1907. He heard Everest called "Chholungbif. According to General Bruce, leader of the 1922 and 1924 Everest Expeditions, the Sherpas of Khumbu called Everest "Chomolungmo' at the same period.

The first person to identify Everest clearly on the ground was Henry Wood of the Survey of India who in 1903 identified it from the Peak, Kaulia, outside Kathmandu, and next year 1904, he saw Everest from Kampa Dzong in south Tibet on the Younghusband Mission to Lhasa.10
In the autumn of 1920, Charles Bell, Political Officer of Sikkim who looked after Tibetan and Bhutanese affairs, visited the Dalai Lama at the Norbu Linka just outside Lhasa to ask for permission for an expedition to Everest. On his first visit the subject was not raised, but on the second he had a long discussion, and on his third visit on 9th December, 1920, consent was given by the Dalai Lama for the first Reconnaissance Expedition to Everest in 1921, which the Tibetans considered to be a pilgrimage. Bell was given a little brown strip of parchment on which was written in the cursive Tibetan script a sentence which was translated as follows: 'to the west of the five treasures of the Great Snow, in the jurisdiction of the White Glass Fort near Rocky Valley Inner Monastery is the bird country of the south, Lho Cha-Mo Lung".

Later in Lhasa one of the Dalai Lama's secretaries, a considerable scholar, told Bell that the word 'Cha-Mo Lung" was short for 'Cha-Dzi-Ma-Lung-Ma", which meant 'the district where the birds are kept" ('Lho" means south). He also said that in a well known Tibetan book the 'Ma-Ni-Ka-Bum" it was recorded that in the times of the early Tibetan Kings, A.D. 650- 800, a large number of birds were fed in this district (probably Rongbuk), at the expense of the king.

According to Bell 'Lung" means a district that has a valley or valleys in it, but it may also mean a single valley. The term could not be applied to a mountain, or summit, nor would a bird sanctuary be found on the top of a mountain, and the work 'Cha- Ma-Lung" was not used by the Dalai Lama or his secretary in this sense.

However, people would be very likely to change 'Cha- Ma" into 'Cho-Mo" for this form appears in mountain names such as 'Chomo-Lha-Ri". 'Cho" means a lord amongst gods and 'Chomo" is the corresponding female deity. On the Dalai Lama's paper it was clearly 'Cha" and not 'Cho". In the passport given by the Prime Minister of Tibet to the 1921 Reconnaissance Expedition, the opening sentence states 'that a party of Sahibs are coming to see Chha-Mo-Lung Ma Mountain". In further documents for the 1922 Everest Expedition, an alternative version 'Cha-Mo-lung" is given, whilst the passport for 1933 uses the form "Cha-Ma-Lung' and in 1936 the same form "Cha- Ma-Lung" is used.

Later, in 1930, Bell wrote that David McDonald, trade agent at Gyantse, quoted Tsaring Shapde, a prominent Lhasa resident who considered that the Tibetan name for Everest was "Mi- Ji-Gu-Ti Chapu Long Na". The full meaning is 'You cannot see the summit from near it, but you can see the summit from nine (or a large number of) directions, and a bird that flies as high as the summit gets blind". The Tibetan word 'Chomolungma" has also been translated as meaning 'Goddess Mother of the World'or 'Goddess Mother of the Wind", and Sherpa mothers used to tell their children that it meant 'The mountain so high that no bird can fly over it". 17,18,19,20,21,22

Finally Bell makes the point that the work 'Chamolung" signifies the 'bird country" in which Everest lies and not the mountain itself. He contends that the correct Tibetan name should be 'Kang Chamo Lung" as 'Kang" means snow. The meaning then would be 'the snows of bird land".

A booklet used by pilgrims to Rongbuk monastery was given to E.G.H. Kempson, a mathematician and a master at Marlborough college, on the 1936 Everest Expedition. It contains a reference to 'Chomolungma", and Rongbuk is described as a place particularly suited to the highest intellectual attainment as it was in view of a peak of this name, which can only be Everest, so dominant a feature is it of the region. Kempson also quotes from a diary of a Rongbuk lama which contains three references to a mountain 'Jo-Mo-Glan-Ma", 'Jo- Mo-Glan-Mahi" and 'Gans-Ri Glan Ma".

Following the first Survey of Nepal, by the Nepal Detachment of the Survey of India, between 1924-9, which did not include the glaciated regions, Sir Edward Tandy commented that there was little likelihood of there being a Nepalese name for Everest as the local inhabitants only gave names to a few peaks of 'Singular Aspect". As Everest is more or less invisible from even the highest yak pastures of Khumbu and the Survey appeared to go no higher than Dingboche it is not surprising that no local Nepalese name was found. Each group of peaks was called a 'Himal" or 'Abode of Snow" and the word 'Mahalungur

Himar is given to the Everest group of peaks on the 'Survey of India Map" of this period.

However J.O.M. Roberts in a letter to T.S. Blakeney, Assistant Secretary of the Alpine Club, in 1965 wrote that he had enquired of two intelligent Sherpas what they used to name the peak called 'Everest". Both without hesitation said 'Chomolungma". They also told him that this name had been handed down from father to son long before anyone had considered climbing the mountain. Everest was recognised by the long plume blowing from the summit. It is clear therefore that the local people who lived near to Everest, whether in Nepal or Tibet, knew of this peak as 'Chomolungma", and of course the monasteries of Rongbuk and Thyangboche to the north and south of Everest are in the same 'See", with Lamas travelling between them. In addition Sherpas regularly bring yaks over from south Tibet, via the Nanpa la, to breed in the softer climate of Khumbu.

In the 'notes" of the Alpine Journal of 1964, G.W. Creighton of the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names writes 'all Chinese communist maps now call the mountain 'Chu-Mu- Lang-Ma", but hitherto a Tibetan name has not been accurately traced. A new Tibetan-Russian dictionary, however, published in Moscow by the Siberian Section of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1963 now shows three forms for the mountain viz 'Jomolang-Ma-Ri" (Venerable? Bull Goddess), 'Jomolungma" (Venerable Goddess of the Country), 'Jomolu" (Venerable Goddess? Redeemer).

The translations are tentative, as the actual Tibetan script for these three forms is not produced".27
The Nepalese name 'Sagannatha" was given to Everest in the 1960s when China and Nepal were demarcating their common Himalayan frontier which runs through the summit of Everest. An early appearance of the word 'Sagannatha" can be found in the Nepalese literary Journal 'Sharda" in 1938. An article written by the noted Nepalese historian, Baburam Acharya interprets 'Sagar" as 'sky" and 'Matha" as 'forehead". He implies that this was a local name and unknown in Kathmandu at the time.23,24

The name 'Everest" does not appear on Brian Hodgson's map accompanying his article on 'the Physical Geography of the Himalaya" in the Journal of the Asiatic Society in 1849,25 nor on Hookers map of the Himalaya published in 1845 in his Himalayan Journals,1 nor on Hodgson"s map of 1857 accompanying Trelawnay Saunders paper 'the Himalaya Mountain System" in the Geographical Magazine of 1877.20 'Everest" is however depicted with its height 29,002 ft, possibly for the first time in The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1858.4 And reproduced in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society.5
My thanks to J.O.M. Roberts and Dr Harka Gurung for their help with this paper.

  1. Wang Yuxin
Qomolangma in Myth and Maps

p. 16-17 in High Mountain Peaks in China

Chinese Mountaineering Association. 1981.
  1. J.B. Du Halde
Description Geographique Historique... de L'Empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie

Chinoise. Vol 4. Le Mercier Paris. 1735.
  1. W.R. Fuchs
Der Jesuiten Atlas der Kanshi Zeit.

Monumenta Serica. Monograph. Series IV. Fujen University. Peking. 1943.
  1. A.S. Waugh
On the Identity of Mt Everest with Deodanga.

Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 26. 297-312. 1858.
  1. A.S. Waugh
Mt Everest and Deodanga

Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society. 2. 101-105. 1857-8.
  1. A.S. Waugh
Letter in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society. 1. 345-347. 1855-7.
  1. J.D. Hooker
Himalayan Journals (2 Vols). Murray. London. 1854.
  1. J.T. Walker
Notes on Mount Everest

Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society. 8. 86-94. 1886.
  1. D.W. Freshfield
Further Notes on Mount Everest

Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society. 8. 176-188. 1886.

10. J.T. Walker

A Last Note on Mount Everest

Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society. 8. 257-263. 1886.

11. B.H. Hodgson

A Route of two Nepalese Embassies to Peking with remarks on the watershed and plateau of Tibet.

Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 25. 473-497. 1856.
  1. S.G. Burrard, and H.H. Hayden
A Sketch of the Geography and Geology of the Himalaya Mountains and Tibet Calcutta. Superintendent Government Printing. India. 1907.

13. Everest or Jomokankar

Alpine Journal. 21. 33-35. 1903.

14. M.P. Ward

The Exploration of the Nepalese side of Everest. Alpine Journal. 97. 213-221. 1992/3.
  1. L.A. Waddell
The Environs and the Native Names of Everest Geographical Journal. 12. 564-569. 1898.
  1. H. Wood
Report on the Identification and Nomenclature of the Himalayan Peaks as seen from Kathmandu, Nepal.

Calcutta. Superintendent Government Printing. India. 1904.
  1. C.K. Howard-Bury
Mount Everest. The Reconnaissance. 1921. Arnold. London. 1922.
  1. D.W. Freshfield
Mount Everest v. Chomolungma Alpine Journal. 34. 300-303. 1922.
  1. S.G. Burrard
Mount Everest and its Native Names

Professional Paper No.26. Survey of India. Dehra Dun. 1931.
  1. N.E. Odell
The Tibetan Name of Mount Everest Alpine Journal. 27. 196. 1925.
  1. N.E. Odell
The Supposed Tibetan or Nepalese Name for Everest Alpine Journal. 47.127-129.401. 1935.
  1. T.S. Blakeney
A Tibetan Name for Everest

Alpine Journal. 70. 304-310. 1965.
  1. The Native Name of Mount Everest Alpine Journal. 82. 258. 1977.
  2. Baburam Acharya (in Nepali) Sagarmatha or Jhymolungma Sharda. Vol 4. No.8. 1938.
  3. B.H. Hodgson
On the Physical Geography of the Himalaya Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. No.32. 1849.
  1. Trelawney Saunders
The Himalaya Mountain System Geographical Magazine. July 1877.

27. Alpine Journal

Notes. 69. 144-145. 1964.
  1. E.G.H. Kempson
'The Local Name of Mount Everest" in H.Ruttledge, Everest the Unfinished Adventure.

Hodder and Stoughton. 1973.


A study about various names of Everest.