Names of the United States

Several names of the United States of America are in common use. Alternatives to the full name include "the United States", the initialisms "the U.S." and "the U.S.A.", and the informal "America"; colloquial names include "the States" and "the U.S. of A."

The American flag, a symbol of the United States of America

It is generally accepted that the name "America" derives from the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci. The term dates back to 1507, when it appeared on a world map created by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, in honor of Vespucci, applied to the land that is now Brazil. The full name "United States of America" was first used during the American Revolutionary War, though its precise origin is a matter of contention.[1] The newly formed union was first known as the "United Colonies", and the earliest known usage of the modern full name dates from a January 2, 1776 letter written between two military officers. The Articles of Confederation, prepared by John Dickinson, and the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, both contain the phrase "United States of America." The name was officially adopted by the second Continental Congress on September 9, 1776.

Etymology edit

Waldseemüller map closeup showing the name "America" placed upon what is nowadays Brazil

America edit

The earliest known use of the name "America" dates to 1505, when German poet Matthias Ringmann used it in a poem about the New World.[2] The word is a Latinized form of the first name of Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who first proposed that the West Indies discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 were part of a previously unknown landmass, rather than the eastern limit of Asia.[3][4][5] On April 25, 1507, the map Universalis Cosmographia, created by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, was published alongside this poem.[2][5] The map uses the label "America" for what is now known as South America. In 1538, the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator used the name "America" on his own world map, applying it to the entire Western Hemisphere.[6]

Alternative theories suggest that "America" derives from the Amerrisque Mountains of Nicaragua,[7] or from the surname of wealthy Anglo-Welsh merchant Richard Amerike.[8]

United States of America edit

The first documentary evidence of the phrase "United States of America" dates from a January 2, 1776, letter written by Stephen Moylan, Esquire, to George Washington's aide-de-camp Joseph Reed. Moylan was fulfilling Reed's role during the latter's absence.[1] Moylan expressed his wish to go "with full and ample powers from the United States of America to Spain" to seek assistance in the Revolutionary War effort.[1][9][10] The first known publication of the phrase "United States of America" was in an anonymous essay in The Virginia Gazette newspaper in Williamsburg, Virginia, on April 6, 1776.[11] It is commonly mistaken that Thomas Paine coined the term in his pamphlet Common Sense, published in January 1776, but he never used the final form.[1][a]

The second draft of the Articles of Confederation, prepared by John Dickinson and completed no later than June 17, 1776, declared "The name of this Confederation shall be the 'United States of America'."[12] The final version of the Articles, sent to the states for ratification in late 1777, stated that "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The United States of America'."[13] In June 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" in all capitalized letters in the headline of his "original Rough draught"[b] of the Declaration of Independence. This draft of the document did not surface until June 21, 1776, and it is unclear whether it was written before or after Dickinson used the term in his June 17 draft of the Articles of Confederation.[12] In any case, the Declaration of Independence was the first official document to use the nation's new title.[1]

History edit

In the early days of the American Revolution, the colonies as a unit were most commonly referred to as the "United Colonies". For example, president of the Continental Congress Richard Henry Lee wrote in a June 7, 1776 resolution: "These United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be, free and independent States."[14] Before 1776, names for the colonies varied significantly; they included "Twelve United English Colonies of North America", "United Colonies of North America", and others.[15] On September 9, 1776, the Second Continental Congress officially changed the nation's name to the "United States of America".[14][16]

In the first few years of the United States, however, there remained some discrepancies of usage. In the Treaty of Alliance (1778) with France, the term "United States of North America" was used. In accordance with this usage, when the Congress was drawing bills of exchange for French commissioners on May 19, 1778, they decided to use this term.[17] President of the Continental Congress Henry Laurens even wrote that "Congress have adopted the Stile of the Treaties of Paris, 'the United States of North America'." Congress, however, reconsidered this change on July 11, 1778 and resolved to drop "North" from the bills of exchange, making them consistent with the name adopted in 1776.[15][18]

Propaganda artwork of Uncle Sam, the national personification of America; his name originated from the colloquial term U.S.

