Spitsbergen was named by its discoverer, the Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz, in 1596. The name Spitsbergen, meaning “pointed mountains” (from the Dutch spits - pointed, bergen - mountains), was at first applied to both the main island and the archipelago as a whole. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, English whalers referred to the islands as "Greenland," a practice still followed in 1780 and criticized by Sigismund Bacstrom at that time. The "Spitzbergen" spelling was used in English during the 19th century, for instance by Beechey, Laing, and the Royal Society.
In 1906, the Arctic explorer Sir Martin Conway thought that the Spitzbergen spelling was incorrect, preferring Spitsbergen as he noted that the name was Dutch, not German. This had little effect on British practice. In 1920, the international treaty determining the fate of the islands was entitled the "Spitsbergen Treaty." The islands were generally referred to in the United States as Spitsbergen from that time, although the spelling Spitzbergen was also commonly used through the 20th century.
Under Norwegian governance, the archipelago was named Svalbard in 1925, the main island becoming Spitsbergen. By the end of the 20th century, this usage had become common.
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