Photo taken by WIkimedia Commons user Jnn13.
Photo taken by WIkimedia Commons user Jnn13.

I’ve come across this debate dozens of times in my day-to-day life, and I did once again the other evening as I was out with my friends. I have a very international group of friends, and it is always interesting to argue with them; I am always anticipating some kind of new angle they’d offer up that I hadn’t considered.

However, this time, I surprised myself and my friends by spewing forth some soliloquy without even taking any proper time to ponder the question again; words came out of my mouth without hesitation and one would think that I had been waiting all my life for this one moment, to fight this one battle. My friend said something about Canadians being Americans, as well, and after I clarified that we were going in that direction, I just went off with a rant, one I had no idea I had in me.

I myself am a United States citizen, but my point of view on this article reflects no bias regarding that fact. Is the fact that U.S. citizens call themselves “Americans” a case of ignorance, simple-mindedness, a narrow worldview, or bigotry?

I don’t think so at all, and below I’ll explain why. For the record, I want to point out that, even though I am a citizen of the United States, I often find myself being the most critical of my own country – my friends and conversation partners while abroad are certain to agree. We “Americans” have many faults, but I’d like to explain why this one is not one of them.

America Refers to the Continent(s) or the U.S.A.? A Bit of History to Get Us Started….

Originally, yes, the term America was used to denote anything from the Americas, which consists of North America and South America. In the 1500’s the term American was used to represent the native inhabitants of the lands of the New World. However, in the English language, American came to refer specifically to the peoples of British America, and later narrowed down more to include just the newly-formed country of the United States of America – and note that this happened in the late 1700’s. The British were the first ones to call citizens of the USA “Americans.”

Since most of the world agrees on a seven-continent view of the world, it is important to remember that we also distinguish a person from South America as South American and a person from North America as North American, more commonly than simply American.

Point #1: The Dictionary Definition

Oxford English – (#1) of, relating to, or characteristic of the United States or its inhabitants.
Merriam-Webster – (#3) a citizen of the United States.
Collins Dictionary – (#2) of, in, or characteristic of the U.S. or its people or culture.

Most dictionaries, international organizations, and style books have a doubly-accepted definition for the moniker of American – both as a citizen of the United States of America as well as a person from North or South America.

Point #2: Mexico

What does Mexico have to do with this argument? Well, many people don’t realize this, but Mexico’s official name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, which translates to United States of Mexico or the United Mexican States. This invalidates one of the most common alternate suggestions for demonyms of US citizens, United Statian, since Mexico is also a country of many states, united. The term Mexico doesn’t step on any toes, so there is no argument for that country/demonym pair as there is with the USA.

Point #3: Korea

This point is not such a solid one, but I’d like to point out that North Korean and South Korean citizens prefer to be considered singularly as “Koreans,” since they share their same background, language, and much history, among other things, though they each still fail to officially recognize the existence of the other nationality.

Point #4: Other Languages/Cognates

A cognate is a word in another language that has a similar etymology/origin as the word in question. For example, the word night in English has similar-sounding cognates in many languages, because they all come from the same Indo-European parent root. In French, it is nuit, in German, nacht, and in Spanish, noche; I am sure you can see the similarities.

The point I am trying to make here is that Americans are not the only ones to call themselves such. Here are the cognates of the American demonym in some other languages:

Polish – Amerykański
German – Amerikanischen/Amerikaner
French – Américaine
Italian – Americano

As you can see, it is not only the people of the US that call themselves such, so most arguments of American imperialism or small-mindedness is somewhat invalidated. In fact, the United Nations recognizes that the term American refers to the people of the United States. Canadians even refer to their southern neighbor’s form of the English language as American English to differentiate it from their own self-described Canadian English. There are many other cognates in other languages, in addition to these obvious ones.

Point #5: Time

As the world knocks out political incorrectness left and right, there needs to be something else to fill the void, it seems. This American moniker dispute has really picked up some momentum in the last decade, especially. However, it is important to note that the definition of American has virtually remained the same in the English language for over two centuries now. As stated previously, the British are the ones that first started calling citizens of the USA as “Americans,” and this has now stuck for over two hundred years.

Point #6: Name Logic

Rather simply put, there are not any other countries (that come to mind, at least) that have the word America within their official name as does the United States of America. There is much less fault to be found in the full name of the USA, but it is the demonym that draws ire in others. Also, if you were to think about it, the “United States” portion of USA is merely a descriptor phrase that ties it all together, much like “Republic of So and So” or the “Federated Islands of Such and Such.” The more arrogant thing to do, in my opinion, would be to take that first descriptor portion and fashion that into a demonym. Can you imagine if a nation were to claim the term “Republic” or “Federated Islands” and turn that into their demonym, disregarding every other one of such kinds?

Point #7: Nothing Else (Really) Suffices

Not only has the term “American” stood the test of time and become an internationally-recognized demonym for citizens of the United States of America, but there just isn’t much else that works. The name of the country is United States of America. Like with the Mexican example, the citizens of the United States of America are “Americans” just like the citizens of the United States of Mexico are “Mexicans.”

The term “Yankee” has been proposed, and many people of other countries still refer to citizens of the USA as “Yankees,” but in the US of A, a yankee refers more specifically to the people of New England, or the Northeast of the country.

Other proposed demonyms have been based on the United States portion of the country name, which, again, has its own problems. The demonym American exists, literally, for lack of a better term.

Point #8: Other Examples Exist of Somewhat Vague Demonyms

Central African Republic – The most common demonym for this African country is simply Central African, but you can understand how that might cause confusion, since there are many nations that could be considered so.
Congo – The term Congolese is used to describe the people of both the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two countries that make it all the more difficult by being adjacent.
China – The People’s Republic of China is what we refer to when we say China, yet the Republic of China seems to unfairly have to use their moniker of Taiwan.

Point #9: Uniqueness and Geography

Official names of countries are usually several words longer than their more everyday name, and this leads, in most cases to the demonym forming from either the most unique part of the name, or else from the most specific geographically. As aforementioned in Point #6, logic holds that we wouldn’t name the people of the Republic of So and So as Republicans, or something to that effect. Thus, when demonyms are decided, it is usually from the most unique part of the full official name, such as the Mexico example, or else it is with the geographical component to their name, as in the case of South Africa or Central Africa. The unique part of the United States of America is America, so it became the root of the demonym; there’s no other country with that word within its name.

