A number of theories regarding the origin of the name
"America" have been advanced, but none have been proved true.
First, and most generally accepted, is that the name
"America" is derived from the first name of Amerigo Vespucci,
an Italian mapmaker and self-promoter who explored the seacoasts of
North America in the decade following Christopher Columbus'
"discovery" of the New World for her most Catholic majesty,
Isabella of Spain.
However, there has been no substantiation that this derivation of the
name "America" is correct: and there is other evidence
indicating that Amerigo Vespucci was not above turning to personal
advantage an odd coincidence of phonetics in the sound of his first name
and a composite word of ancient Norse invention, evidently in very
current use by the North Atlantic sailing fraternity from about the year
1000 until well past the times of Columbus, Cabot and Vespucci.
The claim that the name of the entire continent, North and South, was
derived from a given name is odd in itself, for common practice at the
time would indicate using a man's family name to derive an identity for
Secondly, and less generally accepted, is a theory emanating from
Bristol, England, submitting that the name "America" was
derived from name of one Richard Ameryke, a tax collector for King Henry
VII as well as the city's leading lumber merchant. Ameryke was an
enthusiastic supporter and financial backer of the Italian navigator,
John Cabot. Under letters-patent from Henry VII, dated 5 March 1496,
Cabot set sail from Bristol in 1497, accompanied by his three sons.
On 24 June 1497 he sighted Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia, thus
"discovering" the mainland of North America - about 600 years
after the Vikings had done so.
There is no more factual substantiation of the Bristol theory of the
origin of the name "America" than the highly questionable
claims of Amerigo Vespucci.
Thirdly, the theory has been advanced that America was named for a
Spanish sailor bearing the ancient Visigothic name of
Since these unproved - and quite possibly, unprovable - claims and
theories are being advanced and accepted, it seems only right to submit
a fourth unproven, equally logical and far more possible theory of the
origin of the name "America".
Therefore, it is herewith submitted that the word "America"
is simply a phonetic derivation of an ancient Norse compound word
"omme-rike". In its simplest translation from the largely
four-letter language of the Viking discoverers of the New World, it
means "the remotest land". The various parts of the New World
were referred to in the Icelandic Sagas as Helluland (Stoneland),
Markland (Woodland) and Vineland (Wineland). "Omme-rike" would
have been the logical name to apply to the great land mass as a whole.
In support of this submission the following facts are listed for
The name of this wondrous land, Ommerike, was so well established, so
totally known and accepted, such common knowledge that none of the
Italian navigators, not Cabot, Vespucci or even Columbus himself, ever
thought of calling the place by any other name but the already long
established Ommerike - America.
- The long-used and familiar name occurring in classic writings,
"Ultima Thule," designating a mysterious distant land. The
meaning of these two words is singularly interesting in itself.
Ultima means "the end," "remotest," and Thule is
derived from, not Latin, but from the old Norse word
"Thyle," which means to "speak". It is safe to
assume that when the Norse word meaning speech is used, the speech
being referred to is Norse. The simplest translation of "Ultima
Thule" is "the farthest out land where Norse is
spoken". The obvious conclusion is simply that "Ultima
Thyle" means what it says.
- The analysis of the word in question, "America," as to
its possible meaning in old Norse, the language of the Vikings,
still current in a slightly changed form in Iceland and in isolated
parts of Norway. In old Norse, the word "America" strongly
suggests two separate words, "omme" and "rike".
"Omme" means "over," "out," "out
there," "the end," "final," "furthest
out," "most remote," "very last," or
Rike" appears in lively existence today both in contemporary
Norse, and its use by the Vikings to designate large land masses is
amply attested to today in the names of places in the areas of
Viking operations. Sometimes the word is slightly modified, but its
presence is as easily recognized as its meaning. In old Norse it is
pronounced rica as in America, It is spelled in a number of ways,
but always pronounced the same: rige, rega, rike, rikja, reykja. In
German it appears as "reich". It always means the same
thing: country, land, kingdom empire. Examples of the use of this
ancient Norse word can be found in the following:
Norege, pronounced nor-reeg-eh, meaning Norway.
Sverige, pronounced sver-reeg-eh, meaning Sweden.
Frankrike, pronounced frankr-reeg-eh, meaning France.
Osterike, pronounced oste-reeg-eh, meaning Austria.
The above should be sufficient to prove that it was common
practice for Vikings to use this word to designate countries.
Combined, the old Norse words "omme" and rike"
would be pronounced "Oh-ma-reeg-eh" - virtually identical
to "America" - and would translate into an almost
identical meaning with the oft repeated classic term "Ultima
Thule (Thyle)" when one considers that Norse was a spoken, not
a written, tongue, and that Latin was the only written language of
the time; additional inferences are obvious.
