The Propagation of a Myth

Originally published by Diogenes Research.org

In a recent BBC News posting a famous medieval map was once more marveled at. This is the famous 1507 “Map of America” by the German cartographer Waldseemuller (See http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30840318).

WaldseemullerSouthAmerica

The 1507 Waldseemuller World Map South America

This map is famous on account of it being the first world map to show the name America. It is now virtually accepted The Chinese Origin of ... Chao C. Chien Best Price: $31.45 Buy New $7.94 (as of 05:50 EDT - Details) history that the name was derived from an Italian “explorer” named Amerigo Vespucci who allegedly participated in a couple of trans-Atlantic crossings and visited the northeastern coast of South America in the early 1,500. It is said that he came back to Europe and wrote about his adventures. His writings got so popular that when the German mapmaker Waldseemuller got wind of it he put Vespucci’s name on the new continent in his new map. Note that this happened just about 50 years after Gutenberg “invented” the movable type printing press. It had to be a near miracle that Vespucci’s account circulated so widely when the publishing business was still in its infancy. Aspiring writers today can only dream of such success.

How did the name go from Amerigo to America anyway? Well, it is sort of a convoluted story. Supposedly the name was first Latinized from Amerigo to Americus, with the G changing to a C in the process for some reason. Then, because it was a continent—land, it became female; thus America.

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