The Main Parties Offended

Calling a citizen of the United States of America has offended many people throughout the world. First and foremost, the Spanish-speaking people of North and South America use their cognate of American, Americano, to refer to the people and products of the two continents, as opposed to the people and products of the United States. They are somewhat justified in feeling slighted, I admit, since these Latin American peoples are also of “the Americas.” In fact, they’ve given other words to denote citizens of the USA in particular, such as estadounidense (from United States); but you can see how this might cause a problem with Mexicans.

Aside from Spanish-speaking (and the Portuguese-speaking, to some extent) peoples, many people are offended by this supposed blasphemy as they see the United States and its people as arrogant and narcissistic, taking a name for themselves that is more universal. The US of A gets a bad reputation as it is probably one of the most-hated countries universally, and thus people are overly critical of every apparent or alleged fault the USA might have.

Conclusion

“American” is the only official and recognized demonym that most countries use for citizens of the United States, and the only one the United States citizens use; most dictionaries (outside of many Spanish language ones) and the United Nations recognize this as the official demonym. The friggin’ pope and the Holy See even use that term to specifically describe people of the USA. Some US citizens feel guilty and have come up with some alternative (read: ridiculous, cheesy) demonyms, such as the aforementioned United Statian, but these are just grasps at nothing solid. Furthermore, the term was not picked by citizens of the USA to begin with, but rather the USA’s mother country/national enemy at the time, Great Britain, and so this should not be an example of American ignorance or arrogance. There are many reasons to be angry at the USA, and the United States of America certainly has an overabundance of faults, but this is not one of them.

*For further reading, check out this post giving a definition of demonyms and a list of demonyms by country

74 COMMENTS

  1. Try going thru passport control and telling them you are “American” Don’t be silly. The only true American is the American Indian, everyone is hyphenated. European-American,so on and so forth.

    • David, I have no idea what you’re trying to say here. I’ve been through so many passport checkpoints, never once a problem. Like I said in my article, if you would have read it entirely and given it a chance, though it doesn’t seem fair for US citizens to be able to claim the name “American,” it is what it is, due to all 9 or so reasons above.

    • David, have you ever left the country? I visit about 4-6 foreign countries a year and I have NEVER identified as anything EXCEPT American. I would think you could only technically hyphenate if you were born elsewhere…such as Irish American if you were an American citizen born in Ireland.

    • Indians are from India not America. I think you mean Native American. You see Christopher Columbus made a MISTAKE when he referred to the Americans as Indians. However when Vespucci found America he figured out it was a mistake, so we can all stop calling Native Americans Indians, as real Indians are from the country known as India.

  2. Totally disagree. All people of North and South America are rightfully called Americans. Yet, totally agree something must be used that makes sense. A friend of mine has a solution. USAer.

    • Steve, I completely sympathize with how everyone in these continents should “rightfully” be called “Americans”; however, like I said in my article, though it doesn’t seem fair for US citizens to be able to claim the name “American,” it is what it is, due to all 9 or so reasons above.

  3. Christopher Columbus first came to the Caribbean, then to Central America, both of which you ignored even though they are a part of the American Continent. The fact is, the USA is too proud to copy anything coming out of Latín America. One example is Obamacare, there is a far better social security system based upon solidarity in Costa Rica, it is over sixty years old; had it been Europe, it would have been adopted worldwide. American?, The solution is in Latín America, “no confusion”, here a USA citizen is called Gringo.

    • Jeff, I have no idea what you’re trying to say here; Christopher Columbus has nothing to do with my article, just like Obamacare and Social Security. Like I said in my article, if you would have read it entirely and given it a chance, though it doesn’t seem fair for US citizens to be able to claim the name “American,” it is what it is, due to all 9 or so reasons above.

  4. It’s obvious that there are many things you have no idea about; the American Continent is not just north and south as you wrote, it is also Central America and the Caribbean (never mind who ignores it) and here is where the name America was “coined” for this continent, therefore, it,s not fair that the majority be excluded because one country has been unable to identify its people properly..

    • Jeff, Central America is often considered to be part of North America; likewise, the Caribbean is often included with North America, but technically is not actually part of the continent. I’ve written about continents in the past, and, though the term is still somewhat debated, most agree that a continent must form a continuous landmass; some extend that to include land on the continental shelf, which would usually include nearby islands, but I don’t believe much, if any at all, of the Caribbean islands are on North America’s continental shelf.

      As for your other point about fairness, as I mentioned in my opening, the British coined the term. Several hundred years later, we’re still using it, and it’s quite hard to turn something like that around. Yes, it’s not fair if you think about it, but until there’s a plausible contender, it’ll be around.

      • That is true up to a certain point, see, we Central Americans do not consider ourselves a part of North America and much less of the Caribbean; to us Central America is a political concept and a geographical unity, the Federal Republic of Central America (1820-1840), to us there is only one American continent divided into four parts, North, South, Central and Caribbean; we do not say “the Americas” only America.

        • So then say what ever you want in your language and allow us the courtesy of saying what we want in ours. Why is this even an issue?

      • Considered by whom? United States? You’re extremely wrong though!!! Most of the world DOES NOT separate North America and South America because such separation DOESNT EXIST it’s ONE CONTINENT, AMERICA. You guys were wrong from the beginning as for naming your country United States of America, but I get it that it was too many years ago to change it now, however, I also understand so far you guys only have the word “Americans” for U.S. Citizen, even though this can easily be changed by coming up with a more appropriate word. What is, though, UNACCEPTABLE is you calling USA as America. You don’t have the right to. America is a continent with many many countries. It’s a name that represents a whole continent that can be devided in north, central and south. Therefore, for every person who is aware of
        This and still calls USA America, they are all the bad things you said.

  5. I’ve gone through passport control in foreign countries, handed them my passport and filled out my entry card indicating citizenship “U.S.A.” and when they make the entry they write or type, “American”. I don’t correct them. I just feel good about it.

  6. When I lived in Mexico in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Mexicans definitely did not have a problem with “estadounidense”. In fact, they seemed to prefer it, especially when I, a US citizen, used it.