On one of Verrazzano's maps, the coast of New England is oddly
named "Norumbega". Naturally, one cannot expect a
"segener" like Verrazzano to pronounce Norse words
correctly, much less spell or understand them. Basic study on the
possible Norse origin of the word "Norumbega," bastardized
by an ignorant Latin, suggests much support for the idea advanced:
"Norum" is nothing else than the Norse word
"naerom," meaning "near under" (and contains the
stem word "om" from "omme") and "bega"
is merely a misspelled-and-mispronounced Italian version of the
Norse word "rege" or "rike". I believe it is
obvious that "Norumbega" is an Italianized version of the
Norse word "Naerom-rega," "Naeromrike," or,
possibly, "Naerom-vikja" which would translate into the
meaning of "the near-under regions" or "the
near-under-harbor". But its real meaning is even clearer: It is
only a slightly modified version of "omme-rike".
- Finn Magnussen has established that Columbus did visit Iceland at
least once in 1477, fifteen years before undertaking his first
voyage to the New World. He could have easily heard of Ommerike and
could even have visited there in a Norse ship.
- Previous to the great plague, Iceland and Greenland - and the
lands beyond - are believed to have supported a population numbering
into the hundreds of thousands. One of the major ports doing
business in this area was Bristol, England. It was the home base for
John Cabot and source of the Bristol Theory of the origin of the
name "America". The first White man to see America was
Bjarne Herulfssen, wind-blown upon it while bringing a cargo of wood
(reader please make note of the cargo) from Norway to Iceland, 600
miles across open seas. It is rather naive to assume that what
happened to Bjarne Herulfssen did not happen to others, Bristol
traders as well as Norsemen. It is, I believe, quite safe to assume
that Bristol ships had sailed the Ommerike coast long before John
Cabot - if only by accident - and referred to the place by its Norse
- The key to the main reason that the Icelanders and Greenland Norse
would never have abandoned contact with Ommerike can be found in the
cargo of Bjarne Herulfssen's ship. As there are no forests on either
Iceland or Greenland and wood was needed to sustain life (both to
keep warm in the rigorous winter and as building material for
shelter for humans and livestock as well as for building and
repairing ships), a source of supply of lumber had to be maintained.
It had to come either from Europe or Ommerike. Europe meant a six
hundred mile voyage across the open seas, with plenty of chance of
disaster from the elements, desertion of the crews on arrival and
payment of some kind to secure lumber; while a voyage to Ommerike
meant a two hundred and fifty mile open sea voyage from Iceland to
Greenland with landfall almost certain, another two hundred and
fifty miles to certain landfall on the Ommerike coast, and from
there on a cold but relatively safe coastal voyage to endless
forests that were free for the taking - with little chance that the
crew would desert or refuse to return to Iceland.
Any present Icelander, given a similar choice of voyages, would
set his sails for Ommerike, not Europe.
- Vatican records in Rome are reported to establish that a Bishop
Eric Gnuptson (probably Knutssen), Bishop of Greenland and
neighboring regions, arrived in Ommerike in the last year of Pope
Pashal II, stayed for at least one year and then returned to Rome
via Greenland and Iceland. His ministry is said to have included
seventeen parishes. There is also a reported Norwegian record
granting the King's authority to one George Knutsen to recruit the
sons of leading Norwegian families to go to the lands beyond
Greenland to search out and induce to return to the fold those
colonists that had drifted off to live with the natives.
- The Vatican could well have had very real practical reasons to be
reluctant to place too great an importance to the Norse adventures
in the New World or to publicize them. The Church's authority always
diminished in direct proportion to the northward distance from Rome.
The grip on the countries around the Norwegian sea was always
precarious, and any real hold in Iceland or Greenland was virtually
Undoubtedly it seemed - and proved to be - to the Vatican's
advantage that the discovery and all ensuing "rights" to
the New World be credited to the enterprise and operation of nations
ruled by devout Christians.
The political expedients employed in this great delusion worked very
well indeed, for both the nations of Spain and Portugal and for the
Catholic Church. However, the days of such reasoning and shenanigans are
long past and no reason remains, except indifference, to continue to
deny that someplace in forgotten archives of the Vatican exist maps and
written reports of Bishop Erie Knutssen and many others who visited the
New World long before Columbus, voyaging over the Icelandic-Greenland
route, and perhaps even as far as the islands of the Gulf of Mexico or
even Mexico itself.
Bit by bit, in unexpected ways, the truth of the discovery of the New
World surfaces, the last example of which is the authenticated Yale
University Vinland map. There will be many more such scholastic
breakthroughs and it is safe to predict that in some future rediscovered
map or written report predating both the Italian Amerigo Vespucci and
the Englishman Richard Ameryke, a name for the new lands will appear
very close to "Ommerike".
As stated before, these submissions are mere theories, with no more
substantiation than the theories of other origins of the name
"America". Proof of them must be left to better and more
thorough scholars than the writer. But the meaning of the word
"omme-rike" in ancient Norse is sound, and should provide a
new and different source to explore in searching out and authenticating
a page of human history replete with all the ingredients of enchantment
and subterfuge of a mystery novel.