A challenge to this long-accepted view was made by Rodney Broome in The True
Story of How America Got Its Name (MJF Books, 2001). According to Broome, “America” most probably is derived from the name of Richard Amerike, a wealthy merchant of Bristol, England, who helped fund English explorations in the New World/ North American mainland in the late 1400s. Broome cites records which indicate that Bristol ships visited Newfoundland to obtain fish from the Grand Banks at least twelve years before Columbus sailed to the Caribbean. “A letter discovered in 1955 in the Spanish National Archives…established that Bristol merchant ships had sailed to America considerably earlier than Columbus had…” Broome writes (p. 107). The letter was written in Spanish by Johan Day, a Bristol merchant, to Christopher Columbus in 1497 or 1498.
Broome contends that Martin Waldseemueller’s attribution of the name America to Amerigo Vespucci was a mistake which Waldseemueller admitted and tried to correct by removing the name America and reference to Amerigo Vespucci from later editions of his map.
As for Amerike, he sponsored John Cabot’s 1497 voyage to North America, a territory which Cabot (a Venetian mariner whose real name was Giovanni Caboto) knew of even before Columbus made his initial voyage. It was customary for explorers to name new lands after their financial sponsors and Cabot, Broome says, promised Amerike to do just that, although he later reneged on the agreement, calling his discovery Newfoundland. But seafaring people around Bristol, Broome contends, were aware of Amerike’s role in Cabot’s visit to North America before Columbus ever set foot on Hispaniola.
Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean
Thus, Columbus was deprived of the great honor of having his name given to the new world he had discovered. However, in the early days of our nation, there was much sentiment in favor of calling it Columbia in honor of Columbus. A popular song expresses the sentiment: “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.” Likewise, Joseph Hopkinson’s poem “Hail, Columbia” names our land as such, and our nation’s capital, Washington, is located not in any state but in the District of Columbia. Cities such as Columbus, Ohio, and Columbia, South Carolina, honor Columbus, as does the university named Columbia. The first space shuttle was the Columbia.