There’s little evidence to show America was called differently before its current name. We know native Americans called themselves differently but they never were united under one single name, identity, or even language.
The interesting part about America is that we might not know too much about it before its discovery but we know everything about it after its discovery. Many explorers and merchants made it here before the continent was even on the map.
Columbus vs. Amerigo – the story of America
Cristopher Columbus was the first explorer to discover America. He was looking for a new path towards Asia and he wasn’t sure or he had no proof of just the size of the continent he stumbled upon. But the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci also found America. The difference is that he wrote about his journeys frequently. European publications and word of mouth quickly traveled through his writing. This is why America was named after him and not Columbus.
It was a German cartographer that adapted his name of Amerigo to the Latin version of America and this was the first map called Universalis Cosmographia of the world that also incorporated America under this name.
Much of that period was dominated by manually copying books and maps. This is why many others copied his map and so the widespread name of America became even more popular and it established the name of the continent internationally.
How early cartographers saw America
You can check out the map of Universalis Cosmographia at the Library of Congress in Washington today to see how early cartographers saw America. Both North America and South America are present on this map.
But since these territories were only explored on their Eastern side, they appear much smaller in reality than they are. It’s not that the early explorers did not map the territory correctly, it’s that they haven’t yet traveled these new lands completely. Other continents are quite accurately mapped out on this historic document.
Europe is mapped out correctly. Even Africa appears properly on the map. This was due to its trade route to India as many sailors and explorers used to go around Africa to reach India. Parts of Asia also appear correctly on the map.
America was too large to explore
But America was too large to explore and mapped correctly within a few years. Since then, the continent might have been called differently by some explorers. Even early explorers called it India at a given time.
But America has little to no written documents about its early history and the true name of the land remains unknown. Anyone looking at early maps from the 16th century knows how distinct they are from each other and even confusing at times. But it was Vespucci that realized this land is not India nor Asia. He called America the New World and this name also remains to this day. Many of the immigrants leaving to the Americas say they are moving to the New World, which is an alternative popular name for the fascinating continent.