For most of the nineteenth century, Western navigators referred to this archipelago as the "Lagoon Islands," a name gradually supplanted by the "Ellice Islands." This latter term became official in 1892 when Great Britain created the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate (later Colony).
The name and its Tuvaluan rendition (Elise) remained in use until the group separated from the Gilberts in 1975. The name "Tuvalu" is deemed traditional and roughly translates as "eight traditions." There is no historical evidence of its use, however, until the rise of self-determination in the 1970s.
Closest to the equator is Nanumea, followed southwards by Niutao, Nanumaga, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, Nukulaelae, and Niulakita, the smallest.
The first four constitute a compact northern subgroup, while the latter five form a more scattered southern group. Seasonal variations are slight, though wet and stormy conditions with strong westerlies occur from December to February.
During the rest of the year, easterly trade winds predominate.
Rainfall is heavier in the south than in the north, although it is generally adequate throughout.
The best estimates suggest a precontact population of around 3,000.