How The 7 Continents Got Their Names

Learn the background stories of how the continents were named.

I'm putting together this series of articles because I've always been fascinated with the little stories about: 'How Things Got Their Names'.

I believe it should be more common to know these little stories. The truth is that most of us, myself included, are all too often guilty of neglecting to learn even the simplest historical tidbits about our world. So, I've decided to write a series of short articles on the topic of how different places came to be named. 

Africa

Although several conflicting etymological theories exist, it is commonly believed that the name Afri was originally a name given to several peoples who dwelt in North Africa near Carthage. Under Roman rule, Carthage became the capital of Africa Province. The Roman suffix "-ca" denotes country or land. (source)

Europe

In ancient Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenician princess whom Zeus abducted. He took her to the island of Crete. So, For Homer, Europe was a mythological queen of Crete, not a geographical designation. Later, Europa came to stand for central-north Greece. By 500 BC its meaning had been extended to the lands to the north and eventually came to designate the whole of the continent.

On a sidenote, most major world languages actually use words derived from Europa to refer to the continent. (source)

Asia

The word Asia originated from Greek, and was first attributed to Herodotus (about 440 BC) in order to contrast the Persian Empire to Greece and Egypt. In Greek mythology, "Asia" (?σ?α) or "Asie" (?σ?η) was the name of a Nymph or Titan goddess of Lydia. (source)

Australasia 

The term was coined by Charles de Brosses in Histoire des navigations aux terres australes (1756). He derived it from the Latin for south of Asia and differentiated the area from Polynesia to the east and the southeast Pacific. (source)

North and South America

The name America is generally believed to have derived from the first name of the famous Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci. Although there is much controversy over the specifics of Vespucci's accomplishments, he is considered to be the first person to demonstrate that the New World was not actually part of Asia but a previously unknown fourth continent. (source)

Antarctica

First documented use of the name Antarctica as a continental name came in the 1890s and is attributed to the Scottish cartographer John George Bartholomew. The name Antarctica is the romanized version of the Greek compound word ανταρκτικ? (antarktiké), feminine of ανταρκτικ?ς (antarktikos), meaning opposite to the north. (source)

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