    • True that’s what we learn in school canada canadienses ,estados unidos stadounidenses mexico mexicanos and so on and all r Americans some more than others think about it the so call Americans turn out to be NOT Americans at all! But europeans immigrants and Europeans descendents jajajaja!!

  7. Many people in Latin America call Americans “americanos”, but most educated people call them “estadounidenses”, which is the proper term in Spanish for people born in the U.S.A. and not elsewhere in the American continent. This term is not nearly as rare or onerous as “united statestian.” But I think this article sidesteps the real controversy, which is when Americans call their country “America.” This is indefensible as far as I can tell. Of the arguments presented in this post, I see only one which would apply to this problem, which is the United States of Mexico being called simply “Mexico”, which is not analogous since there is no other Mexico in the world. There is no room for confusion. However, by this article’s own admission, there are at least two Americas: North and South. I’d say there are at least three, including Central America. “The Americas” distinction makes absolutely no sense, as the U.S.A. also qualifies as an element in the group “Americas.” Think of the semantic absurdity of saying something like “Central Americans have no business coming into America, they should go back to their home in Central America.”

    • Carlos, thanks for stopping by! I really appreciate your comments here, as they do offer a lot to think about. I get where you say that the “U.S. of Mexico being simply called Mexico . . . is not analogous,” but it’s not completely irrelevant, either; the USA is the “United States of America,” so your argument could be used against using “estadounidenses,” as that could offend Mexicans, couldn’t it? I’ve never heard a Mexican offended by that, but perhaps it could, I assume.

      I completely agree with you about the semantic absurdity in a statement like the one you gave as an example (and the general absurdity of a statement like “so and so has no business coming to America…”). The thing is, I get that it’s bad form and seems arrogant for we citizens of the USA to continue using it, but its somewhat hackneyed nature has caused it to rather retain its significance, rather than losing its significance due to overuse. I am not here to defend the use of this term, but I wrote it to help explain why the term doesn’t fade over time – for all these reasons; if it were one or two things in the way of switching to a more accurate demonym, I assume we’d have already changed by now. I do hope, however, that someone comes up with something that sticks and resonates to be taken seriously.

      • Christian, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I agree that language, as a spontaneous social institution, does not care what some of us think are the correct definitions. That is attached by generally accepted use, thus “American” as demonym is here to stay and there’s nothing anybody can (or should) do about it. However on the issue of “America” the nation, I think the “jury” is still out, as it is for the most part not the generally accepted use of the word, and I expect that much like the metric system and soccer, the correct definition will encroach into the U.S.

        • Carlos, I agree! I eagerly await the day when soccer (the real football) earns its rightfully-deserved place in the hearts of us United Statians :) Believe it or not, I’ve already embraced the world’s standards in other ways, such as using 24-hour time, Celsius on my thermometers, and metric measurements when speaking; I’ve more friends from outside of the USA than otherwise, so it’s also easier for me, though it started as a way to familiarize myself with the world around me (see THIS ARTICLE for what I mean, which I titled “Let’s Step Outside Our Bubbles”).

          Anyway, I really, sincerely appreciate the time you took to stop by! It was very constructive and a reminder for me that this is an issue very near the top of many people’s minds; I should treat it as such and not allow it to lose its significance until an agreeable alternative can be found that makes sense and sticks. Take care, and have a great weekend!

      • Look, i am from Mexico and no one from Mexico ever calls him/herself estadounidense, and calling people from the USA estadounidense does not offend any of us. The issue here is that tecnically anyone born in America is an american, just like anyone born in Europe is european and so on. Mexicans are Americans, Colombians are Americans Canadians are Americans and so is every individual bor in America. If you look at a map, any map, it will especificaly refer to America as a continent, never as a country. What really offends us other inhabitants of America (continent!) is that you want to make the term american exclusive to people born in the USA, which is inaccurate. Like you said, in point 5, it is political incorrectness, so why do you not fix the mistake and come up with a more accurate way to call yourselves. The term American is very wide and covers the people of way to many countries.

  8. While I do realize that US Citizen are normally called Americans, it is still not correct. Maybe the British first coined the word, SO WHAT!. Does it make it right? NO! I think your article is from a US Citizen point of view, without having the experience from other countries. By now, however, being called American is a mute point, it is what it is. We, other Americans, have to just deal with it. Is it correct? Definitely NOT!, but that is what is. You can not defend it as you have done by using circular reasoning. However, I do live here, and I appreciate this country even when they are wrong on this term.

    • Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. First, I’d like to address where you said ” Does it make it right? NO!” I did not come in writing this article as any sort of defensive position as to why US citizens SHOULD be called “Americans,” but rather to explain why the term sticks around. Yes, I am a US citizen, and perhaps you could say that my point of view is as such, but I almost NEVER take the side of the USA; 50 years ago, I’d have been imprisoned and/or executed for treason regarding many of the views I have of the country where I was born. See this article I wrote HERE.

      However, coming back to your statement, what would be considered “right” and “correct”? I’m not saying it doesn’t feel arrogant and prideful to continue to use this term for ourselves, but when the United Nations, the foremost international body of, well, everything, accepts it, as well as all major dictionaries, how is it not correct? Ubiquitous usage of this term leaves it hard to gainsay it now.

      Another point of why it would be complicated to switch to a new demonym now is with the case of American Samoa. American Samoa is the official name of the US territory in the Pacific, and received its name to distinguish it as such; this helps to identify it within the chain of Samoan Islands it’s part of, and also from the sovereign country which is simply Samoa.

      Some official sources, such as the stylebooks of the NYT and AP, give the term multiple definitions, though it seems that most give precedent to the US citizen definition before the definition of a citizen of the Americas. At the end of the day, this is a language-based issue, and language is ever-evolving and fickle.

  9. I think the main problem is not that US citizens call themselves as “Americans” (effectively, their country is in the Americas). The problem appears in these kind of situations: e.g.:
    US citizen: “I am American.”
    A national from another part of the Americas: “So am I.”
    US citizen: “Really? You don’t look or sound American at all. What State are you from?”
    Person from outside of United States: “I’m Colombian.”
    US citizen: “So you’re not American.
    The Colombians, Mexicans, etcetera, are from the Americas, so they are Americans as well.
    I am from Argentina. I am Argentine first of all, but I am not African, nor Asian, European, etc.: I am American and very proud of it.
    The Cambridge Dictionary says this:
    American: -of or relaiting to the United States of America
    -of or relaiting to North or South America
    Dictionary.com says this:
    American: -a citizen of United States of America
    -a native or inhabitant of the Western Hemisphere
    -an Indian of North, or South America
    I repeat, if US citizens like calling themselves as Americans, they’re completely entitled to do so, but they MUST know that they’re not the only ones.

