List of continent name etymologies

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This is a list of the etymologies of continent names.



The ancient Romans used the name Africa terra – "land of the Afri" (plural, or "Afer" singular) – for the northern part of the continent that corresponds to modern-day Tunisia. The origin of Afer may be the Phoenician afar, dust; the Afri tribe, who dwelt in Northern Africa around the area of Carthage; Greek aphrike (αφρίκη), without cold; or Latin aprica, sunny.

The name Africa –that was originally used by the Romans to refer to present-day Tunisia only began to be stretched to encompass a larger area when the provinces of Tripolitania, Numidia and Mauretania Caesariensis were subdued to the Diocesis of Africa, following the administrative restructuring of Diocletian. Later, when Justinian I reconquered lands of the former West Roman Empire, all the regions from the Chelif River to the Gulf of Sidra were annexed to the Byzantine Empire as the "Exarchate of Africa".

During the Middle Ages, as the Europeans increased their knowledge and awareness of the size of the African continent, they progressively extended the name of Africa to the rest of the continent.


So-named after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci (who styled himself Americus Vespucius in Latin), who, following his four voyages to the Americas, first developed the idea that the newly discovered western lands were in fact a continent. In recognition thereof, the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller named the new continent after the Italian explorer's first name. Amerigo Vespucci was named after Saint Emeric of Hungary. (See also Naming of America.) The English name corresponding to Emeric is Henry.

A few alternative theories regarding the continent's naming have been proposed, but none of them have any widespread acceptance. One alternative first proposed by a Bristol antiquary and naturalist, Alfred Hudd, was that America is derived from Richard Amerike, a merchant from Bristol, England who is believed to have financed John Cabot's voyage of discovery to Newfoundland in 1497. Waldseemüller's maps appear to incorporate information from the early British journeys to North America. The theory holds that a variant of Amerike's name appeared on an early British map (of which however no copies survive) and that this was the true inspiration for Waldseemüller. A point that gives more credence to the continent being named after Amerike, is the rule for naming countries. Usually, when a country is named after a person, it is named after their surname. The only one exception to this rule is if the person is royalty, in which case the country may be name after their first name. The theory is that, Amerigo Vespucci, could not be the origin of America's name because he was not royalty. (See more at Richard Amerike). It should also be noted that John Cabot reached the mainland of America before Columbus and Vespucci.

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