Since the Articles of Confederation, the concept of a Perpetual Union between the states has existed, and "Union" has become synonymous with "United States".[19] This usage was especially prevalent during the Civil War, when it referred specifically to the loyalist northern states which remained part of the federal union.[20]

The term "America" was less commonly used in the United States before the 1890s, and rarely used by presidents before Theodore Roosevelt. It does not appear in patriotic songs composed during the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth centuries, including "The Star-Spangled Banner", "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic"; it is used in "America the Beautiful" of 1895 and is common in twentieth-century songs like "God Bless America".[21] The name "Columbia", popular in American poetry and songs of the late eighteenth century, derives its origin from Christopher Columbus. Many landmarks and institutions in the Western Hemisphere bear his name, including the country of Colombia and the District of Columbia.[22]

Circa 1810, the term Uncle Sam was "a cant term in the army for the United States," according to an 1810 edition Niles' Weekly Register.[23] Uncle Sam is now known as a national personification of the United States.

Usage as a singular noun edit

The headline of Foster's column

The phrase "United States" was originally plural, a description of a collection of independent states—e.g., "the United States are"—including in the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865.[24][25] The singular form became popular after the end of the Civil War, and is now standard.[26] However, the plural form is retained in the idiom "these United States".[27] The difference is more significant than usage; it is a difference between a collection of states and a unit.[26]

The transition from plural to singular was gradual.[25] In a May 4, 1901, column in the New York Times titled "ARE OR IS? Whether a Plural or Singular Verb Goes With the Words United States", former Secretary of State John W. Foster noted that early statesmen such as Alexander Hamilton and Daniel Webster had used the singular form, as well as the Treaty of Paris (1898) and Hay–Pauncefote Treaty of 1900; conversely, most Supreme Court decisions still used the plural form. He concludes that "since the civil war the tendency has been towards [singular] use."[28] Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania found that, in the corpus of Supreme Court opinions, the transition to singular usage occurred in the early 1900s.[29] Among English-language books, the transition happened earlier, around 1880.[30]

Usage edit

The name "United States" is unambiguous; "United States of America" may be used in titles or when extra formality is desired. However, "United States" and "U.S." may be used adjectivally, while the full name cannot.[31] English usage of "America" rarely refers to topics unrelated to the United States, despite the usage of "Americas" as the totality of North and South America.[32] Colloquial names include the "U.S. of A." and, internationally, "the States". Even more informal names include "Murica" and "Merica", which imply a jocular and sometimes derogatory tone.[33]

The official U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual prescribes specific usages for "U.S." and "United States". In treaties, congressional bills, etc.,[c] "United States" is always used. In a sentence containing the name of another country, "United States" must be used. Otherwise, "U.S." is used preceding a government organization or as an adjective, but "United States" is used as an adjective preceding non-governmental organizations (e.g. United States Steel Corporation).[34]

Style guides conflict over how various names for the United States should be used. The Chicago Manual of Style, until the 17th edition, required "US" and "U.S." to be used as an adjective; it now permits the usage of both as a noun,[35][36] though "United States" is still preferred in this case.[37] The Associated Press Stylebook permits the usage of "US" and "U.S." as both adjectives and nouns, though "US" (without the periods) is only allowed in headlines. APA Style, in contrast, only allows "U.S." to be used as an adjective, and disallows "US".[38]

Other languages edit

In Spanish, the U.S. is known as Estados Unidos de América (abbreviated EE. UU.[39]), literally "United States of America." The Americas are known simply as América.[40] Spanish uses estadounidense and americano for the adjectival form, with the latter being mostly proscribed.[41][42] In Burmese, the United States of America is known as အမေရိကန်ပြည်ထောင်စု (amerikan pyedaungsu), literally "American Union."[43] In Hindi, the United States of America is translated to अमेरिका के संयुक्त राज्य (amērikā kē saṁyukta rājya).[44] In Kannada, the United States is known as ಅಮೆರಿಕದ ಸಂಯುಕ್ತ ಸಂಸ್ಥಾನ (amerikada saṁyukta saṁsthāna), literally "America's Union of States".[45] In Esperanto, the United States of America is known as "Usono", borrowing from English Usonia.

