After a discussion at the office about the Eurocentric dimension of geography, we went to do some extra research about the topic. Without even mentioning the fact that Europe is always at the center of the globe, we were interested to write about the most likely origin of the world continent’s names. First, Europe. The old continent was named by the Greeks after the goddess Europa, one of Zeus’ many lovers to whom he created the constellation Taurus. It is probably the continent with the oldest name.
Regarding Asia, a word that has been used for at least 2500 years, the most popular theory is that the Greeks named the continent after deriving the Phoenician word asu, which means East, and the Akkadian word asu, which means “to rise”. In this manner, they used the term Asia to describe the territories that were in the East of Anatolia (part of modern Turkey) and where the sun rose. As regards to Africa, the most common theory is that the continent was named after the conquest of Carthage by the Romans 2200 years ago, where a Berber tribe called Afri lived. “The land of the Afri”, Africus, which the feminine was Africa, eventually was extended to the entire continent in the 15th century. In chronological order, comes the word America. The new world was named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian cartographer and navigator who realized that the “new world” was not part of Asia as initially thought. In the 16th century, cartographers decided to call this part of the world Americus, Amerige or America. As for Oceania, the continent’s name was literally coined from the word ocean in 1812 due simply to its geographical situation. And finally, Antarctica got its name from the Greek antarktike, which literally means ‘opposite to the north’.
Bottom line? It is quite insane to acknowledge that the entire world was named by the Europeans. We Europeans, should never forget about this, and about how much we exploited the rest of the world. After all, it would help us understand and accept why some still accuse us of being imperialists.