The origin and meaning of the island's name is unknown, but a folk etymology explanation exists, based on an old Armenian legend. According to the tale, an Armenian princess named Tamara lived on the island and was in love with a commoner. This boy would swim from the shore to the island each night, guided by a light she lit for him. Her father learned of the boy's visits. One night, as she waited for her lover to arrive, he smashed her light, leaving the boy in the middle of the lake without a guide to indicate which direction to swim. His body washed ashore and, as the legend concludes, it appeared as if the words "Akh, Tamara" (Oh, Tamara) were frozen on his lips. The legend was the inspiration for a well-known 1891 poem by Hovhannes Tumanyan.
Akdamar (meaning "white vein" in Turkish) is the official name of the island.