Origin of the name
The name of this island group, Leeward Islands, dates from previous centuries, when sailing ships were the sole form of transportation across the Atlantic Ocean. In sailing terminology, "windward" means towards the source of the wind, while "leeward" is the opposite direction. In the West Indies, the prevailing winds, known as the trade winds, blow out of the northeast. Therefore, an island to the northwest, such as Puerto Rico, would typically be leeward of an island to the southeast, such as Antigua, and conversely, Antigua would typically be windward of Puerto Rico, but leeward of Guadeloupe and Martinique.
The early Spanish colonizers called Puerto Rico and the islands to the west Sotavento, meaning leeward. The islands to the south and east of Puerto Rico were then called Islas de Barlovento, meaning "windward islands". When the British gained control of many of the Lesser Antilles, they designated Antigua, Montserrat and the islands to the north as the "Leeward Islands". Guadeloupe and the islands to the south were designated as the "Windward Islands". Later on, all islands north of Martinique became known as the Leeward Islands. In 1940 Dominica was transferred to the British Windward Islands, and is now considered to be part of the Windward Islands.
However, even in modern usage in languages other than English, e.g., Spanish, French and Dutch, all of the Lesser Antilles from the Virgin Islands to Trinidad and Tobago are known as the Windward Islands (Iles au Vent in French, Bovenwindse Eilanden in Dutch, and Islas de Barlovento in Spanish). The islands along the Venezuelan coast, known in English as the Leeward Antilles, in languages other than English are known as the Leeward Islands.