Why America was Named America

Today I found out how the Americas got their name.

Like most, I’ve known that the Americas were named after Amerigo Vespucci since my early education. However, the story behind why this is the case is somewhat more interesting and quite a bit less well known. Vespucci was a navigator that traveled to “the new world” in 1499 and 1502. Being a well educated man, he realized that this new world was not part of Asia, as some had initially thought. Vespucci chose to write about his travels and his books were published in 1502 and 1504. Being both entertaining and educational, his accounts of the new world were reprinted in almost every European language.

In 1507, a German cartographer, Martin Waldseemüller, chose to make a new map that included the new world. He and two scholarly partners were aware of Vespucci’s writings and were ignorant of Columbus’s expeditions. As such, they mistakenly thought Vespucci was the first to discover this new land and so named it after him, stating:

But now these parts (Europe, Asia and Africa, the three continents of the Ptolemaic geography) have been extensively explored and a fourth part has been discovered by Americus Vespuccius (the Latin form of Vespucci’s name), I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part after Americus, who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, and so to name it Amerige, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women.

When the large new map, approximately 8 feet by 4 feet, was unveiled by Waldseemüller, it had the large title “AMERICA” across what is now present day Brazil. Waldseemüller used Vespucci’s travelogues as a reference for his drawing and so his map had South America as the only part of this new western hemisphere. When North America was later added, the mapmakers of the time retained the original name. In 1538, The famous geographer Gerard Mercator chose to name the entire north and south parts of America as one large “America” for the entire western hemisphere.

Christopher Columbus might well have had the new world named after him, had it not been for two shortcomings. The first was that Columbus was under the mistaken impression that he had found a new route to Asia and was not aware that America was an entirely new continent. The second was that he never wrote publicly about it so the masses were not aware of his discovery. Had he done this, Mr. Waldseemüller and his colleagues might have named it Columba! As it happened, Vespucci did write about it and was the first to call this land the “Novus Mundus” (Latin for “New World”).

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy subscribing to our new Daily Knowledge YouTube channel, as well as:

Bonus Facts:

  • Waldseemüller’s 1507 map was lost to scholars from 1538-1901 when it was discovered inside a German castle. Once found, it was recognized as the earliest map to record the use of the name “America”. Today, that map is on permanent display in the Library of Congress.  They purchased it in 2001 for $10 million.
  • Christopher Columbus and Vespucci were actually good friends. Vespucci was sent to Spain in 1490 by his employers to help in their business venture of fitting out new ships. In that role, he became involved in fitting out Columbus’s fleet for his second voyage and Columbus later wrote the he trusted Vespucci and held him in very high esteem.
  • Vespucci was also credited for inventing a system of computing longitude. This system was so accurate that he was able to calculate the circumference of the earth, at the equator, to within 50 miles of the actual measurement.
  • Vespucci was born in March 9, 1454 in Florence. He was baptized, “Amerigho”, named after his grandfather. Remarkable to think that when his parents were picking a name for this baby, they were also picking a name for the Americas.  He died February 22, 1512.
  • Vespucci is thought to have taken four voyages to the new world. His first voyage from 1497-98 has been called in to question, and many scholars believe it might not have taken place. However, there is significant evidence that his second and third voyages in 1499-1500, and 1501-1502 actually took place. It is believed that he might have taken another voyage to the Americas in 1503-04.
  • Vespucci’s writings, while scholarly, also entertained the masses by his descriptions of the new world. For instance, he wrote in one of his letters about the natives of the land how they would have sex with anybody, including “Mom”.
  • The first people to inhabit the western hemisphere did so approximately 19,000-23,000 years ago. Mitochondrial evidence shows that all Native Americans come from a single population group around the time of the last ice age, during what is known as “the last glacial maximum”, probably having migrated over from Asia. Over the next 5-8 thousand years there was a large population boom. DNA evidence suggests that this population spread quickly throughout all of the America’s via a Pacific Coast route.
  • In 1508, Vespucci was appointed “Chief Navigator” also known as “Pilot Major” for Spain. He was in charge of examining and licensing all Spanish ships and voyages. He also made the official maps of the newly discovered lands and the routes that future captains were obliged to take. He maintained this title of distinction until he died.
Expand for References
Share the Knowledge! Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinteresttumblrmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinteresttumblrmail
Print Friendly
Enjoy this article? Join over 50,000 Subscribers getting our FREE Daily Knowledge and Weekly Wrap newsletters:

Subscribe Me To:  | 

24 comments

  • The most intresting thing is that the Vespucci theory has been essentially discredited. Please chech out “The True Story of How America Got Its Name” by Rodney Broome. Amazing read.

  • Anyone who disagrees with how The Americas got their name should say why they disagree. I would like being informed.

  • It was named after Richard Americ the sheriff of Bristol, whose family coat of arms (the stars and stripes) also formed the basis of the US flag (long before Washington). He was the main sponsor of John Cabots voyage that landed in newfoundland from Bristol, essentially ‘discovering’ North America. They agreed any new continent found would; temporarily at least, take the name of Americ.

