island nation in the Pacific, formerly Gilbert Islands and named for Capt. Thomas Gilbert, who arrived there 1788 after helping transport the first shipload of convicts to Australia. At independence in 1979 it took the current name, which represents the local pronunciation of Gilbert. Christmas Island, named for the date it was discovered by Europeans, is in the chain and now goes by Kiritimati, likewise a local pronunciation of the English name.
updated on October 10, 2017