    • Sergio, thanks for stopping by! I actually love your practical way of looking at it: USA citizens are entitled to call themselves ‘Americans,’ but we definitely cannot claim that as the exclusive definition.

  10. Without meaning to be offensive, I fail to see the (non?)-issue as being as worth writing about as this piece suggests it

    I would briefly like to express very clearly that Mexicans in their vast majority have no issues AT ALL with the term ‘Estadounidense’, and I’d wager you would be given a really confused look and then be laughed at for being absurd. Ask any Mexican what their nationality is and they will say ‘Soy Mejicano’ (I’m Mexican). So that, as it relates to ‘United Statians’ is a moot point.

    And so, language, how we speak and what we call things, has a big part to play here, as you rightly say. This is why I say the whole thing is a non-issue for everyone else other than people born within the borders of the USA debating what to call everyone else born within the borders of the country (Hyphenated-Americans of all denominations).

    In all forms of English, everywhere around the world, the colloquial and dictionary definitions of ‘American’ mean without exception ‘of/from the USA’, and we make the distinctions between the North, South and Central regions of the continent(s) along with specific nation adjectives when we want to more specific: Central American, Brazilian, Canadian, Texan, Bostonian, etc. (just like in any other language, I might add). What differs from language to language are the terms.

    In Spanish (oddly left out of the linguistic point above), it is also common to use the term ‘Norteamericano’ (North American) when referring to things ‘of/from the USA’, which seems to deny Canada its existence, yet, when we learn Spanish, just like when others learn English, we have to learn – and not correct – the terms used in that language.

    Spanish speaking folks call the Falkland Islands ‘Las Islas Malvinas’. They may or may not recognize the Argentinian territorial claim, but they call them what they call them because that’s their name in Spanish. And so any offense taken when US citizens call themselves ‘Americans’ is just plain silly (unless you consider those people ‘invaders’, which is a whole different issue) and frankly the result of leaping on anything that can be used to justify ‘anti-american’ sentiment (again, whether this feeling is justified or not is another issue), and that sentiment would be just as deeply held regardless of what ‘United Statians’ chose to call themselves.

    And in the end, are we not supposed to call peoples what they call themselves if we are to be truly politically correct?

    • Geoff, thanks for coming by and reading the article! I know that it may seem to be a non-issue to you at first glance, and I wish it were, but I believe that it is still quite controversial to many people. As you can see from most of the comments above and below, many people think (and perhaps rightfully so) of the term ‘American’ to denote a person from the USA is an injustice and/or disrespectful. I’ve many international friends, being a Couchsurfer and traveler, and I wrote this in part so that I could at least be able to speak up on the topic. I don’t want to be the stereotypical ‘ignorant American,’ but then, to some, I am ignorant for just using the ‘American’ part. So that’s why I wrote about this. Anyway, yes, I agree that the most politically correct thing would be to allow any people to call themselves as they wish, just like I respect the same in a person choosing their own identity – but that’s a topic for another day.

  11. “American” is any person from the American Continent.
    “America” is the whole American Continent.

    The Kingdom of Spain arrived in America in 1492
    In the XVI Century, Spain explored (by walk) and colonized the American Continent all the way from Alaska to Argentina. From Terranova (Newfoundland) to Chile…

    Spanish Governor of Puerto Rico Juan Ponce de León, was the first European who ever arrived in the -today called- USA.
    He discovered and named Florida.
    San Agustín (the oldest US city) was founded short later on the place he arrived…

    The Spanish flag flew on the teritory of the -today called- USA, during THREE centuries before the first British arrived…

    English people and language is kind of “new” in America.

    Any term used in English languaje (on the American Continent) should allways observe respect and correctness to the original Spanish word/denomination.

    Terms as “Falklands”; “Latinamerica” or “Drake Passage” are insults to human History. Kind of linguistic piracy…
    Malvinas;
    Hispanoamérica/Iberoamérica;
    Mar de Hoces
    are the correct terms.

    Before defining any word related to America, English dictionaries should allways consider the American Continent’s History.

    Among European languages/denominations of venues in the American Continent, Spanish language/denominations should allways prevail because the Kingdom of Spain arrived in America well before England.

    “American” is any person from the American Continent.
    “America” is the whole American Continent.

    • Álvaro, thanks for stopping by! I know that Spain had a longer history here in the USA, but in the English language, and in many languages, the term ‘American’ can mean both ‘of the Americas’ or ‘of the USA,’ and more commonly the latter. Spain might have been here first with Columbus, which we recognize, though many contest even that, but the English language was what stuck. I’m from New York, which had the Dutch as some of its first European influence (named my city ‘New Amsterdam’), but then the British came (which is where we get the name ‘York’ from). We definitely still respect the name in history of ‘New Amsterdam’ and use it still as a nickname for NYC. However, just because something is first (which you say the Spanish were) doesn’t necessarily mean that it ‘should prevail.’ The natives were here much longer before any European showed up, and I’m sure each of their various groups had names for it too – it was their land. Spain colonized first after that, then it was tossed around amongst the European powers after that until we have what we have now. Anyway, it is believed that Lief Ericson came several hundred years before even Columbus, but that’s all ancient history now.

