Known today for the less well-known (and let’s be honest, far less deserving) – Amerigo Vespucci, America was once affectionately known as Columbia!
Countries have long been supplied with anthropomorphisms. The former Gaul (France) is known as Gallia, for example. Britain is known affectionately as Britannia, Germany Germania, and Switzerland Helvetia (not to be confused with this cheese).
In the mid-1800s it was common for European countries to adopt a Latin variant that added a bit of gravitas and poetic credibility to their country. The blossoming British Colonies in America adopted Columbia for the more famous Italian explorer as the personification through which, symbolically at least, they channelled their hopes and dreams for freedom.
By the time the War of Independence was won, Columbia had caught on as the popular reference for the new country. Ode to Columbia’s Favourite Son was written about General Washington [the words of which can be found in Thomas Jefferson’s Scrapbooks.]
Although Columbia has fallen from prominence (a distant second behind Lady Liberty since the World Wars of the 20th Century), and a variation of which is now taken by Venezuela’s western neighbor, Columbia has been distilled (at least in name) throughout the United States:
- “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean” and “Hail, Columbia” competed with The Star Spangled Banner for national anthem until the latter won out in 1931.
- Columbia, capital city of South Carolina
- Columbia University
- The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 (immortalized in Erik Larsen’s Best-Selling The Devil in the White City)
- Columbia Records
- Columbia Pictures
- The District of Columbia
- British Columbia
- For a list of more national personifications, click here.
- For lyrics to Columbia, Gem of the Ocean and for a downloadable MP3, click here.