It was soon found that the lands discovered by Columbus were not the lands of the East so eagerly sought by the Europeans. It was hoped, however, that a passage could be found through these lands, which would lead to China or to the Indies. Many explorers came in search of the northwest passage. Many of the rivers flowing into the ocean were thought to lead through the mainland.
No one knew the immense size of the newly discovered lands. One of the Portuguese explorers who came to South America in 1501 brought with him a Florentine named Amerigo Vespucci, or Americus Vespucius, who wrote interesting letters to his friends, describing the regions which he had explored. He later made another voyage, in which he further explored the coast of the mainland of South America, which he called a New World. Theses interesting accounts were translated into the language of the day and were read by the people before Columbus’s description had appeared in the Latin language.
In 1507 a German geographer named Waldseemuller published one of Vespucius’s letters in a book on geography and wrote of the New World as having been discovered by Americus Vespucius, and suggested that the new continent, therefore, be named America, in honor of its discoverer. This suggestion was quickly accepted, and the Florentine, rather than Columbus, received credit for the discovery. When it was found that North America, too, was a new continent, not part of Asia, the name America was given to it also. Thus an error was responsible for the naming of America, as another error was likewise responsible for giving the name Indians to the natives of the New World.