      • Christian, well said. Alvaro’s comment is a perfect example of what people think American’s are doing wrong. They act like we’re staking claim on something (a word) that belongs to them too, when it seems that most people outside of the U.S. who refer to themselves as “Americans” only do so to make a point. Just like Americans have no right to tell newer immigrants to “go back where they came from” when technically anyone who isn’t “native” comes from immigrant/foreign ancestry; South/Central/Latin/Caribbean Americans have no right to say that Hispanic/Spanish people have any more claim over things than Anglo Europeans. I luckily am an American citizen with Anglo, Native AND Spanish blood…so no matter who wins the argument I get to be American :)

  12. Christian, you are absolutely correct. And you didn’t need to show so many examples – at least not to people with brains. But if you want another good example: the official name of Brazil from 19th century (after the proclamation of Republic) until 1967 – when it was changed to Federative Republic of Brazil – was “United States of Brazil” and never, never a Brazilian called himself “estadounidense”. Why ? Because the name of the country is BRAZIL, as the name of United States of America is AMERICA. Get over it guys, that’s a fact which was due to the arrogance of the British Empire (which at the time was the planet’s most powerful political entity), not to the arrogance of the American people, leave them alone. Buy the way, dear Americans, Brazilians are not Hispanics but Lusitanics (or Lusos). But if you want to put Latin Americans (Hispanics + Lusitanics) in the same bag, you can call them Iberians (from Iberian Peninsula).

  13. I’ve actually pondered this question myself from time to time. It’s never annoyed me or even been in the front of my mind enough to actually ask an american about it but….yeah I have wondered. With that said I find your explanation thorough and well thought through. I can now stop wondering.
    And, Alvaro, actually Norwegian “viking” Leif Eriksson supposedly was the first European to come to the Americas in the 10:th century. Being first, however, doesn’t count for much.

  14. I do not mind so much citizens of the United States of America (I happen to being one myself) calling themselves “American”. What I find very arrogant is calling the USA as “America”. It is not by a long shot!

  15. The USA is “probably one of the world’s most hated countries”? Come on. I live in France and if you think the USA is hated try being French!! Or about 100 other nationalities ))

  16. Citizens of the US call themselves Americans because there is no other good alternative. Citizens from the continent of South America and land comprising Central America live in independent, sovereign countries and are proudly recognised as Brazilian, Argentinian, Colombian, Panamanian, etc. They don’t travel around the world and call themselves ‘South American’ or ‘Central American’ first. That is only a geographic identifier. Citizens of the US are from individual states that are not independent but subjugated to a single, federal government. Are you going to travel around and say you are a ‘New Yorker’ (forget, that, probably would but I bet the foreigner would say “Oh, you are American”, nonetheless). Canada is also part of North America, but again, it is a single, sovereign country with independent provinces, so no use of them saying they are ‘American’ and know they certainly are not offended by not having that opportunity to use that monkier. So, in the end, don’t see what the problem is other than the USA not having a real, distinct country name.

    • There is no single ‘American’ continent.

      There is North America and South America, with Central America countries perhaps technically part of North America.

      Within ‘Central America’ and South America are independent, sovereign countries whose citizens refer to themselves by their demonyms, not continent affiliation. Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Guatemala, etc. are not part of the ‘United States of South, or Central, America’. Therefore, citizens from the USA can call themselves ‘American’ because every other organized piece of land is an independent and sovereign country with its own national government and name. Further, the USA was incorporated and recognized as a country long before any single country within South America (oldest being Paraguay in 1811), never mind not having any individual countries unified into a central government. So, by essence of ‘first mover’, the inhabitants of the USA laid claim to using the demonym ‘American’, as there were no other known countries using that term at the time and called their country the ‘United States of America’. Hence, it is a foregone conclusion that anyone who refers to themselves as ‘American’ lives in the USA. Should Americans travel around the world and say they are from their individual states? Who knows where the heck North Dakota, Kansas, Idaho, etc. are located if you are not a US citizen? But everyone knows where you live if you say ‘America’ or ‘US’.

      • Larry, I didn’t get a chance to reply to your last comment, but wow! You basically wrote another article here ;) This is a great point that I hadn’t even considered, and it would be a fitting concluding point. Thanks for stopping by!

      • “There is no single ‘American’ continent.” As currently understood, perhaps, but historically, no. The term America was originally used to denote the New World (what you now call “The Americas.”) It was derived from Amerigo Vespucci, the cartographer who explored what is today knows as South America and the Caribbean (he never visited what is today the U.S.) For centuries, no one in Europe understood America as what is today the U.S. Alexander Hamilton used “American” to denote lands outside the U.S.

        As I’ve stated in other comments, I don’t object to “American” as demonym for citizens of the U.S., given it has wide acceptance (in the English language, not so in others) and language is after all what people choose to make of it, and the alternatives to “American” are apparently too onerous to pronounce in English to be viable.

        However, it is quite another matter to say “America” is a proper term for the U.S.A. It has no geographic or historical basis, and it is not generally accepted except in the Anglosphere. So “America” as stand in for the U.S.A. has as much chance of “catching on” in the world as do yards, bushels, pounds and miles. It’s not happening, nor should it.

        • Carlos, It’s the ‘United States of America’. Don’t need the history lesson.

          Are there any other ‘United States’ of America or just other indpendent, sovereign countries, which may have independent states as well (e.g., Mexico)?

          The US Declaration of Independence and Constitution, written in 1776 and 1787, respectively, long before any other sovereign country among the Americas was formed and recognized, includes “United States of America”. Every other organized, sovereign goverrnment among the North American and South American continents have unique names for their countries, of which their citizens refer to themselves as.

          What do citizens of South American and Central American countries refer to citizens, formally, of the United States as? (vulgarities excluded!).

          “So “America” as stand in for the U.S.A. has as much chance of “catching on” in the world as do yards, bushels, pounds and miles. It’s not happening, nor should it.” – Really? I’ve lived abroad for 12 years in Europe and Asia and pretty much everyone refers to US citizens as ‘Americans’, or ‘Yanks’ (Brits).

          • Larry, you misunderstood me. I wasn’t trying to teach history but I thought it an interesting fact that Hamilton referred to the “American possessions” of Spain in 1788, referring to colonies in Latin America. That might have confused some people if the present claim existed back then, but never mind. Language is organic, it changes spontaneously with no heed to some semantic authority, I get it. I’ve conceded that the demonym ‘American’ is acceptable for U.S. nationals. Plenty of publications and legal documents around the world, when written in English, refer to U.S. citizens as Americans. And the reason that it’s generally acceptable is laziness (or economy, charitably) because no one can be bothered to pronounce “unitedstesian”, “usonian” or some such. And that’s fine, because language is as much about economy as anything else.

            However, “America” the noun defined as the U.S.A. is a different matter. You won’t find a legal document, even inside the U.S., referring to the country as “America.” And I don’t think it will catch on because, unlike ‘American’, it’s not hard to say “United States” or “U.S.”

