'What's in a Name: America'


2 minutes

This week, we will take our "What's in a Name" blog series in a broader direction and explore how "America" became the name of the New World centuries ago.  The continents of the Western Hemisphere are known as the Americas, differentiated by the North and South as well as Central and Latin America.  Despite the vast area of land to which the name, "the Americas" refers, the term "America" is frequently, and perhaps inaccurately, used in reference specifically to the United States when in reality, it refers to nearly the entire Western Hemisphere.

Though somewhat controversial, it is generally accepted that a German mapmaker named Martin Waldseemüller named America after the Italian explorer and merchant, Amerigo Vespucci.  Waldseemüller obtained letters that Amerigo wrote to account his travels and the discovery of a New World, and Waldseemüller published a map in 1507 that was the first to depict the New World as a separate continent in the Western Hemisphere and included a separate Pacific ocean.  This map originally only contained the South American continent, as North America was added later and retained the same name, America. He named this New World America, printing the name across what is modern day Brazil, after Amerigo Vespucci.  The name quickly gained popularity as news of the New World spread.

Amerigo Vespucci was certainly not the first explorer to discover the land now known as the Americas, but he was the first to proclaim that the land was in fact a separate continent from the previously discovered and inhabited lands of Europe, Asia and Africa, and coined the term: the New World.  As it is now widely known, neither Amerigo Vespucci nor Christopher Columbus discovered America, as early Asian ancestors to the Native Americans long inhabited the lands before the European settlers arrived.  Some also contend that there was an earlier black African discovery of the continent that gave rise to the Mayan, Incan, and Aztec civilizations, while others state that the name and discovery of America had Nordic influences, as records of Nordic expeditions to the land exist from as early as the 13th century.  The naming of America reveals much about the earlier days of exploration and brings light to the fact that names in history might hold many versions of the truth.

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Ani Kington Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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