Reclaiming America for Amerigo Vespucci

<span>Photograph: Hulton Getty</span>
Photograph: Hulton Getty

Colin Moffat (Letters, 14 October) claims Columbus was responsible in some way for the naming of America and denies that the word was derived from the name of Amerigo Vespucci, whom he describes as “an obscure Florentine navigator”.

The first map of the world ever to show America was 4.5ft x 8ft and was produced in 1507 at St Dié in Lorraine, specifically to illustrate and accompany a new geography of the world, written in Latin, with the title “Cosmographiae Introductio … with, in addition, an account of the four sea voyages of Americo Vespucci [sic]”.

This 1507 text states: “In our days these parts have been largely explored, and a fourth part has been discovered by Americo Vespucci … and I cannot see why anyone should object to this land being called after the name of the man who discovered it, Americo, a man of deep intelligence, so it is Ameri-ge, land of Americo, and thus America, since it is the names of women from which Europa and Asia have taken their name…” (and Africa; Australia was unknown). An inset panel on the map itself indicates the same, with “AMERICA” in capitals engraved on South America; the first map ever to bear that printed word. His portrait is engraved, and labelled with his name, on the top.

From 1497 to 1504 Vespucci spent many more months and travelled thousands of miles more in the New World than did Columbus. In 1505 he (an Italian) was appointed piloto mayor (master navigator) by the king of Spain on the advice of a committee of the finest Spanish navigators and cartographers of the time. He was responsible for sanctioning every voyage of discovery and was personally responsible for the Spanish archive of maps and their updating thereafter. Not bad for “an obscure Florentine”.
Dr Louis B Quesnel
Eccles, Greater Manchester

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