          • Larry, see my first post. Carlos and Alvaro are right as well as you are in some points. Mexico is a United States as well, Brazil as well until 1967. The name of United States of Mexico is MEXICO as the Name of United States of Brazil was and is BRAZIL, and the name of United States of America is AMERICA. You are making a big mess with the term “United States”. The problem is that the British colonies didn’t find a different name for their new independent country like Mexico and Brazil did, using the same name of the continent. Lack of creativity perhaps?

      • Larry, have you ever study Geography? It looks that you’ve never saw a world map in front of you. “independent, sovereign countries whose citizens refer to themselves by their demonyms, not continent affiliation. Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Guatemala, etc. are not part of the ‘United States of South, or Central, America’’ What were you thinking? So, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Switzerland – which are also sovereign countries – should not call themselves Europeans ? OK, nowadays there is an European Community but it is not as an “United States of Europe”. Same for Asiatic countries. Please, South Americans Countries as wells as Central America countries, as well as Mexico, are AMERICAN COUNTRIES, you like it or not. The root of all the confusion was the arrogance of the British Empire, who disregarded any territory that wasn’t under its dominion. If their colonies were in the new world called “AMERICA” they decide to call it AMERICA (disregarding the rest of the continent). The settlers accepted it and used this name because they were already used to it.

        • DIPR, Don’t understand what you don’t get about the sovereign countries. Germans, French, Spanish, etc. don’t go around claiming themselves as ‘European’ although they are now part of the EU – they say they’re German, French, Spanish, etc. Collectively, they’re european but what is Europe, exactly, at least before the EU formed? Were they european then? Are Swiss european? Are Japanese asian? Is Russia european or asian? They’re Swiss, Japanese, and Russian first. I don’t think Japanese conisdier themselves asian at all.

          This is becoming a most useless debate.

          I get it, North and South America are the Americas. They share a similar name of continents. All people from the Americas can be considered ‘American’ – an entire hemisphere of ‘Americans’. However, every other country has a specific name not associated with ‘America’, except for the US. Nobody outside the western hemisphere would consider someone from South or Central America as ‘American’, although they are technically from one of the Americas.

          Sounds like inferiority complex that people from South and Central America other countries want to associate with the US as Americans too. Get over it. The term is associated solely with citizens from the United States of America. Until the government collapses and a new name emerges that’s the way it is.

          http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/American?q=american&searchDictCode=all

          Now awaiting someone to provide the spanish equivalent of the Oxford english dictionary to show a different definition, as of course the Oxford dictionary is British and solely subjective from an english speaking perspective.

  17. I always wonder why the citizens of the United States of America are going to actually name their country. The USA is a description not a name like their neighbors Canada, Mexico and the rest of the world.

  18. Carolos,
    Canadians have no issue with not being included as ‘American’ although its land mass is larger than the US within North America. I doubt Mexico does as well, though they still probably feel the southwest US is their land. Frankly, nowadays, I wouldn’t want to be associated with the ‘American’ term anyway! You can have it. :-)

    Curious, why aren’t individuals from Brazil, Argentina, Panama, etc. content with being identified as Brazilian, Argentinian, Panamanian, etc. vs. included as ‘American’? The US adopted its name long before any other country formed and was recognized.

  19. A few years ago PBS in the USA had a great program called ‘The Americans’ that looked at the people in North and South America.
    The day after Episode 1 aired there was a huge back last to PBS (always a victim). The first episode was Mexico and so many people who lived north of the Rio Grande were incensed by the idea that these people could be Americans. I always thought it made a statement about the USA American psyche.

  20. Thanks Christian for your answer and ideas.

    We are just refering about European denominations.
    Of course we all know that American natives are the primitive owners of America. Thats why Spain allways respected the native denomination of venues. Moreover; Spaniards MIXED with the American natives creating a new race (dislike others who just confined the American natives in “reservations”)

    Maybe Leif Eriksson arrived in America. Maybe, even before Eriksson, Spanish basques whale hunters arrived in Terranova (Newfoundland)
    It is not that important who arrived -as individuals- first in America.
    The important thing is who arrived as a Nation!; bringing the European civilization (with the heritage of Babilonia; Greece; Rome, etc.) to America…
    The Kingdom of SPAIN is the one who did.
    Few years after arriving, Spain build the first university in America. The first church. The first hospital…
    Moreover, the Spanish monarchy considered and declared the American natives as subjects (nationals/citizens) of Spain with equal rights and duties as any Spaniard from Barcelona or Seville.

    About Brazil; Spain and Portugal were the same Nation for a Century. Before that, they signed the Tratado de Tordesillas in 1494 avoiding any conflict between the two countries during the colonization of America.
    Therefore, Iberoamerica is a fair denomination.
    Brazilians are also Americans; as Argentinians; Cubans or Canadians are.

    The name “Latinamerica” is a crazy invention by Napoleon in the XIX Century. The term was later adopted by the English to denominate Central and South America.

    Before defining any word related to America, English dictionaries should allways consider the American Continent’s History.

    Among European languages/denominations of venues in the American Continent, Spanish language/denominations should allways prevail because the Kingdom of Spain arrived in America well before England.

    “American” is any person from the American Continent.
    “America” is the whole American Continent.

  21. night=nacht(G)=nactia(Nawa)=stay over,=pernoctar(Sp).
    i use Amerind/amerindan/amerinda to refer to the indigenous founders to put it more in line with India/indian.

  22. Re Other languages.
    In Finnish we use the word yhdysvaltalaiset (Yhdysvallat = United States). The word amerikkalaiset (literally Americans) is actually never used, not in conncetion with North Americans, South Americans, or Central Americans for that matter. So ALL languages don’t use derivatives of American. But we are barbarians.

  23. Your perspective regarding the desire to justify with determination taking ‘ownership’ of the right to use the word “American” exclusively by those terrestrials located predominantly between south of the 49th parallel and north of the Mexican border displays both obvious pride and determination as well as your education and knowledge.

    Your rationale to justify via the use of publications such as dictionaries which refer to the use of a word in both common vernacular and it’s historical applications does not make it ‘Law’. It is simply current, common use of a word.

