In 1852 the British-sponsored Great Trigonometrical Survey, which had been mapping the Indian subcontinent since the early 1800s, identified the highest mountain in the world straddling Nepal and Tibet in the Himalayas. The British initially referred to the 29,035-foot-tall pinnacle as Peak XV until Andrew Waugh, the surveyor general of India, proposed that it be named for his predecessor, Sir George Everest.
Born in Wales on July 4, 1790, Everest attended military schools in England before spending much of his adult life in India. After working for the East India Company, the geodesist joined the Great Trigonometrical Survey in 1818 and spent 25 years on the project, working his way up to superintendent in 1823 and then surveyor general of India in 1830. He returned to Great Britain following his retirement in 1843 and was knighted in 1861.
Everest, who had favored native place-names as a surveyor, objected to Waugh’s proposal that the highest peak in the world be named in his honor. Although the Tibetans already called the mountain Chomolungma (“Goddess Mother of the World”), Waugh was apparently unaware of that indigenous moniker or those used in Nepal, which had barred the survey team from crossing its borders. “I was taught by my respected chief and predecessor, Colonel Sir George Everest to assign to every geographical object its true local or native appellation. But here is a mountain, most probably the highest in the world, without any local name that we can discover, whose native appellation, if it has any, will not very likely be ascertained before we are allowed to penetrate into Nepal,” Waugh wrote to the Royal Geographical Society in 1856. In spite of Everest’s argument that locals would have difficulty pronouncing his name, the society decided in 1865 to dub the world’s tallest peak Mount Everest anyway. The 76-year-old Everest died the following year on December 1, 1866. It’s unknown whether he ever glimpsed his namesake mountain.