I presume we all know about the first appearance of the word America on the Waldseemüller map of 1507; what I, at any rate, didn’t know was that the text of the map and accompanying book, and hence the coining of the word, is thought to be the work of Waldseemüller’s friend Matthias Ringmann. As a Fourth of July post, therefore, I offer “How America got its name: The suprising story of an obscure scholar, an adventurer’s letter, and a pun,” a lively Boston Globe piece by Toby Lester. A sample:
The author, for example, demonstrates a familiarity with ancient Greek, a language that Ringmann knew well and that Waldseemüller did not. He also incorporates snatches of classical verse, a literary tic of Ringmann’s. The one contemporary poet quoted in the text, too, is known to have been a friend of Ringmann.
Waldseemüller the cartographer, Ringmann the writer: This division of duties makes sense, given the two men’s areas of expertise. And, indeed, they would team up in precisely this way in 1511, when Waldseemüller printed a new map of Europe. In dedicating that map, Waldseemüller noted that it came accompanied by “an explanatory summary prepared by Ringmann.”
This question of authorship is important because whoever wrote “Introduction to Cosmography” almost certainly coined the name America. Here again, I would suggest, the balance tilts in the favor of Ringmann, who regularly entertained himself by making up words, punning in different languages, and investing his writing with hidden meanings. In one 1511 essay, he even mused specifically about the naming of continents after women.
I confess I felt a sting from this offhand remark: “After studying the classics at university he settled in the Strasbourg area, where he began to eke out a living by proofing texts for local printers and teaching school. It was a forgettable life, of a sort that countless others like him were leading.” Yeah, well where would your texts be if there were nobody to proof them, eh?