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July 4, 2010 1:47 PM   Subscribe

How America got its name: The suprising story of an obscure scholar, an adventurer’s letter, and a pun.
posted by homunculus (33 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's the map.
posted by eye of newt at 2:10 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Columbus was a nice Italian fella.
He had no boats. He needed some boats.
So he's fool around with Queen Isabella.
She hadda three boats. She give him the boats.
The queen, she said, "Columbus, pootchy-wootchy,
If you should land in some new land,
Please name it for Americus Vespucci,
'Cause he's a nice Italian man.

Nina, Pinta, and-a Saint Marie,
Fourteen-a ninety-two they sailed the sea,
They found the land and it was grand, and then Columbus he's proclaim:
"I call this land America, a nice Italian name."

(And that's-a why America's a nice Italian name.)

posted by Kylio at 2:40 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


A simple twist of fate. Within a year of naming America, Ringmann was dead. FTA:
Whatever its meanings, the name America filled a need. By the middle of the 16th century it had caught on, and mapmakers were using it to define not only South but North America. But Ringmann himself didn’t live to see the day. By 1511 he was complaining of weakness and shortness of breath, and before the year’s end he was dead, probably of tuberculosis. He hadn’t yet reached 30.
For the other side of the American personification, see: Columbia and for the mythically-inclined, The Goddess Columbia.
posted by psyche7 at 2:53 PM on July 4, 2010


Very interesting—thanks for the post!

After studying the classics at university he settled in the Strasbourg area, where he began to eke out a living by proofing texts for local printers and teaching school. It was a forgettable life, of a sort that countless others like him were leading.

*cries*

posted by languagehat at 2:56 PM on July 4, 2010 [16 favorites]


Oh yes, all these facts and scholarship, all very well. But the Welsh know what's really up:

"...America did not take its name from Amerigo Vespucci, but from a senior collector of Customs at Bristol, the main port from which English voyages of discovery sailed in the late 15th century. Dr. Basil Cottle, who is himself of Welsh birth, tells us that the official was Richard Amerik, one of the chief investors in the second transatlantic voyage of John Cabot, which led to the famous navigator receiving the King's Pension for his discoveries."

Amerik, of course, being an anglicisation of ap Meurig, son of Morris. And Cabot sailed before Vespucci!

OPEN YOUR EYES SHEEPLE AGORWCH EICH LLYGADAU TYLWYTH YR DAFAD

GOOGLE AP MEURIG
posted by Dim Siawns at 3:01 PM on July 4, 2010 [14 favorites]


SHIT

AGORWCH EICH LLYGADAU LLYGAID TYLWYTH YR DAFAD
posted by Dim Siawns at 3:10 PM on July 4, 2010


Oh wow, Dim Siawns, that is a fascinating story.
According to Welsh legend, Madog ab Owain Gwynedd was a 12th century prince from Gwynedd who sailed westward with a group of followers seeking lands far away from the constant warfare of his native Wales. According to the story, his eight ships made landfall at what is now called Mobile Bay, Alabama in 1169. Owain's little flagship was the "Gwennan Gorn." Liking what he found, Madog then returned to Wales for additional settlers, who consequently left with the explorer in a small fleet of ships. Sailing westward from Lundy Island in 1171, the courageous little band was never heard from again, at least in Europe.

Welsh tradition has it that the adventurers settled in the Mississippi Valley, befriending the natives, whom they showed how to build stone forts. Some of these mysterious forts and stone walls can still found in the area. Some sources describe the Welsh explorers as moving northward through Alabama and battling the Iroquois in Ohio, with a remnant moving westward where they were discovered at the time of the Revolutionary War as the light-skinned, bearded Mandan Indians of North Dakota. The Mandans were decimated by smallpox in 1838, but many scholars have supposedly found much of their language and customs, as similar to those of Wales. For example, they used a small round boat made of buffalo hides (the bull boat) stretched over a willow frame. This is almost identical to the Welsh coracle.
Factual or not, I love the way this reads. Many different people have laid claim to have landed somewhere on the Americas before Columbus, and I love each and every story that I read about it. The African exploration of America is a personal favorite of mine.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:18 PM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


...the famous Waldseemüller map of 1507... the first to use a strange new name: America, which Ringmann and Waldseemüller printed in block letters across what today we would call Brazil.

I'll just leave this here.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:53 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Brazil is in South America, so, I don't see what's particularly noteworthy about that.

Oh, wait, right. That whole nomenclature thing.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:03 PM on July 4, 2010


Oh goodie. Because this went so well the last time we talked about it.
posted by scalefree at 4:05 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll just leave this here.

