Why United States of America is a stupid name

I’m not an European, I’m an American, more precisely; from Mexico, unfortunately U.S.A. has snatched the name for itself, which is very annoying to me, specially after living for some time on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. I guess because some extra need to relate myself with Peruvians, Brazilians, Ecuadorians, Canadians, etc. Which I never met before in Mexico. There’s really not much to do about it, but nonetheless there’s plenty of interesting facts and conversation tidbits to explore.

Let’s start with the basics: there is actually more than one country with united states in America; the official name of Mexico is United Mexican States. Therefore, the states of Mexico are also states of America, which makes the name United States of America ambiguous; Which specific union of states are you talking about? In fact, some of these states have moved from one country to the other (Los Angeles California doesn’t sound particularity English, right?).

That leads to the main problem; the country of U.S.A doesn’t have anything distinctive about it; it’s just a bunch of land conquered by England. In the case of Mexico it was obvious. There was an empire, the Aztecs, which had a main city, Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), so in order to build a country, and assimilate the people in it, a name was chosen in relation to the main city on the area. But in the case of U.S.A, England didn’t care about the native people at all, thus it was hard to pick a name, so they chose not to, they just referred to them as the thirteen united states of America. It’s as nonspecific as Country #9 of Africa.

Some people say, oh, but there’s no such thing as an American continent, there’s North America, and there’s South America, and there’s America the country. Which is total bullshit.

First of all, America (the continent) was named after Amerigo Vespucci (Italian cartographer), whose maps were used back in Europe to create the first map of America with respect to the world (and in fact the first world map):

So if any country deserves the name America, it would be Brazil, but that would be as ambiguous and obnoxious as Germany naming itself Europe. So, no, America is a continent. The part of U.S.A, “of America”, was used to denote that the country was located very far from England, Europe, or anything familiar.

Many people prefer U.S. or “The States”, but the problem is the demonym. In Spanish it’s “estadounidense” which translates to unitedstatesian, but that probably doesn’t sound nice in many languages, thus the only option: American.

So yeah, United States of America, is a totally uninspired nonspecific name. Hopefully at some point U.S.A would stop having as much importance as it has now, and the American continent can reclaim it’s name :)

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23 thoughts on “Why United States of America is a stupid name

  1. The US independence was declared in 1776 and recognized in 1783. Mexican Independence was declared in 1810 and recognized in 1821.

    So by the time they named their country we were something else, maybe just “Spain”. There were no “united states” of anything. So then, some “states” got united in America and they took that as a name. Did they need to be more creative, or consider that any other country *could* use something similar as a name 30 years later? I don’t think so. Using “American” to refer to a Unitedstatesian is really unfortunate, though. Furthermore, when *some* of the americans fail to recognize America as the whole continent.

    So, in the same way, “Somecity Linux User Group” has nothing distinctive about it. We are a just a group of Linux users in some city. Does it need to be anything more than that?

    With what I’ve seen so far about my country, I wouldn’t rule out Mexico having been trying to compare itself with the US.

  2. As alvarezp points out, the name of the United States of America predates the United Mexican States by a long shot. And, yes, the name was copied too.

    By 1821, when (our true liberator) don Agustín Cosme Damián de Itúrbide y Arámburu entered Mexico City, the names styled were América Septentrional, Anáhuac, and some others. Upon signing the Tratados de Córdoba (which effectively constituted a new nation), it was also called by Agustín de Iturbide as the new Nación Mexicana, which became the Imperio Mexicano. (Of course, Spain refused to recognize the new nation and furthermore sent no ruler from the house of Bourbon; this was September 1821 – February 1822.)

    The name of North America can also be seen in Santa Anna’s Plan de Veracruz (December 1822), formulated when he proclaimed the Republic (a “new” concept that the United States were using, which, according to him, he didn’t even understand):
    Art. 2º — La América del Septentrión, es absolutamente independiente de cualquiera otra Potencia, sea cual fuere.

    Following Agustín I’s abdication in March 1823, thanks partly to Miguel Ramos Arizpe and other federalists, the name for the new republic was copied from the United States of America and ratified in the Constitution of October 1824.

    The United Mexican States is an anachronistic name, because “[i]t is the will of the Mexican people to constitute a representative, democratic and federal Republic composed by States, *free and sovereign* in all matters concerning their internal affairs; *but united in a federation* established according to the principles of this fundamental law” (emphasis is mine, words are from the Mexican Constitution of 1917, article 40).

    So I’m fine with them keeping United States or The States, but America is far too much of a claim.

  3. Nitpick: Aztec is a misleading name. It was popularized by Humboldt, and it is an umbrella name for all the cultures and city-states which shared the nahuatl as language. The rulers of the Anahuac empire (from the desert of Mexico to Central America -Nicaragua means “here ends Anahuac”-) were the Mexicas, which is the eponymous of Mexico, and their main city was Tenochtitlán.

    And about USA, well there is also a United Kingdom, where, I suspect, the name United States was inspired of. But I also agree on the snatching of the America’s name.

