The English word atoll found its origin in the Maldivian (Dhivehi) word Atholhu. Still, though, there is perhaps nothing more confusing than the atoll names in Maldives. From where came this confusion, well if you are interested, once and for all let’s try to clarify it here.


Natural Atolls

The Maldives is shaped by 26 natural atolls. Most of them as we traditionally know an atoll, but some of them also consisting of only one island. The people of Maldives gave them interesting names of which some you might already know e.g. Ari or Addu but others … you probably never heard of. Even if you did hear them, chances are that you will not easily remember Giofuhafehendhu or Ihavandhippolhu. Yes, correct, there are people that can remember these names easily, but I guess they are mostly Maldivians. The names are still very much valid, but in tourism only some of the shorter ones are actually used.


Administrative divisions

For organisational reasons the country was originally divided in administrative divisions, and as most of these names are much shorter and therefore easier to remember they kind of started to dominate in Maldivian tourism publications. Strictly speaking it is strange to speak about e.g. the Noonu Atoll as it is a division and only part of an atoll. But what can one do if the alternative is not to be remembered! So, most of the actual used names are pretty much the ones that stick easily to the westerners mind and as such we tend to use for the main part the administrative names, with some exceptions:

Most use North and South Malé Atoll( translation of natural atoll name) instead of Kaafu.

Most use North and South Ari instead of Alif Alif and Alif Dhaalu.

Most use Fuvahmulah (almost pronounced like “formula”) instead of Gnaviyani

Many use Addu instead of Seenu Some use Huvadhoo instead of Gaaf Alif and Gaaf Dhallu


So far for consistency

Basically it means that we use two systems through each other where ever it is more convenient. Even worse, the Maldivian script does not use Latin letters and therefore not even the same word is always written identical when they appear in English. By my knowledge there is not really a “rule” and so the “h” is sometimes there, sometimes not. Similar sounds are put down with -hu, -huu -hoo or o , and the decision to use double vowels seems sometimes close to a lottery.


Ok, probably you just want to make nice dives and are not interested in long difficult names and their origin, but in case you cannot place a name . . . just check our map here. Move your mouse or finger over the map and you see the alternative naming. All the bold printed names are mostly used. Inconsistently but, perhaps that just gives it all a bit more interesting edge...



Hope this clarified a bit!

Be safe, but ... dive!flavicon



maldives atolls administrative names
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