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The Birth of "America"At the turn of the 16th century, Florentine-born seaman Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512) made two voyages to the New World. In 1505 he published an account of his second voyage, in which he claimed to have discovered the New World in 1491, one year before Columbus.
Three years later, in 1507, well-known German geographer and cartographer Martin Waldseemüller (approx. 1470-1518) from Freiburg in Baden, used Vespucci's travel account of South America for his Cosmograhiae Introductio, and suggested naming the area that is present-day Brazil after its supposed discoverer. Translated from the Latin original, the text reads:
"Since these regions have now really been explored further and thus another continent has indeed been discovered by Amerigus Vesputius (as can be seen in the following letters), I see no reason why it should not in all justice be called Amerigen, the land of Amerigus, or America, after its discoverer Amerigus, a man of sharp intellect, since Europe and Asia both received their names after women. "Waldseemüller's suggestion was quickly taken up by other geographers. Columbus had died in 1506, so he was unable to dispute the claim. Those close to Vespucci however, were familiar with his braggadocio; these claims were already being disputed before he published his account.
At first, the name America, applied only to the southern continent. By the end of the century, it was understood to include the entire western hemisphere.
How America got its nameAmerigo Vespucci, a friend of Columbus, also sailed the ocean several times. He correctly recognized that Columbus' discoveries were indeed an unknown continent.
Amerigo Vespucci was quite a boor, however. In a letter he even pretended to be the discoverer of the new continent. Even then, in 1504, Amerigo's alleged discovery was in doubt. He was even portrayed as a cheater.
But a certain Martin Waldseemuller knew nothing of any of this. This well-known German cartographer got his hands on a printed copy of Amerigo's letter. He did not doubt the authenticity of Amerigo's claim. Therefore, he found it only right and fair to call the new continent "America" after Amerigo Vespucci.
So he made a new map of the world, almost 1,000 of which were printed. That was in 1507, and the name "America" appears on this map for the first time. In this way, the new name quickly spread across Europe.
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