    • Ringmann and Waldseemüller said they named it after Amerigo Vespucci in their “Introduction to Cosmography.”

      • If that is true, why didn’t they name it Vespuccia. I am hard pressed to find any other feature on the map named for someone’s first name. I am sure we might be able to find something like that, but no major points leap to mind.

        Consider:
        * The John Cabot voyages were in 1497.
        * His promise to name lands found after one of his patrons, Richard Americ, was made about that time.
        * Albriegi Vespucci made his voyages after Cabot’s and had named the lands found for Richard Americ.
        * Vespucci changed his name to Amerigo.
        * Ringmann and Waldseemüller wrote their book and claimed to name lands mapped by Vespucci for his adopted first name in 1507.

        That adds up to me that Vespucci, and Ringmann and Waldseemüller were fully aware of Cabot and Americ and were snatching glory away from the English.

        I wasn’t there. I don’t know. It really doesn’t matter. But it makes more sense than naming a major land mass after someone given name. And, really, these people were a despicable, glory-hogging bunch.

        Now I’m going to go explore Bob. (Actually an election was held to name the new territory that was split away from Canada’ Northwest Territory. Second place was “Bob.” The winner was Nunavit. Pronounced “None of it.” Those wacky Canadians, eh?)

  • First of all its America, not the Americas. The Americas refer to explicitly to the subcontinental regions North, Central, and South of the continent of America. America is the continent, and The Americas refer to its regions (North, Central, and South, or however else you prefer to partition the continent of America, Northern, Middle, Southern, eg. Latin, Anglo, etc.. America. )

    Second there is not country named America. The name of your country is United States. And United States of America is its long form name. Of America part of the long form name is post-positioned adjective that lays mention to the name of the continent it was founded on, America. You are U.S. citizen, and U.S. American, but American without qualifier/adjective encompasses all the people of the Americas, and America encompasses all of the regions of the Americas.

    America= North, Central, South etc.. America
    American = North, Central, South etc.. American.

    Finally, America was the name coined by Martin Waldseemuller for the New World in 1507.

    And these are facts, as oppose to this U.S. revisionist history, and the propaganda invented to make a play for the continent’s name America, and the demonym of the people of the continent, Americans.

    America/Americans = North, Central, South, Latin, etc..etc.. America/Americans.

    America/American since 1507.

    • Yes and no. Throughout the last 250 years there have also bee the United States of Columbia and the United States of Mexico. Had those two names survived, you would be whining about the people of the United States of America calling their county “The United States” since there were three countries that could rightfully call themselves by that name.

      Secondly, you quibble about whether the landmass of “America” is one or two continents with the Isthmus of Panama separating them is just a quibble on your part. Are you as insistent that the landmass that encompass Asia, Africa, and Europe should instead be considered as only one continent? Eurafroasia perhaps? If you do, then my hat is off to you for your consistency. Most small minded people like yourself eschew such attention to detail, and only want to whine about the people of the United Staes of America appropriating the sobriquet “Americans” all to themselves.

      Thirdly and most importantly, the name “Americans” as applied to the population of colonial British North America predates they War for Independence fought by the Colonists against their imperial overlords from across the Atlantic Ocean in Britain. You know, the ones who claimed the right to rule a quarter of the world’s population from a small island off the coast of the Eurafroasian continent?

      Really, do you have so little to do with your time that you should continue this sort of non-argument? When someone says he is an American it is rare to the point of insignificance that that person is actually and Argentine or a Chilean. In fact, I have never in my life met anyone from any part of the Americas (yes, just like Africa is separate from Eurasia and even Europe is separate from Asia, North America and South America are two separate continents) that are not the United States of America who refer to themselves as American.

      It even gets a little more interesting. Prior to the war that Americans refer to as the Civil War (1861 – 1865) the people of the United States of America actually referred to them selves by the State in which they lived. They were Virginians, New Yorkers, Ohioans, etc. And the United States was considered a plural noun … The United States are holding an election in 1860. After that war ended with reunification, it became a singular noun … The United States is finally abolishing slavery.

      Please, if you have a legitimate complaint, one that holds up to the facts and one that actually makes a difference, you should express it. Slavery still exists all over the world. People in all corners of the globe do not have clean water to drink or enough food to eat. Whether you are confused or infuriated when someone from Dry Ditch Arizona United States of America is of little consequence to anyone but you.

      • America was the name given to this whole continent from Canada to Argentina. United State stole the name as yours.

      • The name of the continent is America, and north and south are regions. Those are not two separate continents, but subcontinental regions of the same, America. The topology of America is no more relevant that is the topology of Asia and Europe. Fact of the matter is that all land is contiguous. It just happens that parts of the earth’s land is covered by water. All of which is irrelevant to what is and is not a continent. Hence Greenland is part of North America (northern half of the continent of America). Is it not? Of course it is.
        America is the name of the whole continent, and Americans are the people of the continent. Be North America/American, Central America/Americans, South/America/Americans, Latin America/Americans, Anglo America/Americans etc.. etc.. it is America/Americans we are speaking of, from a particular region of the continent of America. This is not rocket science, it is plain old common sense.

