Christopher Columbus was on his second voyage in his quest to “discover” the New World when he arrived in Puerto Rico in 1493. He christened the island San Juan Bautista after John the Baptist, claimed it as a property of Spain, and went on his merry way. But among his crew was a lieutenant named Juan Ponce de León, who shared Columbus’s passion for exploration and colonization.
In 1508 Ponce de León returned to the island to establish a settlement in a nearly landlocked bit of marshland just west of San Juan, which he called Caparra. He couldn’t have made a poorer choice for a new settlement. Virtually uninhabitable and strategically ineffective, the settlement was relocated around 1521 to what is now Old San Juan. Originally the new settlement was called Puerto Rico for its “rich port.” It’s not clear why—possibly a cartographer’s mistake—but soon after it was founded, the name of the settlement was switched with the name of the island.
© Suzanne Van Atten from Moon Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition