America, Naming of

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AMERICA, NAMING OF. The earliest explorers and historians designated America the Indies, the West Indies, or the New World, and these terms remained the favorites in Spain and Portugal for more than two centuries. Beyond the Pyrenees Mountains, the chief source of information on the discoveries was Amerigo Vespucci's account of his voyages, translated into Latin. In 1507, a coterie of scholars at Saint-Dié, in Lorraine (in present-day France), chiefly Martin Waldseemüller and Mathias Ringmann, printed this work in Cosmographiae Introductio, a small volume designed to accompany and explain a wall map and globe executed by Waldseemüller. They suggested two names for the new "fourth part" of the world, one Amerige (pronounced A-mer-i-gay, with the "-ge" from the Greek, meaning "earth"), and the other America (in the feminine form, parallel to Europa and Asia). The latter form appeared on Waldseemüller's maps of 1507, and their wide circulation brought about the gradual adoption of the name. Waldseemüller was aware of only South America as a continent, but in 1538 Gerhardus Mercator extended the designation to both continents.

Although Vespucci was not responsible for bestowing the name, since 1535 the injustice to Christopher Columbus has aroused protest. Various impossible origins of the name "America" have circulated, such as that it comes from a native Indian word or from a sheriff of Bristol, England, named Richard Ameryk. The etymology of "Amerigo" derives from the old Germanic, meaning "ruler of the home." Today, the name "America" is ambiguous, since it often refers to the United States alone.


Masini, Giancarlo, with Iacopo Gori. How Florence Invented America: Vespucci, Verrazzano, and Mazzei and Their Contribution to the Conception of the New World. New York: Marsilio Publishers, 1998.

Miller, Roscoe R. Amerigo and the Naming of America. New York: Carlton Press, 1968.

Allen WalkerRead/a. e.

See alsoCartography ; Exploration of America, Early .

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