        This sad childish attempt at trying to confuse people with the topological arguments of the conception of a continent is nothing more than another tool used in this concerted effort to expropriate the American continent of its name, so that U.S. nationals can try and lay claim to it.

        LOL

        The real and authentic America:
        https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3290.ar305500/

        Fact of the matter is the your coungtries name is United States, and the “of America” part in the long form name is derived from the fact that the United States was founded in the continent “of America,” the new world.

        The real issue here is this anglosaxon U.S. centric propaganda spread by the United States in an aim to expropriate the New World of its name, America.

        And FYI it’s United Mexican States not United States of Mexico. And its short form name is Mexico. The short form name of the United States of America is United States, not America.

        http://www.state.gov/s/inr/rls/4250.htm

        And there is no United States of Columbia. And the name Columbia in then United States of Columbia which only lasted a couple of decades was a post-positioned adjective. As Columbia was one of the proposed names for the New World. So it was a reference to the continent of America, by the attempted naming of it by Columbia.

        LOL do you guys really believe that you are fooling anyone with this whole charade to try to expropriate the name of the continent of America by trying to claim that its north and south are separate continent in an effort to try to force people to qualify the name America by north and south? It’s America morons, whether you are referring to the North, Central, or South of America.

        United States nationals are seriously blinded by their ignorance and arrogance in their desire to confiscate the name of the continent of America, and demonym American from peoples of the continent.

        Sad puppies

        The real and authentic America:
        https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3290.ar305500/

        • Excellent findings!!!

          I’ve been trying to find for long time something real that proves that America is _not_ USA but the continent as we all agree.

          So the USA government leaders (I imagine not the people because they tend to be ignorant when it comes to politics, geography and geopolitical stuff in general) are aware of it but yet they insist on calling themselves “Americans” because they live in “America”.

          My guess is that the term “The Americas” was imposed by USA in order to avoid confusions, confusions created by themselves by naming their land United States of America.

          This is a good one!!

      • sadly, you are missing the point (plus, being rude)…it is almost as if you are trolling. What would your interest be in writting what you did? Whining? Maybe it sounded like whining to you cause you don´t get it, or you do get it and try to discredit. It is not a good thing to confuse people in the World with the use of words “american” and “America” plus there is no need to and no good justification to do so… A pakistani driver told me he thought the USA was the only country in America. He knew that the US is IN America and not America itself, but thought it was the only country over here. When asked why, he said because people from the United States are saying “we are americans, we, we, we, we, we and they invade media with it”. So instead of being a good american neighbor, some US citizens are confusing with their invasion not using a gentilic of their own (though in spanish they do have one, it is “estadounidense”, which is oficial, formal and used). Nobody from other american countries go around saying they are thE americans nor americans, cause it is already obvious if you say “argentinian”, Argentina is an american country, there is no need to go around stating that as well, to people when meeting them. Countries have distinctive names, yes, so that anybody can know which are the different countries in America. By the way, Chile won the Copa America this year 2016… and you are wrong if you think we dont feel and think of ourselves as from american land…just start reading and listening to music. Even reading articles shared by many including international airlines, such as that the highest peak in America is the Aconcagua. Maybe people are quibbling at your manners, whinning and complaining because of your aggresive way, when all they wanted to have was a constructive nice talk about something that does help, is constructive and there is no reason not to discuss. Stick to your singular noun and you wouldn´t be making any confusion. It is nice to have things straight and respected.

      • Wrong, the official name of Mexico is the United States of Mexico.its on their coins.the people in the U.S.A.
        wrong again on America being different continent it’s ONE contenent just divided by north,centra,south
        oh! and by the way Mexico is in North America look at a map sometime.

    • S. Jim Silva MD,PhD

      Agreed that America is a Continent, and that, therefore the North American Countries, Mexico, United States & Canada are all part of America. Why then do we (U.S. Personnel) call U.S.Citizens AMERICAN, and the United States, AMERICA, and NOT CALL Mexico and Canada AMERICA also???

    • Finally someone who gets it right. Thank you

  • Some people trying to deny that America was named so after Amerigo Vespucci with the purpose of appropriating the word that is the name of a whole landmass is ridiculous.

  • What did they call the first colonies lmao United colonies

  • I have a real problem with being supposedly allying myself as a Floridian to America and with the country being called America and needing to self-indentify as an American.
    Neither Columbus nor Vespucci discovered, set foot on or colonized the land to become known as the United States of America! So WHY is this country named after him!?
    I have been dismayed by this since I learned of it in elementary school.

    • Suck it up and move on… I’m Brazilian and never understood why it was called America… why Brazil was not called America then ??? So I did sucked that up and moved on…..

    • The USA isn’t named directly after him but rather it’s location. The name is derivative of being a bunch of States that are located in the continent named America. Basically you were named after our continent not necessarily after Amérigo Vespucci that although it carries his name, in reality it’s because of your location within our continent. I’ve always thought “united colonies ex of British isles” would’ve been more proper but hey, that’s history for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *