ORIGIN OF THE NAME AMERICA
Calvin I. Kephart M.M.
As Americans, I wonder how many of us really know the origin of the name "America". The assertion that it came from the forename of an Italian navigator, Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512), is only the end of the story and not its beginning.
For centuries prior to the Christian era, the powerful nation of the Goths (or Getae), a Nordic people, inhabited the region now known as the Ukraine, north and northwest of the Black Sea, including the valleys along the lower Danube River. During the reign of Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81–96), of the Roman Empire, the Goths, in fear of treachery on his part, broke a long truce and attacked and defeated the Roman forces on the lower Danube. Oppius Sabinus was then the Roman Governor and Dorpaneus (Dekebalus) was the Gothic king in Dacia. A larger Roman army was then sent forward, but it, too, was defeated. So overwhelming were these successive Gothic victories and so well handled were some later reverses suffered at the hands of the Roman Emperor Trajan that the leaders were deified by the people and their descendants became the ruling family of the Gothic nation.
The first of these heroes was named Gaut, followed in successive generations by Hulmul, Augis, and Amal. Apparently by Amal's time the kingship of the Gothic nation had become hereditary in this family, for it is by his name that the renowned Amal family has come down in history. When the Visigoths withdrew from the nation in A.D. 476 upon the invasion of Europe by the Mongolian Huns, the Amali continued to furnish the kings and other leaders for the Ostrogothic nation, even after the latter had broken away from the defeated Huns and had settled in Italy, until the extinction of the male line of Theodoric the Great.
Now, which is more important to us, it happens that this name Amal is also the origin of the name America, as applied to the Western Hemisphere. Used by admirers in the same way that American children are named for Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and other great Americans, the form became literally Amalric (from Amalric), meaning literally the "mighty Amal" and figuratively, as later used, "all-conquering leadership (or service)." When the Ostrogoths overran Italy, it became Amalrico, which was softened in the Italian patois to Amerigo. Then, upon the proposal of Waldseemulller, a German geographer who relied on Vespucci's assertions of his discovery of the Western Hemisphere, the forename of the latter, Amerigo (or Americus in Latin), gradually came to be used on maps of the new world in feminine form (America), as grammatically applied to land.
The Goths, with the Germans, Kimmerians, and others, constituted the ancient liberty-loving nations of northern Europe who resisted the advances of the Roman Empire in their directions and from which peoples we are largely descended. It is not too much to say that to their success in withstanding the despotic Romans we may attribute our existence as a self-governing people today. Thus, it is quite auspicious as well as inspiring that the name of such a noble leader of the Goths should now be applied to the hemisphere of which our country is a part. The name of Amal might well enter our history books as representing a worthy antecessor of our own immortal Washington, who likewise demonstrated "all-conquering leadership (or service)."
Because, by a curious chain of circumstances, geographers gave his name to the New World, Amerigo Vespucci for centuries was accused of "stealing" credit for its discovery. In reality, he died believing that he had explored a "Mundus Novus," a new land far distant from the portion of the globe discovered by Columbus, which that worthy navigator and all of his contempories considered merely new shores of the already known continent of Asia.