Columbia

Columbia is a poetic name for the United States or even more broadly the Americas. It is, of course, a feminized version of the name Columbus. Use of a feminized form of Columbus’s name to refer to the new world began in England As early as the mid-17th century. Nicolas Fuller, an English clergyman, wrote in his 1660 Miscellanea Sacra:

[...] is every where called America: but according to Truth, and Desert; men should rather call it Columbina, from the magnani mous Heroe Christopher Columbus1

The form Columbia appeared in England in the 1740s and by 1757 the adjectival Columbian had appeared; from John Dyer’s poem The Fleece:

Ev’n in the new Columbian world appears
The woolly covering.2

The name Columbia was adopted by the colonial rebels in 1775 and appears frequently in literature and writings from the Revolutionary War.

The name District of Columbia, applied to the new federal capital, was decided upon in 1791.

The Columbia River was named in 1792 by Captain Robert Gray, its European discoverer, after his ship the Columbia. The Hudson Bay Company subsequently referred to its western territories as Columbia, after the river.3

The name of the Canadian province British Columbia was formalized in 1858, when the mainland region of what would become the province was formally organized. British Columbia was coined by Queen Victoria, who noting the name Columbia on many maps of Canada and realizing that the word was particularly associated with the United States, proposed British Columbia in a letter to colonial secretary Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton (see also dark and stormy night). The modern province was formed in 1866 when the colony of Vancouver Island was merged with mainland British Columbia.4


1Allen Walker Read, America--Naming the Country and Its People, Studies in Onomastics, vol. 4 (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellon Press, 2001), 27.

2Oxford English Dictionary, columbian, a. and n., 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 23 Dec 2008 <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50044435>.

3Illustrated Dictionary of Place NamesIllustrated Dictionary of Place Names: United States and Canada, edited by Kelsie B. Harder (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976), 115.

4Alan Rayburn, Dictionary of Canadian Place Names (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 48.

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