Who was America named after? A look at the truth of how America got its name.
I am sure you all know where America is, but have you ever wondered where the name came from? Assuming that you have come this far, the answer to that question has to be a resounding yes. Fret no more, you are about to find out the answer below.
There is a popular misconception doing the proverbial rounds that America was named after an Italian cartographer and merchant called Amerigo Vespucci. Alas, it is a myth; America was actually named after Richard Ameryk, a Bristol merchant and a proud Welshman.
To understand where the misconception originated from, what better place to start than at the beginning. Giovanni Caboto was an Italian navigator from Genoa. He moved to London in 1484, becoming known as John Cabot, and was quickly authorised by King Henry VII to seek out as yet unknown lands to the West.
(John Cabot) Image Source
Cabot set off in a little ship called Matthew in 1497, by the summer he became the first European on record to step foot on American soil when he stepped off his boat at Labrador. This happened a good two years before Vespucci. Cabot mapped the North American coastline from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia. On board the Matthew was Richard Ameryk, there in the guise of chief patron of the voyage; such a position was held so high that there would have been the expectation that any new found land would be named after him. And so it was.
The event was recorded in the Bristol calendar for that year and said that on St John the Baptist’s day, the land of America was found by the merchants of Bristowe in a ship called the Matthew. Although the original manuscript of said calendar is no longer around, there are enough references to it in contemporary documents, that have survived, to confirm it.
The oldest surviving map to name the continent of America dates from 1507 and was created by Martin Waldseemuller, although it should be noted that the term was only applied to what is now South America. In Waldseemuller’s notes, at the side of the map, he makes the assumption that the name was based on, and derived from, Amerigo Vespucci’s first name (possibly from a Latin version). Vespucci had been the first to discover and map the South American coastline (1500-1502) but Waldseemuller had no real idea whether or not it was named after Vespucci and perhaps was trying to account for a name that he had previously seen on other maps.
One such map that Waldseemuller may have seen was Cabot’s. Interestingly, at the time of Cabot’s map, the only place where the term ‘America’ was common was Bristol. In 1513, Waldseemuller created another map, surprisingly he decided to omit the reference to ‘America’ and instead, replaced it with ‘Terra Incognita’.
As for Vespucci, he never actually made it to North America – he had no need to; all the early trade to the Northern part was British and all early maps were also. There is also no documented record of Vespucci ever using the term ‘America’, let alone coining it. There is a very simple reason for that and one that should, once and for all, end the misconception; new countries and new continents were never named after someone’ first name, instead, they were named after the person’s surname. Some examples include: Cook Islands, Van Diemen’s Land and Tasmanis.
One other example, of course, is America – named after Richard Ameryk, the wealthy Bristol merchant who was chief patron on the voyage that ‘discovered’ America. Not a bad claim to fame for one who was Welsh.