The history behind America’s name.
This weekend we celebrate Independence Day, with family, friends, fireworks and barbecues. It’s been this way since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. A celebration of freedom and the signing of the constitution, which still impacts our politics and policies today. Regardless of our ancestry, if we’re born here, we’re Americans. But have you stopped a second to think about where that name comes from?
The Man Who Really “Discovered” America
The name America, the “brand” we’ve come to know and love ,came from the name of an explorer Amerigo Vespucci. (The Vikings came here 500 years before and have no brand identity reference, nor does Christopher Columbus who apparently came before Amerigo but did not provide a thorough description.) Columbus assumed the New World was close to Asia. Ergo, his error. No one considered it “really new.” Amerigo, however, when sailing around South America realized the New World was not adjacent to Asia and may be a separate continent and much larger than Columbus assumed.
Amerigo, a Florentine with strong ties to the Medici family wrote letters to his friends in Europe. He spoke of his encounters with the indigenous people – their habits, diet, religion, language and more. His letters were published in several languages and sold well. It was Amerigo’s hope that these letters would leave some “fame” behind after he died. So Amerigo’s discovery and description provided increased differentiation and excitement. The New World now had its own “position” both literally and figuratively. The brand was being built, but it did not have a name.
Putting “America” on the Map
Enter a German clergyman and amateur cartographer named Martin Waldseemüller. In 1507, Waldseemüller working on large cosmology maps, proposed that a portion of Brazil that Vespucci had explored be named “America,” a feminized version of Vespucci’s first name. Waldseemüller wrote, “I see no reason why anyone should justly object to calling this part … America, after Amerigo Vespucci, its discoverer, a man of great ability.”
The name stuck. Waldseemüller’s maps sold thousands of copies across Europe. In 1538, a mapmaker named Gerardus Mercator applied the name “America” to both the northern and southern landmasses of the New World, and the continents have been known as such ever since.
So, there you have it. Our brand was built by an Italian banker/explorer (who later became a citizen of Spain) and was named by a German clergyman. We truly are a global brand from nomenclature development to identity. Since we don’t have a logo, it seems fitting to fly the American Flag, sewn by Betsy Ross who was born in Philadelphia (and whose ancestors came here from England).