Amerigo Vespucci


He was an Italian explorer who had the distinction of recognizing the fact that the lands discovered by Columbus, was not Asia, but a separate continent. Due to strange circumstances, America was named after him in 1507, when the German cartographer, Martin Waldseemüller, having read about Vespucci's travels to the New World, and not Columbus' printed the first map using the name Amerigo for the New World.

On his first expedition, he was the navigator for Alonzo de Ojeda. They left Spain in 1499 and discovered the mouth of the Amazon and Orinoco River in South America. They returned to Spain in 1500. On his second expedition to the New World, he was sailing for Portugal, and left in 1501. He mapped the eastern coast of the New World, and realize that they were not in Asia, but a totally different, unknown continent.

 In 1503 or 1504, Amerigo published a pamphlet, in Latin, under the Latinized name of Albericus Vesputius, entitled Mundus Novus. In this pamphlet, he stated his belief that the land reached by Columbus, was really a New World. This was contrary to Columbus continued insistence that he had reached India. Since Columbus was so firmly entrenched in his belief, he did not give these lands a collective name (like Columbus). He would give the islands and regions he saw and or landed on, a name, but he could not rename India or China. 
This woodcut was in Amerigo Vespucci's pamphlet published in 1505, about his journeys to the New World
 In 1507, the Institute at Saint-Dié in Lorraine, decided to reprint, the Mundus Novus pamphlet published by Amerigo. They wanted to include a map of the New World, and name the new publication, Cosmographiae Introductio. The person chosen to write the preface of this scholarly work, was Martin Waldseemüller, the new and upcoming geographer, of the Institute. In Latin,  he basically wrote
"Now, indeed, these continents (the three "older" continents, Europe, Africa and Asia) have been broadly explored, and a fourth continent had been found by Americus Vesputius, as will be shown later. I do not see why anyone should rightfully object to calling this continent for Americus (its discoverer, a man of intelligence) to wit, Amerige, that is, Land of Americus, or America - since both Europe and Asia got their names from women."

His proposed name of Amerige is the Italian name, Ameri with the Greek word for land, ge, for the new continent. His second suggestion, America is the Latin Feminine form of Americus, the name used by Amerigo, in his Mundus Novus, publication. For some unknown reason, when he published the two maps in 1507, he printed the name America on the map of South America. Waldseemüller, later changed his mind on Amerigo Vespucci's credibility, and the name of America was omitted from his later maps. But by then, it was too late. 

Cosmographiae Introductio had a wide circulation,  as well as the map. Within a few years, the name America was widely established, and even though Waldseemüller later omitted the name from his maps, America was the name. It is ironic that the man that gave the name to the land discovered by Columbus, never visited America, and depended on his knowledge of this land, from the writings of others.

Map published in Cosmographiae Introductio on 1507 and drawn by Martin Waldseemüller

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February 12, 2002
Bruce C. Ruiz