Names in the East Asian cultural sphere edit

The U.S. flag was brought to the city of Canton (Guǎngzhōu) in China in 1784 by the merchant ship Empress of China, which carried a cargo of ginseng.[46] There it gained the designation "Flower Flag" (Chinese: 花旗; pinyin: huāqí; Cantonese Yale: fākeì).[47] According to a pseudonymous account first published in the Boston Courier and later retold by author and U.S. naval officer George H. Preble:

When the thirteen stripes and stars first appeared at Canton, much curiosity was excited among the people. News was circulated that a strange ship had arrived from the further end of the world, bearing a flag "as beautiful as a flower". Every body went to see the kwa kee chuen [花旗船; Fākeìsyùhn], or "flower flagship". This name at once established itself in the language, and America is now called the kwa kee kwoh [花旗國; Fākeìgwok], the "flower flag country"—and an American, kwa kee kwoh yin [花旗國人; Fākeìgwokyàhn]—"flower flag countryman"—a more complimentary designation than that of "red headed barbarian"—the name first bestowed upon the Dutch.[48][49]

In the above quote, the Chinese words are written phonetically based on spoken Cantonese. The names given were common usage in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[50]

The modern standard Chinese name for the United States is Měiguó from Mandarin (simplified Chinese: 美国; traditional Chinese: 美國). Měi is short for Měilìjiān (simplified Chinese: 美利坚; traditional Chinese: 美利堅, phono-semantic matching of "American") or Yàměilìjiā (simplified Chinese: 亚美利加; traditional Chinese: 亞美利加, "America"), and guó means "country". The Americas are known as Měizhōu (Chinese: 美洲), with the same etymology.[51] This name is unrelated to the flag. However, the "flower flag" terminology persists in some places today: for example, American ginseng is called flower flag ginseng (花旗参; 花旗參) in Chinese, and Citibank, which opened a branch in China in 1902, is known as Flower Flag Bank (花旗银行).[50]

Similarly, Vietnamese also uses the borrowed term from Chinese with Sino-Vietnamese reading for the United States, as Hoa Kỳ from 花旗 ("Flower Flag"). Even though the United States is also called nước Mỹ (or simpler Mỹ) colloquially in Vietnamese before the name Měiguó was popular amongst Chinese, Hoa Kỳ is always recognized as the formal name for the United States with the Vietnamese state officially designates it as Hợp chúng quốc Hoa Kỳ (chữ Hán: 合眾國 花旗, lit.'United states of the Flower Flag').[52] By that, in Vietnam, the U.S. is also nicknamed xứ Cờ Hoa ("land of Flower Flag") based on the Hoa Kỳ designation.[53]

In Japanese, the U.S. is known as Amerika (アメリカ) in speech or sometimes as Beikoku (米国) in formal writing, borrowing from Chinese.[citation needed] In Korean, the U.S. is known as Miguk (Korean미국; Hanja美國, 米國),[54] which has been suggested as the etymology for the ethnic slur gook.[55]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ Paine used the terms "United Colonies", "American states", and "FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES OF AMERICA", but never "United States of America".[1]
  2. ^ "Draught" is the British spelling of "draft".
  3. ^ The full list is: "formal writing (treaties, Executive orders, proclamations, etc.); congressional bills; legal citations and courtwork; and covers and title pages."[34]

