How Did the Seven Continents Get Their Names?

did-seven-continents-names Credit: Minnesota Historical Society/CC-BY-SA 2.0

The seven continents were named by explorers that discovered new land, by merchant seamen that frequented the same ports, or for cultural or historical reasons. The origins of some names are still under debate.

Amerigo Vespucci is credited for the names of North and South America, even though he arrived after Christopher Columbus. In 1507, German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller labeled the newly discovered continent "America" in honor of Vespucci.

Antarctica was first named a continent by Sir John Murray during the late 1800s. In 1904, geographers wanted a name for this latest discovery. Murray suggested Antarctica because it was the polar opposite to the Arctic.

Australia's name is credited to Mathew Flinders. He named the continent in 1802 after sailing around it and then creating his own map. Flinders' credit was challenged in the late 20th century. Documents found in the National Library of Australia named Cyriaco Jacob zum Barth, a German astronomer, as the first to name Australia in 1545.

One theory about Africa is that it was named after the Latin word "aprica" because it was always sunny. Another is that it was named for a Berber tribe, the Afarak, who lived in the north.

Greek documents dating to 440 B.C. show the name "Asia," although the continent could have been named for Asios, a Trojan ruler. One belief is that both Europe and Asia were named by Phoenician sailors. Europe, to the west, could have come from "erub" which means west, with Asia possibly derived from "acu," meaning east.