  4. Ok, even if Mexico copied the term “United States”, that doesn’t mean much; if the first republic in Europe used the term “Republic of Europe”, that would still be obnoxious. They already knew there was more than one country in America, and “United States” is not distinctive at all.

    Besides, there’s many other countries beside Mexico that managed to pick a distinctive name that didn’t just have “of America.

  5. I happen to live in Mexico too (although I’m originally from France). Obviously, out of respect, when referring in Spanish to someone from the USA, there’s no way I would call them “americano”, since the very person I’m talking to is generally “americano” too, since they’re from the American continent.

    I don’t like “estadounidense” (unitedstatesian) either, not because of “united states” being a fuzzy notion but simply because it’s too long to pronounce.

    So I generally just say “gringo” which is a common term here. Some people use it in a pejorative way, but I don’t see that as a mandatory burden. If I happen to be talking to someone who might think I’m using the word in a pejorative way, I explain that I’m only using this word because I can’t find another one, and they understand it. So, “gringo”. Short, non-ambiguous. I’m even starting to use it in French, “gringois”, mainly for fun as a language twist, but also because I prefer not saying “américain” either.

    And in English… no idea. I don’t speak English in my everyday life, and when I do speak or write in English, I never need to use that word, so I don’t know how I would say it. Certainly not “unitedstatesian”, which is unpronounceable (for me at least). I’m would give “gringo” a try, I guess.

  6. @davux Yeah, AFAICR pretty much everyone in Mexico uses “gringo” in colloquial speak, as there’s no easier option. But IMO it’s not pejorative, maybe if you say “pinche gringo”, but then again almost anything is pejorative if you prefix it with “pinche”. Unfortunately gringos have got into their mind that it’s pejorative and apparently the rest of the world now thinks the same. That’s why now people have started to use “gabacho”, or at least Mexicans in U.S.A. Ironically, that one was supposed to be pejorative, although I don’t recall people using it before.

    Maybe we should reclaim “gringo” as well :)

  7. @mturquette: Said like a true Texan.

    All in all, let it rest. USA, American, United Stateser, gringo, cracker, whatever… it’s all just a label. A convenient and accepted, if not necessarily correct identifier. I couldn’t care less what you call me. As long as you aren’t using a label to decide who goes up against the wall to shoot, call me whatever you want. If you are, then “I’m Irish, don’t shoot!”

  8. Felipe:

    American is anyone born in the American continent. From Argentina up to Canada (maybe Greenland too).

    “U.S. national” or “U.S. American” is the legal way to refer to people from USA. That is why the U.S. passports and passports cards have typed “Nationality=USA” and “Nationality=United States of America”.

    You will never find a U.S. passport on earth that have typed “Nationality=American”.

    American is anyne from the American continent, named after Americo Vespucio. That is why the U.S. embassies are called “U.S. embassies” and NOT “American embassies”. an american embassy does not exist in this worlds because Continents do not have embassies.

    That is why the U.S. citizenship and immigration service is called that way. It cannot be called American citizenship and immigration services. http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis

    That is why the departments of the governement are called U.S.”—–” such as the U.S. department of state http://www.state.gov/, U.S. postal service. All government entities are called “U.S.____” because they cannot be called American postal service…American department of state. American is not a nationality.

    In Spanish/portuguese speaking America, we refer to U.S. nationals as Unitedstatians (estadounidenses) because American can be anyone from the continent.

    Also, the united states is a union of former colonies of England, Spain, and France.

    The first European settlement was made in San Agustin, Florida, 21 years before the English arrived.

    The U.S. is more latin than Spain, because there are over 65 milion speakers in the U.S.A that speak a latin language (Spanish, italian, French, etc).

    America is a latin word. It is the female spanish version of Americo Vespucio.

    The is no such thing as latin America, that is redundant.

  9. Actaully its be the equivalent of the European union to name itself The united states of Europe, the EU does not have all of Europe in it’s union, so by what was mentioned earlier the European union therefore is a stupid name too. Secondly, The constitution named the Nation the United States of America, the name wasn’t just made up as time goes by, it is the LEGAL name of the the nation. Brazil is smaller than the US so Brazil being called America is silly, Canada has more of a right then any other nation on either continent, besides the US, only because Canada is slightly bigger.Also The US did try to take over Canada about 200 years ago, and I do not doubt some people in our government wanted Mexico too at the time, since we did get some of Mexico after all. Heck some people probably were hoping we’d get all the land, from pole to pole.

  10. the EU does not have all of Europe in it’s union, so by what was mentioned earlier the European union therefore is a stupid name too.

    The European union is not a country; it’s an agreement between most countries in Europe. It’s anything but stupid. With what other European Union would you confuse it with?

    U.S.A. does not cover most of America, and even if it did, it’s a single country. It can get confused with any other country in America, and America itself.

    The constitution named the Nation the United States of America, the name wasn’t just made up as time goes by, it is the LEGAL name of the the nation.

    You mean the U.S. constitution. Well, imagine another region in America claims independence, and in its constitution they state their name should be America.

    The “legality” of it doesn’t make it any less stupid.

