The Clifton Village LitFest and the Naming of America

As I prepare for my appearance at the Clifton Village LitFest on 13 November 2022, I have started to look for links that connect Bristol and Wales, apart from the Severn Bridge, obviously. So let’s  think briefly about America.

Like me, you have always believed that the continent was named after a Florentine sailor called Amerigo Vespucci. But perhaps not. It was, possibly, named after a senior customs official from Bristol called  Richard Amerike, a sponsor of the voyages of Cabot, who became possibly the first recorded European to set foot on American soil three years before Vespucci, though fisherman from Bristol had been visiting the fishing grounds off Newfoundland for a while.

And if you believe the story, then you will believe that Cabot recognised his sponsor by writing it on a map and the name stuck. And the name ‘Amerike’? It indicates that Richard had Welsh origins and his family name was originally ‘ap Meurig,’ which survives today as ‘Meyrick.’ So, therefore, America is named after a Welshman.  Via Bristol.

I sense that you might be struggling with this, and I think I might share some of your scepticism. But  consider this. It is only royalty who have countries named after them on the basis of their first names. And Amerigo was no royal. The rest of us have to make do with our surname if we want to appear in an atlas.

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