Fuvahmulah means "Island of the Areca nut palms", Fuvah (or "Fuva") in the local language. Other places in the world like Penang in Malaysia and Guwahati in Assam, India, are also named after this nut. The original name of the island could have been Mulah, but was called Fuvahmulah (the Mulah with the areca nut palms) to distinguish it from Boli Mulah – another island in ancient Maldives.
The island is 494.2 km (307 mi; 267 nmi) south of the country's capital, Malé. The Fuvahmulah city is about 4.5 km (2.8 mi) by 1.2 km (0.75 mi) with a submerged reef (Rashikedefaro) extending for about 3 km (1.9 mi) in a southeasterly direction.
The island is the third largest in the Maldives. In the past, Fuvahmulah was a small coral atoll whose southern end was open at a spot called Diyarehifaando and the inside of the island was a saltwater lagoon forming a natural harbor. There is a spot on the southern end known as Kudhuheraival (forest of a small islet), which indicates there was a small separate islet over there in ancient times.