We all know that in fourteen-hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
So why aren’t we all citizens of the United States of Columbia today?
We probably would be, had the naming rights to the New World not passed to an Italian explorer, navigator, and cartographer named Amerigo Vespucci, who died on this date 499 years ago today.
But, just how did this switch happen?
To put it simply, Vespucci trumped Columbus, the discoverer of the “New World,” by proving the old adage that “it pays to advertise.”
Amerigo Vespucci was born in Florence in 1454 and later relocated to the city of Seville, Spain, where he worked in ship building. When Columbus returned from his first voyage, Vespucci actually outfitted his follow-up journeys.
Vespucci later sailed to the New World at the request of the King of Portugal to determine if Brazil, which had been discovered earlier and claimed for Portugal, was an island or part of a new continent.
When Vespucci got back to Europe he wrote a series of letters that were widely distributed in which he explained that Brazil was part of a previously unknown continent (at least unknown to the Europeans). Because of this, it was Vespucci who was credited with fully realizing that Columbus discovered an entire New World, and not simply the eastern coast of Asia.
In tribute, a cartographer made a map that included the newly discovered continent, which he named America, which was a feminized version of Vespucci’s first name. The name stuck, and was later applied to North America as well, and that’s why we are called Americans and not Columbians, or perhaps Christopherians.
America is a decent name, all-in-all. It could have easily been a lot worse since Amerigo is the Italian form of a Latin name that is translated into Heinrich in German, and Henry in English.
If the “United States of Columbia” sounds weird, be glad that Vespucci was Italian. Had Vespucci been English, today we could all be “Henrians” living in the good old U.S. of H., the “United States of Henria.”