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f DeLear, Byron (July 4, 2013) Who coined 'United States of America'? Mystery might have intriguing answer.
  2. ^ a b Laubenberger, Franz; Rowan, Steven (1982). "The Naming of America". Sixteenth Century Journal. 13 (4): 92. doi:10.2307/2540012. JSTOR 2540012.
  3. ^ Sider, Sandra (2007). Handbook to Life in Renaissance Europe. Oxford University Press. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-19-533084-7.
  4. ^ Szalay, Jessie (September 20, 2017). "Amerigo Vespucci: Facts, Biography & Naming of America". Live Science. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Allen, Erin (4 July 2016). "How Did America Get Its Name?". Library of Congress Blog. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  6. ^ Jonathan Cohen. "The Naming of America: Fragments We've Shored Against Ourselves". Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  7. ^ Rea, Joy (February 1964). "On the Naming of America". American Speech. 39 (1): 42–50. doi:10.2307/453925. JSTOR 453925.
  8. ^ Macdonald, Peter (17 February 2011). "BBC History in Depth; The Naming of America; Richard Amerike". BBC. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  9. ^ Touba, Mariam (November 5, 2014) Who Coined the Phrase 'United States of America'? You May Never Guess "Here, on January 2, 1776... Stephen Moylan, an acting secretary to General George Washington, spells it out, 'I should like vastly to go with full and ample powers from the United States of America to Spain' to seek foreign assistance for the cause." New-York Historical Society Museum & Library
  10. ^ Fay, John (July 15, 2016) The forgotten Irishman who named the 'United States of America' "According to the NY Historical Society, Stephen Moylan was the man responsible for the earliest documented use of the phrase 'United States of America'."
  11. ^ ""To the inhabitants of Virginia", by A PLANTER. Dixon and Hunter's. April 6, 1776, Williamsburg, Virginia. Letter is also included in Peter Force's American Archives". The Virginia Gazette. Vol. 5, no. 1287. Archived from the original on December 19, 2014.
  12. ^ a b Safire, William (2003). No Uncertain Terms: More Writing from the Popular "On Language" Column in The New York Times Magazine. Simon and Schuster. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-7432-4955-3.
  13. ^ Mostert, Mary (2005). The Threat of Anarchy Leads to the Constitution of the United States. CTR Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-0-9753851-4-2.
  14. ^ a b Glass, Andrew (September 9, 2014). "Continental Congress names the United States, Sept. 9, 1776". Politico. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  15. ^ a b Burnett, Edmund C. (1925). "The Name "United States of America"". The American Historical Review. 31 (1): 79–81. doi:10.2307/1904503. ISSN 0002-8762. JSTOR 1904503. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  16. ^ Adams, John (September 9, 1776). Autobiography of John Adams.
  17. ^ "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875".
  18. ^ "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875". Resolved, That the resolutions of Congress of the 19 May last, relative to bills of exchange... that the word 'North,' preceding the word 'America,' be omitted in the form of the bills...
  19. ^ "Articles of Confederation (1777)". National Archives. 2021-04-09. Retrieved 2022-06-04.
  20. ^ Detweiler, Robert; Stampp, Kenneth M. (February 1981). "The Imperiled Union: Essays on the Background of the Civil War". The History Teacher. 14 (2): 276. doi:10.2307/493285. ISSN 0018-2745. JSTOR 493285.
  21. ^ Historian Daniel Immerwahr, speaking on Becoming America – NPR Throughline Podcast
  22. ^ Brokenshire, Brad (1993). Washington State Place Names. Caxton Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-87004-562-2.
  23. ^ Niles' Weekly Register. Vol. 7. Franklin Press, Baltimore. 1815. p. 187.
  24. ^ Greg, Percy (1892). History of the United States from the Foundation of Virginia to the Reconstruction of the Union. West, Johnston & Company. p. 276.
  25. ^ a b c Zimmer, Benjamin. "Language Log: Life in these, uh, this United States". Retrieved 3 September 2020. Indeed, not only does the Constitution consistently use the plural construct, but so do official texts in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War — as with the pronominal anaphora used in the 13th Amendment
  26. ^ a b G. H. Emerson, The Universalist Quarterly and General Review, Vol. 28 (January 1891), p. 49, quoted in[25]
  27. ^ Burt, Andrew (13 May 2013). "'These United States': How Obama's Vocal Tic Reveals a Polarized America". The Atlantic. Retrieved 7 September 2020.
