Origins of ordinary things: The name “Africa”

Paleoanthropologists consider Africa to be the birthplace of all humanity . Net photo

Most paleoanthropologists consider Africa to be the birthplace of all humanity and yet its name seems to have been a foreign configuration. Several theories have been put forward as to the origins of the name of the second largest continent in the world.

According to web-based ‘Knowledge Nuts’, the name was acquired during a series of three wars known as the Punic Wars between Rome and the ancient North African empire of Carthage (present day Tunisia) from 264 BC to 146 BC. Going by this theory, the name “Africa” could either have been derived from the Greek word “aphrike” meaning “without cold,” or from the Phoenician word “Afar” which means “dust” or from Latin “Aprica” which means sunny.

The Romans used a foreign name because they wanted the occupants of the land that they had conquered to be detached from their culture and languages. This is according to South Africa drive, a travel company. South Africa Drive suggests that the original name of the continent was “Alkebulan” used by Carthaginians to mean “mother of mankind” or “Garden of Eden.”

However, ‘Science’, a knowledge dissemination site, says that Roman origins are just one of seven possibilities. For instance, some scholars have suggested that the name originated from Yemenite chief named Africanus who invaded North Africa and founded a town called Afrikyah.

‘Race and History’, a knowledge sharing platform, suggests an Egyptian origin of the name Africa which stems from “Afru-ika” to mean ‘Motherland.”

What every historian agrees on is the fact the different connotations of the name “Africa” were initially used to refer to only the northern part of the continent because the knowledge and interaction of the Greeks, Latinas and Romans was limited to the area above the Sahara desert.

When the Portugese made contact with a 15th Century Christian empire after rounding the Cape, they learnt of the Greek term “Aethiopia” which meant “land of the dark skinned or burnt” and was used to refer to people who lived in the land below the Sahara desert. This is according to web-based knowledge sharing platform ‘South Africa History’.

The name ‘Africa’ was later used to refer to the whole landmass when Europeans learnt of the complete size of the continent after the Middle Ages, specifically in the 16th and 17th centuries. This is according to ‘Wikipedia’, an encyclopedia.

There is no clear explanation as to how “Africa” became the popular name for the whole continent but ‘South Africa History’ theorises that in the 18th Century, Latin words became more popular than words from other languages. Since Latins used to refer to the people in the Northern part of the continent as “Afri”, the name “Africa” was used to refer to the place. “Ica” is a Latin suffix which means “land.” 

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