    The key phrase representing your perspective you used “we also distinguish a person from… ” where the inference is “we” are those individuals from the United States, exclusively. Of course, the key quandary is the incorrect use of the word America by the very people you describe as “we”. Akin to en masse ‘education’ (aka propaganda) of the incorrect use of a word does not, in fact, convert that word to mean anything else than what it is.

    Clearly the continental location of your specific United States is in America (whether North or South is not key) as is Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, etc. Each of which may use as desired the suffix/statement “of America”. Even Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, etc. are American; though Central. The fact is there are exclusively two continents which are described as America.

    I currently live in Colombia. Colombians equally take determined pride in describing themselves as American. Those I have met both observe and find it very curiously uneducated that those who live in the United States feel exclusive ‘right’ to the word “American”. Especially as they do not really ‘view’ those who live in the United States as having any more, or less, right to use the word American than they.

    Actually, they deem this low level hijacking use of the word to be a very broad insult. Especially as their history (as well as most others in South America) have resided here long before those within the United States (of America).

    I am Canadian. I have never felt it necessary to regionalize the continental description of my national identity. We learn in school from early years the vast majority of the world knows which continent Canada is located within. Pretty straight forward in our understanding. As a matter of common fact here in Colombia, most Colombians thank me for obviously not being a ‘Gringo’. It becomes a laugh together here especially if the phrase used is Canada of America in conjunction with Colombia of America. From a global perspective, far less hold the United States of American ideals than your country. We benefit of course from aspects of those ideals and are appreciative. Unfortunately, it is evident the opposite is never true for United States Americans as it clearly defies their education as a member of the global community.

    The name “Canada” is, in and of itself, an actual Name. Perhaps Canadians en masse should start using, Trademarking, Marketing, and Copyrighting the name “Earthling” to ensure all others in the world know who we are and which specific planet in our Solar System we reside? Let alone the milky Way…

    And of course, if the dictionaries use the first historical reference of use of words to enter the meaning in their publication, then I think “Earthling – One from Canada, of America” should become the Oxford Dictionary’s newest variant as this BBC response should, hopefully, be published. Have a great day, American from the United States.

  24. There is only one nation associated with the name United States. United States of America is like saying France of Europe. United Mexican States or “Estados Unidos Mexicanos” doesn’t collide with the US name, its a demonym (or gentilic) for the Mexica people, calling them Mexicans is valid, everyone including themselves do, so that part of the argument is invalid.
    Bottom line is that referring to US people as “Americans” works well inside the US (and its a non-issue), but as you travel abroad, the term acquires the meaning -from the americas (North, Central, South)- rendering its local meaning limited.

    PS: The rest of Americans in the continent also object to the US interpretation of the word as a product of its historic abuse and colonialism towards them, as it implies the US -is- America, marginalizing the rest of the nations.

  25. This was a good read and while I tried to agree with some of it, I must point out a few things…

    To compare the demonym “American” with something such as “Chinese”, “Korean” or “Mexican” are pretty much invalid as the latter three are cultural identities. “American” only compares with Central African or Congolese as those are the only examples you offered that were geographical rather than cultural (the case of “Congolese” referring to the Congo River Basin – which could arguably be a cultural reference due to millennia of cultural heritage in that region. As a Canadian and a U.S. Citizen, I can honestly say that while Canadians do refer to US citizens as “Americans” they tend to do so with some degree of contempt.

    You did leave out an important demonym which is “Norteamericanos”. This one puzzles me the most as it seems to be common (more so than estadounidense or americano) from El Salvador south. This is especially odd as El Salvador (as is the case with Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama further south) is actually part of the geographical definition of “North America”

    On the other hand, Anglophiles in both Canada and the United States seem to view only Anglo regions (plus Quebec) as being “North American”. This insinuates that Canadians and U.S. Citizens refer to North America as a cultural region (as the aforementioned Congo). The only problem with this definition is that the more intelligent the Canadian or “American” you speak with – the larger “North America” gets.

    I tend to listen to the smarter bunch – and it generally is the smarter bunch of people asking why are US citizens called “Americans” as for me, I would never, ever call myself an American. I refer to myself as a U.S. Citizen and a Canadian.

  26. The president of the USA acknowledges that all from the american continent are american. That is why the Organization of American States exist.

  27. United States of America , not United States of the Americas or United States of North America
    ((United States) of America) ”of” means that is part of that specific continent
    Singular , one America not Americas.
    I love this ground anyways.

  28. Why did you feel it necessary to use the term “friggin Pope”? I don’t see you referring to anyone else in your piece in such a derogatory manner. Have a little respect, then you Americans might yourselves get a little more respect.

    • Edward, thanks for stopping by! I am sincerely happy that you visited, and I am truly honored that you have taken the time to read my article.

      However, that being said, I must set some things straight.

      First off, you must be fluent enough in the English vernacular to understand that “friggin'” is a watered-down version of the word “fuck,” right? I assume that because you called my usage of it “derogatory.” But, this is where I get confused, because, if I followed that assumption, then you apparently understand what “fuck” means. “Fuck” is one of those words that have countless meanings and nuances, and the most popular and common definition is as an obscene verb for the act of sexual intercourse.

      You must not think that I am accusing the pope, who has vowed a life of celibacy, of being in a present-continuous state of violating that promise, I imagine. So then, I assume that you understand that “fuck” – and “friggin'” by extension – has more than this one common meaning.

      If you understand that this word has multiple meanings, then why did you jump straight to the conclusion that I used it in a derogatory way? If I say that this past experience was “fucking awesome,” I am using our word here to modify the subsequent adjective, and to do so in a way that intensifies and emphasizes it, a stronger word than using “so” or “really” instead.

      In my case in this article, I am using it as a way to say that, on top of all things, this also is happening, like “even the Pope…” It was meant to be interpreted as such: On top of all the previous reasons that I’ve previous pointed out, here’s the cherry on top.

      Furthermore, I find it quite hypocritical that you would tell me to “have some respect” and such, yet you jumped to a conclusion and didn’t offer me the benefit of the doubt. You just knew that I used it in a derogatory sense. In my opinion, the only side that would seem to harbor any lack of respect in our dialogue is yours.

