Sanibel Island History: Where Does The Name “Sanibel” Come From?

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Have you ever wondered how the premier island destination of Florida, Sanibel Island, got its name? You are not the first. It’s been a topic of discussion for many years or even centuries.

As a geographical place, the island has been around for at least 6,000 years, it is unknown what the original inhabitants, the Calusa, named the island but they arrived about 2,500 years ago. Most of South Florida was under the control of the Calusa and their remains can be seen in our area in the form of shell mounds which they used most think as either structures of some kind or as a dumping ground for their leftover shell catches. The Calusa remained until the Spanish invasion destroyed their hold on the area soon to be named Florida.

The first mention of the island can be found on a map from 1765 where it is labeled as Puerto S. Nibel (San Nibel). Eventually morphing into San Ybel, various destinations on the island took names that relate or are similar to this phrasing including the area around the Lighthouse on the Eastern End of the island called Point Ybel.

But why was it named this at all? Here we have mostly conjecture. It could have been named by Ponce de Leon himself for Queen Isabella, the same queen who provided Columbus with ships and money for his journeys. Others say it was Roderigo Lopez who traveled with Jose Gaspar- Gasparilla the pirate who had a beautiful lady friend named Sanibel back in Spain.
The first modern reference that is closer to what we know as Sanibel is in 1832 with the founding of the Florida Peninsular Land Company which gives the spelling as Sanybel. These folks were unable to make a go of it here and folded in 1849, but not before recommending a lighthouse be built to protect the trading ships.

However, the name evolved and we now know and love our Sanibel Island as home and vacation destination. Enjoy it with us at Pelicans Roost!

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