I was reading the question Why is Columbus Credited with Discovering America, and I wondered why aren't the Americas named after him?

I was under the impression that although he is the one we credit with the discovery (read the above question for reasons why), Amerigo Vespucci is the one often credited with realizing it was a whole new "world", and thus named after him.

So, if we credit the discovery of the Americas with Christopher Columbus, why do I not live in North Columbica?

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    I read a very interesting article, published around Columbus Day I think, about why the name America was used on the first popular map of the New World and how it stuck as a result. I can't seem to find it now though. Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 19:25

2 Answers 2


There is a mounting body of evidence that the continent (originally the area of Newfoundland) is actually named after Richard Amerike, of Bristol.

Amerike was very involved in arranging and aiding the voyages of John Cabot (Giovanni Cabotto) to the new world. In fact, he bore a great deal of the cost of these expeditions, hoping to gain new trade business from the new world.

Cabot's maps were sent to Columbus, and were therefore available also to Vespucci, which is where Waldseemüller got the name from.

Generally, like the city of Washington in the district of Columbia, places are usually given the surname of the person they are being named after, rather than the first name. The obvious exception being royalty, of course, hence Jamestown or Port Elizabeth.

Edit: The modern reappearance of this theory is from "Richard Ameryk and the Name America", Hudd, Alfred E., Proceedings of the Clifton Antiquarian Club, 1910.

A more modern, popular reading version is availble in the book "Terra Incognita: The True Story of How America Got Its Name", Broome, Rodney, 2001.

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    Please do provide references - interesting.
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 17:20
  • very interesting indeed. I look forward to seeing some references when you get the time :)
    – user587
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 17:25
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    I added the references that support my position. However, there are several competing theories. You can find a good summary at uhmc.sunysb.edu/surgery/america.html
    – Carmi
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 20:50
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    Only a minority of historian agree with the "Richard Amerik" hypothesis...
    – climenole
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 18:21

According to I Am America. (And So?), a New York Times article by Wyatt Mason (published in 2007), the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was "misled by a document known as the Soderini Letter, a narrative account said to have been by Vespucci but believed by modern scholars to have been forged by unscrupulous publishers."

The Soderini Letter insinuated that Vespucci reached the continent before Columbus, so Waldseemüller called it America on his map. In later versions he changed it to Terra Incognita, but the damage had already been done, as his first edition had been widely copied.

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