As schoolchildren, we all learn that America got its name from the great explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. This is true, but let's go a little more in-depth. In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller made a famous map of what was believed to be the Americas (it's great, check it out). Since he was the first guy to chart this, he needed a name for it, and he labeled it after a Latinized version of Vespucci's name. Amerigo, the name in question, is Germanic, and derives from the Gothic name Amalrich, which meant "work-ruler" and also gave us the more common first names of Amelia and possibly Emily (though the latter has Latin roots as well). The word American, describing at first those who were natives of North America and now just means anyone from the USA, comes from Americanus, which was a Latin word invented in the sixteenth century (a notable occurrence). This origin was especially ironic in the 1960s to 80s, where anti-communist fervor gripped the nation that was named after a pretty comunistic thing.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.