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It occurred to me recently that I never asked the question, "How did we come to be called the "United States?" No one I spoke to could give me an answer, so though it seemed a simple question, the answer was not easy to locate. The challenge intrigued me and so I set out to find the answer. We are often referred to as the "U.S.A.," "America" or simply the "U.S." The earliest use of the name "America" was on a globe and a large map created by a German cartographer Martin Waidsiemuller in 1507. The most widely speculated explanation is that the word "America" is the feminized version of the Latin name of Amerigo Vespucci. Other continents named in Latin are always feminized. The Americas, called "Columbia" at one time after their discoverer, Christopher Columbus, also influenced the use of "Columbia" as a popular name at one time for the United States, thus prompting the area set aside for our capitol to be in the "District of Columbia." Indeed, "Columbia" remained popular as a name for the United States right up to the 20th century in references to our country as it appeared in newspapers, literature and art. A statue personified as "Columbia" for America is comparative to the use of "Britannia" in England. We first note the use of "the United States of America" in the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and during the second Continental Congress, which noted "the stile of this Confederacy shall be "the United States of America." Who then was responsible for our country's name? Sources seem to agree that it was none other than Thomas Paine who originally proposed that name. He was, after, close to Franklin and Jefferson, who both helped him come to our country. Paine was much admired by these founding fathers. The heading on the Declaration of Independence read: "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America," while later in the text reference was made to "our United Colonies." In the Articles of Confederation, signed in late 1777, the name "The United States Of America " was attributed to our new republic. After many claims concerning the first map to use the term "United States of America," an authority cites that the first printed map of the 13 states to use that terminology was not English, American or French, but one by an Italian cartographer, Antonio Zatta, who published a map titled "le Colonie Unite Dell' America Settentrale" in 1778. Thomas Paine who is credited, it appears, with proposing the term "the United States of America," was born in Norfolk, England and followed a few unsuccessful career paths until he decided to emigrate to the United States with a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin in 1774. "Common Sense," for which he gained fame, had an all important effect on the effort to bring about the Declaration of Independence. He also wrote a series of effective pamphlets titled "The American Crisis" and his writings are credited with an important hopeful and moral effect on the morale of American citizens during the years of the American Revolution. Joan Brown Wettingfeld is a historian and freelance writer
©2007 Community Newspaper Group
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