    Brazil is smaller than the US so Brazil being called America is silly, Canada has more of a right then any other nation on either continent, besides the US, only because Canada is slightly bigger.

    Nonsense. It’s not about who is bigger, if so Russia could claim the name of Asia, and for that matter Europe as well. Look at the map, even before European people had set foot on U.S.A. territory, America was already named, and the name is where Brazil is now.

  11. Oh, let’s have an informal contest to come up with a name for what is called “The United States of America” and we could also have fun pissing off the ultra nationalists here in the “USA”.

    If the states of Mexico are united states (estados unidos) then in some way Mexico is also “a” united states of america, no? Although I believe most Mexicans would not want to be called that. :-)

  12. Davux, you are a gringo. The term “America” was used by Europe to point out the English colonies. The Kings of England gave charters for colonies and called the place where these colonies would exist ,”America.” It requires 10 minutes of research.

  13. You are not an American Felipe, you are a Mexican. The only reason you covet the name “America” is because of the reputation and value cache that Real Americans created around it.

  14. I think it would be much easier if the USA just took after the UAE. As in, not “The United States of America,” but rather, “United American States,” because UAE citizens are known as emiratis and not the only ones in large territory known as Arabs, unlike the Americans. In the UAS they could be called Statespeople or something like that. But that’s just what I think.
    (Guatemalan living in Canada)

  15. I’m an AMERICAN and I remain unconvinced by your argument, but this post was amusing and I like your spirit, so here’s a lengthy reply :D

    I agree that the term “American” is not the ideal moniker, but as it stands now, when I talk to most anyone from outside the AmeriCAS (and many people inside of them), if I tell them I’m American they’ll know I’m from the US, not Mexico or Colombia or anywhere else. Everyone knows and understands what “American” means, even if not everybody likes what it means. That’s what decides this debate. Heck, even when white people go to Nepal, they ask tourists, “What kind of American are you?” Moreover, it’s just the term that’s stuck for a variety of reasons as you mentioned, and the only reason this gets brought up as a problem is that for some reason people feel rankled that “their” continent’s “name” was stolen, simply for the sake of political correctness. That’s just the way the term is, and saying United Statesian or “US Citizen” is clunky. My passport says “USA” because it’s simpler to type and has fewer letters :D

    And in any case, saying the US (AMERICA! :D ) doesn’t have anything “distinctive” about it because “it’s just a bunch of land conquered by England” makes about as much sense as saying that Mexico does “make sense” because it centered around the Aztec Empire….even though Mexico was very much CONQUERED by the Spanish (Todos hablan español, no?), and Mexico also includes the former Mayan regions of the Yucatan, and various other smaller Native cultures.

    This is a silly argument about a really informal but universally recognized term that’s not gonna go away anytime soon, if ever. This is like getting upset at UK citizen calling themselves a “Brit” because that’s not what it says on their passport. People understand that American = US citizen, so the terms are interchangeable and are now synonyms. Furthermore, equating “European” to “American” makes little sense because North and South America aren’t coherent geopolitical, racial, or ethnic entities like Europe very much is and has been for hundreds of years. It’s all just a bunch of random remnants of a bunch of former European colonies.

    Besides, if you know anything about Americans (ahem, excuse me, I mean UnitedStatesiangringowhiteguy ;) ), then you’ll know that we won’t change something so drastic as our name because a bunch of people are mildly irritated about it. That won’t change centuries of tradition (we’ve been referring to ourselves as such for hundreds of years), and it shouldn’t.

    So, let me leave you with the immortal words of one Chris Kirk. For the record, I did like your article and your rhetoric, but I like his much more :D

    — “I’ll call myself ‘United Statesian’ when my friend from the Republic of Colombia calls herself a “Republican,” to avoid confusion with Columbia, South Carolina. To all critics of “America” as the U.S.: I know the situation isn’t ideal. I know the Constitution should really read “United States of Some Parts of America Plus Hawaii,” but that’s not how it reads, and lecturing Americans about it on cruises isn’t just pointless but also unfair. Americans have been calling their country “America” for more than two centuries. They will and should continue. Deal with it.” :D

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/a_fine_whine/2013/08/america_the_continent_vs_america_the_country.html

  16. @The Celtic Predator Yes, people use the term American when talking about US people because there aren’t that many options, however, when it comes to the country, they often use other names.

    Mexico was assimilated by the Spanish, the native population never really went away, most Mexicans are a mixture of Spanish, native, and other races. Our culture is also mixed. USA has nothing like that.

    then you’ll know that we won’t change something so drastic as our name because a bunch of people are mildly irritated about it.

    I don’t give a flying fuck about what you (unitedstatians) do. Once US’s empire falls (like all other empires in history), people are going to give less emphasis to call you American. You can’t control what the rest of the world does.

    They will and should continue. Deal with it.

    I am a free person, I do whatever I want.

    And things change; everything changes. People often forget history, specially gringos (not a despective name). Two hundred years is really nothing in the global scale of things, whole civilizations that lasted ten times more than that have vanished, and I doubt USA will last that long.

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