America is named after the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci, one of the early explorers of the New World. Between 1497 and 1504 Vespucci made as many as four voyages across the Atlantic. He took part in expeditions that explored the coast of South America between Venezuela and southern Brazil.
Christopher Columbus had already sailed across the Atlantic in 1492, but he believed that he had made landfall in Asia. Vespucci insisted in a report entitled Mundus Novus (New World) that a giant, uncharted land mass lay between Europe and Asia.
In April 1507, a German mapmaker named Martin Waldseemüller published a book called Cosmographiae Introductio in which he coined the term America to honor Vespucci. He mistakenly believed that Vespucci had been the first to discover the New World. “I do not see why anyone should by right object to name it America . . . after its discoverer, Americus, a man of sagacious mind, since both Europe and Asia took their names from women,” Waldseemüller wrote.
Waldseemüller also made maps bearing the name America, and soon other Europeans began using the term. At first the name applied only to South America, which Vespucci had explored, but later mapmakers used America for all of the New World.