The standard way to refer to a citizen of the United States is as an American. Though United States is the formal adjective, American and U.S. are the most common adjectives used to refer to the country ("American values," "U.S. forces"). American is rarely used in American English to refer to people not connected to the United States. In British English American can refer to somebody or something from the Americas, or from the USA, depending on context.
The word can be used as both a noun and an adjective. In adjectival use, it is generally understood to mean "of or relating to the United States of America"; for example, "Elvis Presley was an American singer" or "the American president gave a speech today;" in noun form, it generally means U.S. citizen or national. When used with a grammatical qualifier the adjective American can mean "of or relating to the Americas," as in Latin American or Indigenous American. Less frequently, the adjective can take this meaning without a qualifier, as in "American Spanish dialects and pronunciation differ by country," or "the ancient American civilizations of the pre-Columbian period were advanced in mathematics and astronomy." A third use of the term pertains specifically to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, for instance, "In the 15th century, many Americans died from imported diseases during the Spanish conquest".
The Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Italian languages use cognates of the word "American", in denoting "U.S. citizen". In Spanish, americano denotes geographic and cultural origin in the New World; the adjective and noun, denoting a U.S. national, estadounidense (United Statesman), derives from Estados Unidos de América (United States of America). Portuguese, has americano, denoting a person or thing from the Americas, and for a U.S. national and things estadunidense (United Statesman), from Estados Unidos da América, norteamericano (North American), and ianque (Yankee). In French, étasunien, from États-Unis d'Amérique, distinguishes U.S. things and persons from the adjective américain denoting persons and things from the Americas; like-wise, the German usages U.S.-amerikanisch and U.S.-Amerikaner observe said cultural distinction, solely denoting U.S. things and people.
The Spanish words estadounidense (United Statesman), norteamericano (North American), yanqui (Yankee), and gringo are Mexican, Central American, and South American usages denoting U.S. things and persons. In personal denotation, "gringo" means a norteamericano, in particular, and anglophones in general, and, linguistically, any speech not Spanish, i.e. "She is speaking gringo, not Spanish". Cognate usages may cause cultural friction between U.S. nationals and Latin Americans who object to American English's exclusionary denotations of American.
The derivation of America has several explanatory naming theories. The most common is Martin Waldseemüller's deriving it from Americus Vespucius, the Latinised version of Amerigo Vespucci's name, the Italian merchant and cartographer who explored South America's east coat and the Caribbean sea in the early 1500s. Later, his published letters were the basis of Waldseemüller's 1507 map, which is the first usage of America. (SeeCohen, Jonathan The Naming of America: Vespucci's Good Name. Retrieved on 2007-06-26..)
In 1886, Jules Marcou said Vespucci renamed himself from Alberigo Vespucci (Albericus Vespucius) to Amerigo Vespucci after meeting the native inhabitants of the eponymous Amerrique mountain ranges of Nicaragua that connect North America and South America, an important geographic feature of New World maps and charts. Moreover, there is the 1908 theory that America derives from Richard Amerike of Bristol, England, financier of John Cabot's 1497 expedition. Cabot is believed the first Western European on the mainland. In the event, the adjective American subsequently denotes the New World's peoples and things.
The 16th-century European usage of American denoted the native inhabitants of the New World, soon extended to include European settlers, namely Spaniards and their children. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation proclaimed the country named The United States of America. The confederation articles state: "In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands in Congress. Done at Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania the ninth day of July in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Eight, and in the Third Year of the independence of America."
The first, official usage of the formal country name is in the Declaration of Independence: "[the] unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America" adopted by the "Representatives of the united States of America" on July 4, 1776. The current name was established on November 15, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first of which says, "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The United States of America' ". Common short forms and abbreviations are the United States, the U.S., the U.S.A., and America. Colloquial versions are the U.S. of A. and the States. The term Columbia (from the Columbus surname), was a popular name for the U.S. and for the entire geographic Americas; its usage is restricted to the District of Columbia name. Moreover, the womanly personification of Columbia appears in some official documents, including editions of the U.S. dollar.