Your profile indicates you have problem with the amount of US content on the site. You're not trying to stir things up are you?
posted by new brand day at 4:18 PM on July 4, 2010


I may have dreamed this - and I wasn't able to find the article so I'm really not sure - but I swear I read something about Vespucci's real name not being Amerigo and that he had changed it to associate himself with a local name for something in the new world. And then this guy discussed in this post used it to refer to the whole new world. Anyone else seen a story like this?
posted by double bubble at 5:01 PM on July 4, 2010


I haven't, but a statue of the guy I saw in Florence called him "Amerigo". Granted, this may have been some recently sculpted creation to give tourists one more thing to photograph themselves in front of.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:03 PM on July 4, 2010


Thanks for that. Since childhood I've been puzzled by the fact that everyone knows the name Amerigo Vespucci, but no one knows just who the hell he really was.

Interestingly, the wikipedia article on the Waldseemuller map doesn't once mention Matthias Ringmann. Time for some editing, it seems.
posted by zardoz at 5:07 PM on July 4, 2010


I learned in school that Amerigo was an Italian map maker who decided to stick his name on the place. You would think these textbook writers could put at least a bit of effort into what they're doing.
posted by amethysts at 5:18 PM on July 4, 2010


I always thought America was the lost name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, once spoken only by the high priest in the temple. This is why the country is called the United States of America, not the United States within America, because we have dedicated this country to God.
posted by humanfont at 5:36 PM on July 4, 2010


I say we rename North America and South America to America and Columbia, to remove confusion. Just remember that Colombia is in Columbia and America is in America. Which reminds me, enough of this "United States" stuff; we already know about the basic structure, so let's just stick to "America". As I have just mentioned.

There. It's settled. Glad I could clear that up.
posted by grubi at 7:10 PM on July 4, 2010


And Cabot sailed before Vespucci!
And Lucia sailed before Cabot!
posted by unliteral at 9:23 PM on July 4, 2010


From the article:
Virgil had prophesied the existence of a vast southern land across the ocean to the west, destined to be ruled by Rome.

Does anyone know what the author is referring to?
I guess the Roman Empire never died.
posted by slickvaguely at 10:03 PM on July 4, 2010


America, which Ringmann and Waldseemüller printed in block letters across what today we would call Brazil.

America is the continent of the future, and always will be?
posted by dhartung at 10:37 PM on July 4, 2010


haven't, but a statue of the guy I saw in Florence called him "Amerigo". Granted, this may have been some recently sculpted creation to give tourists one more thing to photograph themselves in front of.

Vespucci was born in the Republic of Florence but there is nothing to prove he was born in Florence, itself. In particular, the town of Montefioralle lays claim to being his home.
posted by vacapinta at 1:52 AM on July 5, 2010


Also, as my obviously-biased-Portuguese-wife always says: "So how many times did you see the word 'Portuguese' in that article? And do they get any credit? No, it's always the blowhards they ferried around on their ships."
posted by vacapinta at 1:56 AM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wish America was Welsh. Only because it would completely screw with Pat Sajak's head and make Vanna White dance like a dervish.
posted by srboisvert at 2:03 AM on July 5, 2010


God bless Vespucciland!
posted by Spatch at 3:59 AM on July 5, 2010


God bless Vespucciland!

Now we can make tortillas!

(We've been waiting hundreds of years for this.)
posted by grubi at 6:38 AM on July 5, 2010


I thought it was named after Eric the Red, because after he sailed across the Atlantic the poorly-educated vikings used to write on their maps 'Am Eric 'ere'
posted by Phanx at 8:00 AM on July 5, 2010


FUN EGOFACT BROUGHT TO YOU BY LIZA:
one of my last names is CABOT :)
posted by liza at 8:20 AM on July 5, 2010


From the article:
Virgil had prophesied the existence of a vast southern land across the ocean to the west, destined to be ruled by Rome.

Does anyone know what the author is referring to?
I guess the Roman Empire never died.


I was thinking of Latium from the Aeneid, but most people who read the Aeneid know that it was written to give Rome a back-story like Greece had, so the land in the West was Rome itself.
posted by Demogorgon at 9:00 AM on July 5, 2010


I'll buy a w, Pat.
posted by condour75 at 10:33 AM on July 5, 2010


Then there's the theory that it was named for Nicaraguan aborigines. (Amerrique Mountains? Get it?)
posted by IndigoJones at 11:15 AM on July 5, 2010


IndigoJ - I think the article you linked to has some of the ideas that I remember from whatever it was I read. Thanks! Can't wait to read in full when I'm not about to fall asleep sitting up.
posted by double bubble at 8:35 PM on July 5, 2010


Virgil had prophesied the existence of a vast southern land across the ocean to the west, destined to be ruled by Rome...

I guess the Roman Empire never died.

And that's why they call it Latin America.
posted by lagado at 5:35 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought it was named after Eric the Red, because after he sailed across the Atlantic the poorly-educated vikings used to write on their maps 'Am Eric 'ere'

Leif Ericson shouts 'FIRST' in the internet thread that is America. SON of Eric the Red. Viking Pride!
posted by FatherDagon at 7:21 AM on July 7, 2010


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