The Many Fathers of “America”

In the most incredible of coincidences, or perhaps as evidence of mankind’s incredible ability to find patterns everywhere and anywhere (or perhaps as indication of something else I shall not name here), there are at least six different explanations for the origin of the word “America” (with various degrees of credibility):

  • The classical explanation: from the first name of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who first figured out that America is a separate continent, not the easternmost part of Asia. Amerigo by the way appears to derive from a Gothic word for “Master Workman”
  • Alternatively, America could be a modification of the Scandinavian Amteric “Land of Eric”, from the times when the Vikings were crossing the Atlantic
  • A related possibility is Ommerike, Norse for “Farthest outland”or derived from Gothic Amalric, “Kingdom of Heaven”
  • There was also a Richard Amerike or Ameryk or Ap Meryke “Son of Meryk”, a Welshman and the King’s official involved with John Cabot’s voyage
  • Remarkably, Amerrique is the name of an Amerindian tribe that lived in present-day Nicaragua, perhaps to be interpreted as “People of the Land of the wind”
  • And why not, there is a Saint Emeric (Latin: “Sanctus Americus“), the Son of the first king of Hungary

For those in search of more details, there is a very interesting essay called “The Naming of America” by Jonathan Cohen, with intriguing reflections on what it means to prefer one explanation over all the others.

FYI: my choice goes to Amerrique. with Vespucci’s name chosen for posterity in the early XVI century by people that could not figure out the actual etymology.

Still, it’s a giant set of coincidences indeed…