List of continent name etymologies

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This is a list of the etymologies of continent names as they are currently found on earth.

Africa[edit]

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, which 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.

America[edit]

There are two competing theories for the naming of America.

The first is that the continent was 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 Vespucci'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.

One antique map shows the continent labelled "North America or Mexicana" and "South America or Peruana".

An alternative theory was proposed by the local Bristol antiquarian Alfred Hudd first proposed the theory that the word America had evolved from Amerike or ap Meryk, based on a lost manuscript which he claimed to have seen. Alfred Hudd was an aristocrat who belonged to the Clifton Antiquarian Club of Bristol, founded in 1884 to arrange meetings and excursions for the study of objects of archaeological interest in the West of England and South Wales. He also collected butterflies, was a naturalist and member of the Bristol Naturalists' Society.

Hudd proposed that the word "America" was originally applied to a destination across the western ocean, possibly an island or a fishing station in Newfoundland. After the king of Denmark and ruler of Iceland had cut off trade for fish, England sent out expeditions to find new sources. Hudd suggested Amerike's sponsorship made his name known in Bristol in association with the North American destinations prior to other mapmaking or voyages. The writer Jonathan Cohen noted he made a conjectural leap to reach that conclusion, and no extant evidence supports it.[1] In the 21st century, the scholar John Davies briefly mentioned the story as a kind of Welsh patriot piece.[2]

However, the traditionally accepted person attributed to the naming is Amerigo Vespucci, although few facts exist to support this theory.[citation needed]

Antarctica[edit]

Originally from Greek antarktikos (ανταρκτικός), from anti (αντί) + arktikos (αρκτικός) "Arctic". Literally "opposite to the Arctic (opposite to the North)".[3][4][5] Arktikos comes from Arktos, the Greek name for the constellation of the Great Bear Ursa Major, visible only in the Northern Hemisphere, which comes from the ancient Greek word ἄρκτος [ˈarktos], which means bear.[6]

Asia[edit]

The word Asia originated from the Ancient Greek word "Ἀσία",[7] first attributed to Herodotus (about 440 BCE) in reference to Anatolia or to the Persian Empire, in contrast to Greece and Egypt. It originally was just a name for the east bank of the Aegean Sea, an area known to the Hittites as Assuwa. In early Classical times, the Greeks started using the term "Asia" to refer to the whole region known today as Anatolia (the peninsula which forms the Asian portion of present-day Turkey). Eventually, however, the name had been stretched progressively further east, until it came to encompass the much larger land area with which we associate it today, while the Anatolian Peninsula started being called "Asia Minor" or "The Lesser Asia" instead.

The deeper root of the etymology can only be guessed at. The following two possibilities have been suggested:

  • It could have originated from the Aegean root "Asis" which means "muddy and silty" as a description of the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea.
  • It could derive from the borrowed Semitic root "Asu", which means varyingly "rising" or "light", of course a directional referring to the sunrise, Asia thus meaning 'Eastern Land'.

However, since the Greek name Asia (Ασία) is in all likelihood related to Hittite Assuwa, the etymology of one has to account for the other as well.

Personified in Greek mythology by the deity of the same name.

Australia[edit]

"Southern Land" in New Latin, adapted from the legendary pseudo-geographical Terra Australis Incognita ("Unknown Southern Land") dating back to the Roman era. First appearing as a corruption of the Spanish name for an island in Vanuatu in 1625,[8] "Australia" was slowly popularized following the advocacy of the British explorer Matthew Flinders in his 1814 description of his circumnavigation of the island.[9] Lachlan Macquarie, a Governor of New South Wales, used the word in his dispatches to England and recommended it be formally adopted by the Colonial Office in 1817.[10] The Admiralty agreed seven years later and the continent became officially known as Australia in 1824.[11]

Europe[edit]

The name Europe comes from the Latin: Europa, which in turn derives from the Greek: Εὐρώπη, from eurys "wide" and ops "face"[12][13]
(PIE *wer-, "broad" *okw-, "eye").
In Greek mythology Europa was the beautiful daughter of a Phoenician king named Agenor, or Phoenix. As Zeus saw her, he transformed himself into a gentle white bull and approached her and her playing friends. She climbed onto the bull's back and it began to swim off to Crete, where she fell in love with the then-changed-back Zeus and had three sons with him (Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon, the first two of which constitute, together with Aeacus, the three judges of the underworld).

A less likely possibility proposed by Ernest Klein is that it derives from the ancient Sumerian and Semitic root "Ereb", which carries the meaning of "darkness" or "descent", a reference to the region's western location in relation to Mesopotamia, the Levantine Coast, Anatolia, and the Bosporus. Thus the term would have meant the 'land of the setting of the Sun' or, more generically, 'Western land'.

The term Europe referred once to only a small land area, roughly that part of Thrace that is now part of Turkey[citation needed]. Through the centuries however, it came to denote the whole land mass with which we are familiar today.

Oceania[edit]

From the English word ocean for 'a large body of water'. It is ultimately derived from Greek Ωκεανός (Okeanos),[14][15] the great river or sea surrounding the disk of the Earth. Personified, in Greek Mythology, as Oceanus, son of Uranus and Gaia and husband of Tethys.

The Danish geographer Conrad Malte-Brun introduced the term 'Oceania' for the islands of the Pacific Ocean in the 19th century. Later Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand were added.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jonathan Cohen, "The naming of America: fragments we've shored against ourselves", early version appeared in American Voices, 1998; this version at his website at Stony Brook University, accessed 10 july 2011
  2. ^ John Davies (2001). "Wales and America". North American Journal of Welsh Studies, Vol. 1, Volume 1, Number 1-2, (Winter-Summer). p. 12. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  3. ^ http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O27-Antarctic.html
  4. ^ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=antarctic&searchmode=none
  5. ^ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=anti-
  6. ^ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=arctic&searchmode=none
  7. ^ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=asia
  8. ^ Purchas, Samuel. "A note of Australia del Espíritu Santo, written by Master Hakluyt", in Hakluytus Posthumus, Vol. IV, pp. 1422-1432. 1625.
  9. ^ Flinders, Matthew. A Voyage to Terra Australis. 1814.
  10. ^ Letter of 12 December 1817. Op. cit. Weekend Australian, 30–31 December 2000, p. 16.
  11. ^ Department of Immigration and Citizenship (2007). Life in Australia (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-921446-30-6. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 
  12. ^ http://www.behindthename.com/name/europa
  13. ^ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=European
  14. ^ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=ocean&searchmode=none
  15. ^ http://www.behindthename.com/name/ocean

External links[edit]