How the United States re-branded as "America"

Originally published at:


The United States of America is the only country in the world that has the word “America” in its name. It is NOT the only country that has the words “The,” “United,” “States” or “of.”

If you’re going to shorten the name to a single word then that’s the abbreviation that makes sense.


I do wonder if the term caught on first from within or without. When I moved to Europe in the early 1980s, I was struck by how the country was referred to as “America”, because up to that point I hadn’t heard it referred to as such that often back home, except in patriotic songs like “America the Beautiful”.


Thank you.

So, I’m a professional historian and have written several books and articles. I hold a faculty appointment at an American university. I say that as a preface to the fact that in my digging through various documents from the 1790s, written by Spanish officials and maintained in Spanish archives in Seville and Havana, I have seen the USA referred to as “America” and USAns referred to “Americans” as early as 1793. So, this dates to the beginning of the country, and predates any other country’s founding in North or South America.


A related shift in usage, that took place about the same time, was the change from construing the United States from plural to singular. Prior to the late 19th Century, people would consistently say and write ‘the United States ARE…’, rather than ‘the United States IS…’ The plural nowadays survives, for the most place, only in phrases like ‘life in these United States.’

I’d reckon that for the first couple of generations of the Republic, people identified more locally - a New Hampshireman[1] or a Rhode Islander or a Georgian. Placing the national identity first was a long time in coming. The change from ‘are’ to is’ reflects the change in identity from a loose union to a nation.

As far as I know, though, identifying the inhabitants of the region as ‘American’ predates the Union, although it certainly postdates the early settlement. One of my ancestors who signed the Hempstead Patent in 1641 was identified therein as ‘Henry Pearsall, of Virginia’ even though he lived in what is now New York. To the English-speaking world at the time, all of British North America was Virginia!

[1] I’m not trying to be less than inclusive here - I’m speaking of a historical period in which the non-inclusive term enjoyed currency. I’ve no desire to return to that time.


Depending on where he was in New York, it may have been Virginia. In the 1640s western New York was part of the Virginia charter. From a European perspective, eastern New York was controlled by the Dutch up until 1664. So if he was an easterner, calling it “Virginia” might have been a way of asserting some control in a contested area.


Great stuff!



This was Town of Hempstead, Long Island. Dutch governor Peter Kieft granted the Hempstead Patent to fifty families wishing to found an English town in the Dutch colony.

There’s another famous Freedonia:



I agree that it’s an abbreviation that makes sense. But it’s still interesting to study the history of its usage.


The acronym for United States of America is USA.
An abbreviation would be UniStaAme or something similar.
The more logical name for the country would be United States of North America (USNA). Everything else apart from the 49 states (Alaska included) are bona fide colonies.
Since America is a vast continent with two main landmasses, and a whole lot of islands, I never use the word ‘American’ when referring to a citizen of the USA, whether ‘legal’ or not.
Since my native language is not English, I always use the French word “États-Unien” and I could not give a single damn if that is offensive to some. The USA are not even 10 % of the World’s population. I’ll use ‘American’ when the USA uses the metric system…


Friends of mine were doing the NY Times crossword the other day and got stumped. Four letter word “Where the sun rises on America”, something-U-something-M. Nobody knew it! I smirked as they all pulled out their phones looking for some city on the EC or some remote town on the Alaskan peninsula.

One of them asks if I knew and I gave them the answer. In all honesty it’s because my daughter and I have been checking our quarters trying to get one of each with the new backs. We still need American Samoa and Guam :slight_smile:

edit spelling.


OK, well, good luck to you there.


Guam and the Mariana Islands should be an independent nation. American Samoa is an aberration. Puerto Rico should also be independent. As the Virgin Islands.


Canada, baby. Canada.


What do you call Mexico/Mexicans (in English)?

1 Like

Unfortunately, there’s no comparable term in English. Shaw’s suggestion of ‘Usonian’ went nowhere. (I’ll sometimes write, ‘USAian’ if ‘American’ might give offense, but otherwise stick to the conventional word.)

I don’t know very many people from other nations in the Americas who really take offense at our appropriation of the word. Mostly, they’re rushing to show the world that they’re not Americans! (Even many USAians traveling abroad resort to subterfuges like sewing a Canadian flag on their backpacks!)

How is the argument influenced by what weights and measures we choose to use in domestic trade?

In any case, the formal definitions of US customary units are all SI. We gradually make progress; most beverages are sold by the litre, for instance. Conventional machine tooling will be around for a long time, because machine tools last a long time. And a machinist doesn’t much care whether a dimension is specified as being 0.357 inch or 9.07 mm. Our cadastre will be in conventional units, basically forever, because that’s how our property lines were laid down. (In fact, a lot of land measure local to me was done in Dutch morgens because our property lines go back to the 18th Century when the land was a Dutch colony. It winds up being peculiar numbers even in US customary units.)


I often wonder what the world would be like if Cuba and the Philippines had been made US states. Mostly in my imagination the US is the culturally diverse melting pot/tossed salad “diversity is our strength” where the content of a man’s character is what he’s judged on idealistic fiction that I was taught in my liberal leaning parochial schooling of the 80’s.


I think that decision should be left to the inhabitants of those islands, but what do I know.