America's original name

Before Vespucci, before Columbus, even before the Vikings “found” the New World, what was the country now known as the United States of America called by the people living here (whether indigenous or not)?

There were no doubt numerous names for the area, given that there were quite a few different groups of people living in the region now occupied by the United States.

I’m sure you’re right. However, inasmuch as I appreciate your response, it’s not very helpful. But do you happen to know any of those names?

The country didn’t have a name because it didn’t exist. In fact, I’ve never heard of any of the cultures native to the Americas naming their land, which makes sense because they didn’t have a concept of land ownership equivalent to the Western one. If you did a survey of every native culture, I bet a lot of the names you would find would simply mean “land” or “home” or similar things.

Thank you. That does make sense – and echoes my theory as well. But I’m still going to investigate – just in case. One never knows what may turn up! Again, thank you.

Turtle Island.

Who called it “Turtle Island”? And why? I’ve been all up and down the East Coast (and the bordering states), and I haven’t seen enough turtles to even call it “Terrapin Town”. This all sounds silly (it IS amusing), but in the name of Knowledge, I persevere.

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No no no. Now you’re just being silly.

The poet Gary Snyder named one of his books Turtle Island, since that was a Native American name and his poetry is a celebration of the landscape of North America. Since Snyder’s contact with Native Americans is limited to the West Coast, I would expect it to come from a tribe of that part of the US.

A shame I don’t have anything more specific.

Concerning the name of the Americas among the indigenous inhabitants: In 1992, a tribe in Panama decided to propose the name Abya Yala so that Native Americans would not have to use the name of the European oppressors. There is an article on this at the Esperanto and French Wikipedias.


Thank you very much – now THIS is helpful! grin Not that I mind the occasional sophomoric jab by the well-meaning and good-natured.

The thing is, people didn’t have a name for the continent of America because they had no idea that such a thing existed. They knew that the land they lived on existed, and that might have a name, and that the land their neighbors lived on existed, and that might have several names, and the land beyond their neighbors existed, and that might or might not have names. But the idea of “continent” simply didn’t exist. And every tribe would have different names for every different area, and might or might not have general names for larger areas. But they wouldn’t have a word that refered ONLY to America but not Europe, Asia, or Africa…because they didn’t know those regions existed.

Oh, and I disagree with the assertion that native americans didn’t have a concept of land ownership. Some did, some didn’t. Farmers generally do, hunter gatherers generally don’t. But most people in pre-Columbian America were farmers, not hunter-gatherers.

And of course, it’s turtles all the way down.

Of course, many societies had some sort of system of land use, but I’ve never heard of a system of land ownership that involved things like the ability to buy and sell land as a commodity. My point was that cultural attitudes towards the land would affect their naming systems. Usually you see modern places named after the Indians’ names for themselves, not their names for the land, because the delineation of territory did not play a central role in structuring their societies as it did in Europe. (E.g., “Mexico” derives from the Aztec words for the Aztec people, not the place where they lived.)

Interesting. That name of course is in the Kuna language; the Kuna call their own territory in Panama “Kuna Yala” or Kuna-Land."

The Kuna have done a notably good job of preserving their own traditions while adopting aspects of Western culture they deem beneficial. They basically run their own affairs within the Kuna Yala, and have quite a bit of autonomy from the Panamanian government.

Knowing the Kuna, it’s not too surprising that they persuaded other indigenous groups to adopt a phrase in the Kuna language! But I suppose, in the absence of a common language, using a name from a centrally-located group living right on the boundary of both continents makes some sense.

Some time ago I had some dealings with an offshore company, located in Panama, by the name of Kuna. Now I know where they got the name from.

Lemur866, Sofa King, Chula, Colibri – thank you so much for your tremendous assistance. Now I know why Unca Cecil loves “the Teeming Millions” so much. You, and many others like you, are invaluable. I’m not doing this research for myself (although I AM curious), but for someone else who voices his appreciation for your efforts. (As do I, lest you think me ungrateful.) Of course, any other insights will be entertained and welcome.

I have it on good authority that it was : “Unga bunga”

Strangely enough the same term was used for “my balls itch” and “when is the comb going to be invented”.

All true.

Sorry for being a jackass.

Calling Mr. Rooves to the Pit courtesy phone. Mr. Rooves to the Pit courtesy phone…


As for local names, the Incas named their realm “Tahuantitsuyo”, but that itself meant something like “the four quarters” , referring to the extension and organization of their domain, rather than a proper noun “personalizing” the land.