  28. ^ Foster, John Watson (May 4, 1901). "ARE OR IS? Whether a Plural or a Singular Verb Goes With the Words United States". The New York Times. p. 23. Retrieved 3 September 2020. Among statesmen who have used the singular form may be cited Hamiltion, Webster.... The decisions of the Supreme Court... rarely show the use of the singular.... in the peace treaty with Spain of 1898, the term... is uniformly treated in the singular.... The Hay-Paunce-fote canal treaty of 1900... also treats 'United States' as a singular noun.
  29. ^ Liberman, Mark. "When did the Supreme Court make us an 'is'?". Language Log. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  30. ^ Aiden, Erez; Michel, Jean-Baptiste (2014). Uncharted: big data as a lens on human culture. New York: Penguin. p. 4. ISBN 978-1594487453. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  31. ^ "Is USA A Noun Or Adjective?". 9 March 2017.
  32. ^ Wilson, Kenneth G. (1993). The Columbia guide to standard American English. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-06989-2.
  33. ^ "Merica". Unabridged (Online). n.d.
  34. ^ a b U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual. January 12, 2017. pp. 222–223. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  35. ^ "You Could Look it Up". The Chicago Manual of Style Online. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  36. ^ "10.4". The Chicago Manual of Style (Seventeenth ed.). Chicago. 2017. ISBN 978-0-226-28705-8. Retrieved 3 September 2020.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  37. ^ The Chicago Manual of Style (Seventeenth ed.). Chicago. 2017. Retrieved 6 September 2020.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  38. ^ "APA Abbreviations // Purdue Writing Lab". Purdue Writing Lab. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  39. ^ Erichsen, Gerald (May 24, 2019). "Why Spanish Uses 'EE. UU.' as the Abbreviation for 'United States'". Thought Co. Retrieved 9 April 2024.
  40. ^ "Spanish Translation of 'America'". Collins English-Spanish Dictionary. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  41. ^ "English Translation of "estadounidense" | Collins Spanish-English Dictionary". Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  42. ^ ASALE, RAE-; RAE. "americano, americana | Diccionario de la lengua española". «Diccionario de la lengua española» - Edición del Tricentenario (in Spanish). Retrieved 2021-09-15.
  43. ^ "BurmeseTranslation of 'America'". MYORDBOK English-Burmese Dictionary. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  44. ^ Caturvedi, Mahendra (1970). A practical Hindi-English dictionary. Delhi: National Publishing House. p. 40. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  45. ^ "ಅಮೆರಿಕದ ಸಂಯುಕ್ತ ಸಂಸ್ಥಾನಕ್ಕೆ ಪ್ರಧಾನಿ ನರೇಂದ್ರ ಮೋದಿ ಭೇಟಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟ ಸಂದರ್ಭದಲ್ಲಿ ಬಿಡುಗಡೆ ಮಾಡಲಾದ ಜಂಟಿ ಹೇಳಿಕೆ (ಅಮೆರಿಕ-ಭಾರತ: 21ನೆಯ ಶತಮಾನದ ಚಿರಕಾಲದ ಸಹಭಾಗಿಗಳು) ಜೂನ್ 7, 2016", ಪಿಎಂಇಂಡಿಯಾ (in Kannada), 2016-06-07, retrieved 2023-05-22
  46. ^ Preble, George Henry (1880). History of the Flag of the United States of America (second revised ed.). Boston: A. Williams and Co. p. 298.
  47. ^ March, Eva (1917). The Little Book of the Flag. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 92.
  48. ^ "Curiosa Sinica". Boston Courier. June 15, 1843.
  49. ^ "Chinese Etymologies". Kendall's Expositor. Vol. 3, no. 14. Washington, D.C.: William Greer. June 27, 1843. p. 222 – via Google Books.
  50. ^ a b See Chinese English Dictionary Archived April 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
    Olsen, Kay Melchisedech, Chinese Immigrants: 1850–1900 (2001), p. 7.
    "Philadelphia's Chinatown: An Overview Archived June 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine", The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
    Leonard, George, "The Beginnings of Chinese Literature in America: the Angel Island Poems". [dead link]
  51. ^ 汉英词典 [A Chinese–English Dictionary]. Beijing: 商务印书馆 (Commercial Press). 1981. p. 463.
  52. ^ Phương Lan (2007-07-10). "Bộ Ngoại giao: Đề nghị thống nhất sử dụng tên gọi "Hợp chúng quốc Hoa Kỳ"" [Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Request to unify the use of the name "Hợp chúng quốc Hoa Kỳ"]. Viet Nam Government Portal (in Vietnamese). Government of Vietnam. Retrieved 2023-09-14.
  53. ^ Đ, N.C.T. "Xứ Cờ Hoa" [Land of Flag Flower?]. Đà Nẵng Online (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 2023-09-14.
  54. ^ "미국". 국립국어원 표준국어대사전. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
  55. ^ Trans-Pacific Relations: America, Europe, and Asia in the Twentieth Century. Praeger. 2003. p. 117. ISBN 9780275977146.