In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison use American with two different meanings, political and geographic; "the American republic" in Federalist Paper 51 and in Federalist Paper 70, and, in Federalist Paper 24, Hamilton's American usage denotes the lands beyond the U.S.'s political borders.
President Washington's farewell in 1796 says: "The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation.
Originally, the name "the United States" was plural — "the United States are" — a usage found in the U.S. Constitution's Thirteenth Amendment (1865), but its common usage is singular — "the United States is" — since the turn of the twentieth century. The plural is set in the idiom "these United States".
Before the Constitutional Convention, several country names were proffered, the most popular being "Columbia". The problems of "the United States of America" as a name (long, awkward, imprecise) were discussed; the Constitution ignores the matter, using "the United States of America" and "the United States". The name "Colombia" (derived from Christopher Columbus; Sp: Cristóbal Colón, It: Cristoforo Colombo), was proposed by the revolutionary Francisco de Miranda to denote the New World — especially Spain's and Portugal's American territories and colonies; it was used in the (short-lived) country name "United States of Colombia".
Early official U.S. documents betray inconsistent usage; the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France uses the "the United States of North America" in the first sentence, then uses "the said United States" afterwards; "the United States of America" and "the United States of North America" derive from "the United Colonies of America" and "the United Colonies of North America". The Treaty of Peace and Amity, of September 5 1795, contains the usages "the United States of North America", "citizens of the United States", and "American Citizens".
Semantic divergence among Anglophones did not affect the Spanish colonies. In 1801, the document titled Letter to American Spaniards — published in French (1799), in Spanish (1801), and in English (1808 — might have influenced Venezuela's Act of Independence and its 1811 constitution.
The Latter-day Saints' Articles of Faith refer to the American continent as where they are to build Zion. . The Old Catholic Encyclopedia's usage of America is as "the Western Continent or the New World". It discusses American republics, ranging from the U.S. to the "the republic of Mexico, the Central American republics of Guatemala, Honduras, San Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Leon, and Panama; the Antillian republics of Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Cuba, and the South American republics of Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, the Argentine, and Chile"..
The use of American as a national demonym for U.S. nationals is challenged, primarily by Latin Americans.
The Luxury Link travel guide advises U.S. nationals in Mexico to not refer to themselves as Americans, because Mexicans consider themselves Americans. The Getting Through Customs website advises business travellers not to use "in America" as a U.S. reference when conducting business in Brazil.
In Latin America, usage not distinguishing between the word American denoting the Western hemisphere's landmass, and American exclusively denoting U.S. nationals is perceived as disadvantageous to Latin American countries dealing with U.S. foreign policy.
Moreover, the Royal Spanish Academy advises against using americanos exclusively for U.S. nationals:
In Canada, their southern neighbor is seldom referred to as "America", with "the United States", "the U.S.", or (informally) "the States" used instead, although "American" is the usual demonym in modern Canadian English. Modern Canadians rarely apply the term American to themselves — some Canadians resent being referred to as Americans because of mistaken assumptions that they are U.S. citizens or an inability—particularly of people overseas—to distinguish Canadian English and American English accents. Some Canadians protested the use of American as a national demonym in the past. When Canadians need to refer to the larger continental context, North American (or North and South American), not "American", is the term in current usage.
The terms Étasunien and Étatsunisien are sometimes used in Québec French as a demonym for American citizens in place of the more common Américain.
Generally, Americano denotes "U.S. citizen" in Portugal. Currently, Brazilians are brasileiros (Brazilians), rarely americanos (Americans), although the usage was different in the nineteenth century. Usage of americano to exclusively denote people and things of the U.S. is discouraged by the Academia das Ciências de Lisboa (Lisbon Academy of Sciences), because the specific word estado-unidense (also estadunidense) clearly denotes a "United Statesman" and a "United Stateswoman".
