Why are they called “Americans?”: An alternate history
Let me tell you about the history of a great nation called Estados Unidos de América.
A long time ago there was a German cartographist called Martin who liked to make big world maps. He noticed there was a huge stretch of land to the west that everyone was calling the “New World,” but it didn’t have a true name yet.
“I can’t leave this continent alone when there are great names like Africa and Asia.”
In deciding what to call this New World, he landed on the name “America” because of a Florentine explorer he’d heard of, Amerigo, who had correctly identified the land as a new continent, unlike the previous explorers. Amerigo himself was likely not aware of this honor while he was alive.
Fast forward some 200 years; Martin’s maps become famous and the name America has stuck. Several European powers have scouted out new lands in the “unclaimed” continent and set up colonies all around. Spain is no exception.
The colonies do well for some time when suddenly, a few things change. After several conflicts earlier in the century against the English, Dutch, and Austrians, Spain decides to impose a bunch of ridiculous taxes one after another on their American colonies. This upsets many of the settlements all over the continent, as expected. After a little public taunting, Spanish soldiers open gunfire on a group of locals in the city of Veracruz. Again, not a good decision.
As a result of high taxes and tariffs, not to mention the attacks on their Mexican brothers, Cuban rebels go and dump sugar and silver exports that were on their way to Spain into the port of Havana. This event triggers similar actions in Santo Domingo. As a response to the Caribbean rebellion, the ports of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and others along the coast of New Spain are completely shut down. To add flame to the fire, Spain requires the criollos (the white American colonists) in all of its territories to provide housing for royal troops inside of their homes.
Radical colonists, now tired of Spain’s patronizing, shoot and kill several Spanish troops while they attempt to stop liberation rebellions in Mexico and Peru. Knowing of this, Spain goes and burns the ports at San Juan, Lima-Callao, and Veracruz to intimidate the criollos even more. Now there is a sense of urgency and togetherness for all the Capitancies General and Viceroys that, until then, didn’t feel a strong sense of unity. Those in Mexico and Peru worry about high tariffs on exports. Those in the Caribbean region and New Granada worry about their slave trade. Chile and Río de la Plata stay out of it for fear that Spain will invoke grave consequences. Plus, they weren’t the ones attacked in the first place.
New Spain, New Granada, Peru, Venezuela, and the Caribbean join forces and defeat Spain. They gain full independence at about the same time. They function on the continent as independent states but have a hard time governing people, managing their economies, and organizing an effective military. After some years of trouble, colonial leaders create a convention to decide on the future of their former Spanish lands. They gather together the states’ brightest thinkers, most successful warriors, and best strategists and politicians; the Delegates.
Weeks go by of heated debates, unsatisfactory compromises, and time away from their homes and families. In the end, the delegates agree to unite their states as a single nation, but can’t agree on a name for their country. Just weeks ago, they were all independent states with their own names and special histories.
“We should be called Mexico since we were the first ones settled.”
“No. New Granada is the most centrally located, so we should take the name.”
“Peru is best since we are the richest.”
“Look at us, Venezuela! We have the strongest ports and access to the Amazon.”
The Caribbean delegates decided to just stay quiet at this part of the debate. One thing they all could agree on was not naming their new nation after Spain. In haste, they sign their constitution with “la Declaración unánime de los siete Estados Unidos de América” in Castillian — the seven United States of America — with the intention of changing it later on. After all, there are no other independent states on the entire continent to care about it, and the name came from an Italian guy 200 years earlier who had no ancestral ties to the land anyway.
More years go by, and the Estados Unidos expand their territory from the tundras of North America’s arctic to the Andes in the south. As more Spanish lands are liberated, they choose to join (or are bought by) the growing Estados Unidos. The British, French, Portuguese, and Dutch colonies all gain independence over the course of centuries. Even the Río de la Plata and Chile eventually become independent from their Spanish rulers, although peacefully, unlike their bigger neighbor.
After centuries of conflicts, from civil wars and civil rights movements, slave revolts and resistance from slave owners, Napoleonic wars, two world wars, and industrialization, the old Estados Unidos de América never does end up changing their name. By chance or luck, they didn’t divide and have become the most powerful nation in the western world, one of the most powerful on Earth. Their culture has won the world over from countless innovations in music, science, film, literature, sports, and many other fields. Though, they have a nasty habit of getting involved in other countries’ affairs.
The non-Spanish countries of the Americas assume that Estados Unidos de América must be arrogant; they do call their country América for short, and themselves Americanos. Why not Unitedstatesians, since that would be more appropriate? But, come on, estadounidense doesn’t sound right in Spanish. To make things worse, the other American countries learn that North and South America are one continent since they’re connected. But Estados Unidos learns they are distinct continents since, like Africa and Eurasia, the two are only connected at a very small point.
Not knowing this, the Americanos see no harm in their name and unknowingly offend tons of people outside their borders. Besides, it’s practical for them. They’ve been calling themselves Americanos since they were born and for almost 500 years. The poor other countries of America wish they would just change their name already. Why did that land of ignorant fools, who can’t even tell the difference between Jamaica and Guyana, ever get to “own” the name of the continent that belongs to all of them? Not like the names of their precious countries. The names that were given by people who were not natives of the land and that gave names of people and saints who they themselves never knew.
The other countries continue to question this for eternity. The Americanos, especially those that don’t travel or study, remain oblivious to the fact that their name causes any controversy at all.