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A weekly show where we endeavor to answer one of your big questions. Welcome to season two! This week, Fred T. asks, "Where did we get the name America?"

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Craig: Hey, I'm Craig "America" Benzine and this is Mental_Floss on YouTube. Today I'm gonna answer Fred T's big question: "Where did we get the name America?" Let's get started.

(Mental_Floss Intro Plays)

So South America was probably the first continent to be called America. The earliest that the tern has been found in print is 1507 when it labeled Brazil on a map. The map was created by two men, Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann. The former was very famous back in those days for Where's Waldseemüller books.

They then published their map in book which stated, "I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part after Americus who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, Amerigen, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women."

The man they're referring to is Amerigo Vespucci, also known as Americus Vespuccus. Vespucci was an Italian who lived from 1454 to 1512 and around the turn of the century he traveled to South America. On that journey, Vespucci crossed the Atlantic and found modern day Rio de Janeiro and Rio de la Plata. Does that mean he traveled through time? No, he found the area where they are.

He also might have spent some time exploring the Amazon River on that expedition. He ended up visiting modern day Brazil around three times in his life. The accounts aren't clear, though, and some say that he went back a couple more times.

Many experts claim that Ringmann was particularly inspired by Vespucci's journeys. The story goes that he read one of Vespucci's writings while working as a proofreader. He was especially intrigued by the journey because Vespucci described crossing the Atlantic, hitting land, then boating along the coastline for thousands of miles. Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun. I'm really intrigued by that.

Ringmann likened this to Virgil's story about a similar land which was to be ruled by Rome. Allegedly this excitement got Ringmann to reach out to Waldseemüller, then they printed 1,000 copies of their infamous map that named America, and by the mid 16th century, the name was commonly used in maps. Eventually, map-makers started differentiating between North America and South America.

It's worth mentioning that there's another claimant besides Vespucci, Richard Americk. Old Richard Americk was a customs officer living in Bristol and he may have helped finance John Cabat's exposition that discovered North America for the English. The believers of this hypothesis make an interesting point, places are usually named after last names as opposed to first names like Amerigo, but there's basically no other evidence to support the story. So shut up!

The name America was controversial for a while by the way, because some people believe that the Americas should be called Columba, after Columbo, I mean Christopher Columbus, since he discovered it. Of course, we all know now that this is totally ridiculous since none of these were true "discoveries" as there were non-Europeans here all along. I think Columbo figured that out.

As for the United States, for a while it was known as the United Colonies, it was merely just a region within what is known as North America, but in 1776 the Continental Congress officially named the country The United States of America. and that's why we today are called USOA.

Thanks for watching Mental_Floss on YouTube, which was made with the help of all of these nice Americans. If you have a big question of your own that you'd like answered, leave it below in the comments. See you next week.

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