      Also, I am a native English speaker, and I know that English can often be confusing for many people. Many words have multiple meanings and nuances, just like our word here; the word “run” has no less than 600 of them! I’m not sure which language is your native one and to how far your English knowledge extends, but if I learned a “bad” word in a language I was studying, I wouldn’t automatically assume that it is being used in a defamatory or demeaning way the next time I hear it, as I am not fluent in it enough to make that distinction. On top of that, my English language background would not allow me to assume such anyway, because I know that English, though larger in vocabulary than most others, has many such instances – and the slang is even more full of multiplicities.

      Finally, your issue here takes away from the point of the article. I am not here to talk about common English slang or usage or verb tenses or other things of this nature. I am here to promote travel’s importance and cultural understanding. True, you could say that understanding wholly the extent of the definitions of the word “fuck” would help foster cultural understanding, as in our case, but 1) not jumping to conclusions, 2) offering the benefit of the doubt, and 3) holding your tongue before accusing someone of having not even a little respect would arguably help more to bridge any cultural divides.

      I am not angry, in any sense, so I hope that you don’t think that. I just woke up to this comment as ‘pending moderation’ and it inspired my zealous reply. To paraphrase my last line from the article above – There are many reasons to be angry at me, and I certainly have an overabundance of faults, but this is not one of them.

  29. There is a cultural aspect that is little known in English speaker nations that helps to clarify the reason why South Americans think of themselves as americans: there are several classifications to the number and composition of continents. The most popular in USA is the one where there are two continents: North America and South America that togheter are named The Americas. But in South America is popular the classification where there is only one America with three subdivisions called North, Central and South America. For that reason, inhabitants of South America believe to be inhabitants of the same continent and claim the denonymn as belonging to them as well.

    • That’s actually pretty interesting. I didn’t know that but I had a hunch that there was some type of cultural issue at play. Well, with that knowledge, can’t people just accept that it’s a cultural/linguistic difference and just move on? Because I’ve never ever started this argument while traveling but a whole lot of other people have started it with me.

  30. There’s no such thing as the American continent though. If you look at a map or a globe, or recall the 7 continents of the world you will remember that there are only North America and South America. So the proper term would never be American for someone from those continents anyway. The proper term would be North American for those people that are from the lands contained by the continent of North America (yes even Central Americans) or South American for the people that are from the lands contained by the continent of South America. The other thing is that Americans, the kind from the United States of America, aren’t creating any backlash against using whatever terms you want us to use in your own native languages. If you want us to call ourselves estadounidense in Spanish, I doubt you will hear any complaints. And if you want to eradicate the use of the word Americano in relation to Americans from the United States of America, by all means please do so. In fact, every single country and language in the whole wide world is more than welcome to come up with whatever term they feel reflects the true nature of being American. But please, and I mean this wholeheartedly, please do not tell us Americans what to call ourselves in our own language. When you do that you sound rude, standoffish, and pushy. I would never think to tell someone how to use their own language, and that courtesy goes both ways.

  31. Based on some of your points, i could say that the people from South Africa could call themselves Africans the same way citizens from US do. I’m pretty sure they call themselves Africans but they also recognize that everybody in that continent are also Africans. They problem I have is that most people in USA tell me that I’m wrong from calling Americans the people from mexicans, colombians, canadians etc. I’m from PR and USA citizens do not recognize me as an true American. PR has been a US territory since 1890s and US citizens since 1910s.

    I;m ok with US citizens calling themselves americans because they are but I hate when they call USA, America. Thats why I hate the song God Bless America, because they are not thinking on America the continent they meant USA.

  32. There is, in fact, such thing as a the American continent because “America” is the name given to the New World by German Cartographer, Martin Waldseemüller after Amerigo Vespucci in 1507. By the dat you can clearly see that this fact predates the foundation of the US as well the the exploration of the nothern hemisphere of America.

  33. America is a continent, not a country, so everyone who lives in the american continent is american, from canada to argentina period! Case closed. America= continent, not country.

  34. The simple fact is that most U.S. Citizens are arrogant to the fact that America is a continent. The argument that my history and english teacher tell me is, “oh your funny sweety but America is the U.S.A. and the Americas then includes the rest of America.” like ummm NO! America includes ALL of AMERICA not only the U.S.A. the point is that we grow up being taught that america refers to only the U.S.A. and not the rest of the continent so most of my peers call themselves american and don’t realize that america is a continent and will most likely die with that mentality.

  35. What does Mexico have to do with this argument? Well, many people don’t realize this, but Mexico’s official name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, which translates to United States of Mexico or the United Mexican States. This invalidates one of the most common alternate suggestions for demonyms of US citizens, United Statian, since Mexico is also a country of many states, united. The term Mexico doesn’t step on any toes, so there is no argument for that country/demonym pair as there is with the USA.

    Really? ESTADOS UNIDOS MEXICANOS is not the same as United States of México. It means MEXICAN UNITED STATES. Is not American United States, is United States “OF” America, this means that the federation of states belong to something, might be the continent. America, is a continent named and conquered in an apologetic maner by the HISPANIC empiered of HISPANIA:
    Spain.

  36. “The unique part of the United States of America is America, so it became the root of the demonym; there’s no other country with that word within its name.”

    There is a reason for this… America was already coined to indicate people from the American continents, just as Europeans is coined as people from that continent. The reason it’s not divided between north and South America is because of its redundancy. No one cared before, it was just America and according to Europeans we were all savages.

    Only the British would be arrogant enough to completely appropriate the word as their own. Instead of choosing something closer to the language of its natives, a distinct geographical feature, something that describes the Area covered by the U.S., or even something much more poetic than that, as most countries do, they chose “America”, or “of America”. Well no shit, Sherlock!

    I guess my point is, You are correct. It’s called America because of the “of America” in the name. Makes complete sense and it won’t be changed. I just think it’s a dumb name to give a nation. America is not beautiful or unique. It’s named after Américo Vespucio from Italy. It has nothing to do with the land or its stories, but everything to do with the man who said “this isn’t India, guys!” It is the name given to continents, not a country.

  37. How about “US American” to refer to someone from the United States of America?

    It’s neat, simple, doesn’t violate any “name logic” but also acknowledges the name of the country without hijacking it from anyone else. We are Americans of both the continent and the country.

    Who’s with me?

  38. Throughout the history of the US there have been attempts to give US citizens a proper name as descriptor for nationality, terms such as Usonian and United Statesian which clearly show there’s an unfinished task.

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