Saint Kitts and Nevis, also known as the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, is an island country in the West Indies. Located in the Leeward Islands chain of the Lesser Antilles, it is the smallest sovereign state in the Western Hemisphere, in both area and population. The country is a Commonwealth realm, with Elizabeth II as queen and head of state.
The capital city is Basseterre on the larger island of Saint Kitts. The smaller island of Nevis lies approximately 3 km (2 mi) southeast of Saint Kitts across a shallow channel called "The Narrows".
The British dependency of Anguilla was historically also a part of this union, which was then known collectively as Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla. To the north-northwest lie the islands of Sint Eustatius, and Saba, Saint Barthélemy, Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten and Anguilla. To the east and northeast are Antigua and Barbuda, and to the southeast is the small uninhabited island of Redonda, and the island of Montserrat, which currently has an active volcano (see Soufrière Hills).
Saint Kitts and Nevis were among the first islands in the Caribbean to be settled by Europeans. Saint Kitts was home to the first British and French colonies in the Caribbean, and thus has also been titled "The Mother Colony of the West Indies".
Saint Kitts was named "Liamuiga", which roughly translates as "fertile land", by the Kalinago who originally inhabited the island. The name is preserved via St. Kitts's western peak, Mount Liamuiga. Nevis's pre-Columbian name was "Oualie", meaning "land of beautiful waters".
Christopher Columbus upon sighting what is now Nevis in 1493 gave that island the name San Martín. The current name "Nevis" is derived from a Spanish name Nuestra Señora de las Nieves. This Spanish name means Our Lady of the Snows. It is not known who chose this name for the island, but it is a reference to the story of a fourth-century Catholic miracle: a summertime snowfall on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. Perhaps the white clouds which usually wreathe the top of Nevis Peak reminded someone of the story of a miraculous snowfall in a hot climate. The island of Nevis upon first British settlement was referred to as "Dulcina", a name meaning "sweet one" in Spanish. Eventually the original Spanish name was restored and used in the shortened form, "Nevis".
There is some disagreement over the name which Christopher Columbus gave to St. Kitts. For many years it was thought that he named the island San Cristóbal, after Saint Christopher, his patron saint and the patron hallow of travellers. New studies suggest that Columbus named the island Sant Yago (Saint James). The name "San Cristóbal" was given by Columbus to the island now known as Saba, 20 mi northwest. It seems that "San Cristóbal" came to be applied to the island of St. Kitts only as the result of a mapping error.
No matter the origin of the name, the island was well documented as "San Cristóbal" by the 17th century. The first English colonists kept the English translation of this name, and dubbed it "St. Christopher's Island". In the 17th century, a common nickname for Christopher was Kit, or Kitt. This is why the island was often informally referred to as "Saint Kitt's Island", further shortened to "Saint Kitts".
Today the Constitution refers to the state as both "Saint Kitts and Nevis" and "Saint Christopher and Nevis", but the former is the one most commonly used.