Brazilians refer to themselves as "americanos", in general, and "Latino-americanos", in particular. Still, the word "América" has, in the past fifteen years, become a popular synonym for the U.S., especially in the big cities influenced by U.S. consumerism culture, especially after the great Brazilian immigration to the U.S. in the mid-1990s. In parts of the country "norte-americano" denotes someone from the U.S. and "América" denotes the other American countries.
The United States Census Bureau reports 7.3 percent of U.S. residents to be of "United States or American" ancestry based on responses to the 2000 Census long-form questionnaire (1 in 6 sample). Discrete responses of United States and American or an ambiguous response or a state-name response (excluding Hawaii) were aggregated as "United States or American". Distinct racial and ethnic groups such as "American Indian", "Mexican American", "African American", and "Hawaiian" were coded separately.
Diplomatic usage of American varies; in a speech given in Honduras, ex-President Clinton, speaking in Spanish, said: ". . . todos somos americanos" (. . . we are all Americans), as translated by the Washington Post newspaper and the CNN television program.
American in the Associated Press Stylebook (1994) is defined as: "An acceptable description for a resident of the United States. It also may be applied to any resident or citizen of nations in North or South America". Elsewhere, the AP Stylebook indicates that "United States" must "be spelled out when used as a noun. Use U.S. (no space) only as an adjective".
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (1999) America entry reads: the "terms America, American(s) and Americas refer not only to the United States, but to all of North America and South America. They may be used in any of their senses, including references to just the United States, if the context is clear. The countries of the Western Hemisphere are collectively the Americas ".
International law uses "U.S. citizen" in defining a citizen of the United States, not American citizen, which is an informal, non-legal usage; an excerpt from the North American Free Trade Agreement:
American is defined in the sixth edition (1990) of Black's Law Dictionary as: "Of or pertaining to the United States". The two more recent (1999 and 2004) editions have no such entry.
Products that are labelled, advertised, and marketed in the U.S. as "American Made" must be "all or virtually all made in the U.S." The Federal Trade Commission, to prevent deception of customers and unfair competition, considers an unqualified claim of "American Made" to expressly claim exclusive manufacture in the U.S. "The FTC Act gives the Commission the power to bring law enforcement actions against false or misleading claims that a product is of U.S. origin."
In Spanish, estadounidense, estado-unidense or estadunidense are preferred to americano for U.S. nationals; the latter tends to refer to any resident of the Americas and not necessarily from the United States. In Portuguese, estado-unidense(or estadunidense) is the recommended form by language regulators but today it is less frequently used than americano and norte-americano. Latin Americans also may employ the term norteamericano (North American), which itself conflates the United States and Canada. However, this term may also refer to anyone from the North American continent, which also includes Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Worldwide, speakers of Esperanto refer to the United States of America with the term "Usono", which is borrowed from Frank Lloyd Wright's word Usonia. Thus a citizen or national of the United States is referred to as an "usonano". The Esperantist terms for North Americans and for South Americans, by continent rather than country, are Nordamerikano and Sudamerikano, respectively.
Adjectives derived from "United States" (such as United Statian) appear awkward in English, but similar constructions exist in Spanish (estadounidense or estadinense), Portuguese (estado-unidense, estadunidense) and Finnish (yhdysvaltalainen: from Yhdysvallat, United States); and also in French (états-unien) and Italian (statunitense).
The word Gringo is widely used in parts of Latin America in reference to U.S. residents, often in a pejorative way but not necessarily. Yanqui (Yankee) is also very common in some regions. In Argentina, Uruguay and some regions of Brazil, the word Gringo is also used for any foreigner, not just for U.S. Citizens.
With the 1994 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the following words were used to label the United States Section of that organization: in French, étatsunien; in Spanish, estadounidense. In English the adjective used to indicate relation to the United States is U.S.