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Today, Venice might be known mainly as that sinking city where tourists take obnoxious selfies with an irritated gondolier throwing up a bras d'honneur in the background, but for more than a millennium it was one of the richest, most powerful places in the world.
The Republic of Venice was hitting the early stages of its decline around the time Christopher Columbus was sailing the ocean blue, but world superpowers don't fade overnight, so it's safe to say that it remained quite the impressive place. Still, it was losing a little of its limelight to the discoveries being made in the New World -- you know, mythical lands, cities of silver and gold, naked chicks just everywhere. At one point, Columbus even said he'd found, right there at the tippy top of what is now South America, the biblical Terrestrial Paradise, aka the Garden of freaking Eden. According to Columbus, if he was wrong about it being Paradise, then it was someplace even better.
"This place is great! 'Badmouth the works of God' great."
The Crazy Reason Behind the Name:
Well, three other explorers arrived at the same spot not long after that and rated it a resounding "meh." When Alonso de Hojeda, Amerigo Vespucci, and Juan de la Cosa landed on some islands around the land described by Columbus, they found it sorely lacking in the "big-ass apple tree with a talking snake in it" department. What they did find, however, were lots of natives living in these:
Peter & Jackie Main, via Wikipedia
Maybe Venice also had a problem with giant, terrifying swamp mosquitoes.
Once they were able to take a break from dodging arrows and generally trying to avoid ending up in a giant pot with diced carrots and onions (according to the explorers, the natives were cannibals), they turned to each other and said, "You know what? This place totally looks like Venice." So the mainland was named Veneziola -- literally "little Venice" -- and the name has survived ever since.
OK, so they may have been a bit homesick, seeing as how they decided to sail back to Europe right after that. Also, they were just arriving from Colombia with their pockets full of emeralds, so they were probably feeling pretty generous as they daydreamed of going home to greet their throngs of explorer groupies (which we assume were a thing back then). Even so, the absurd leap they had to make to see some ramshackle huts inhabited by (alleged) cannibals and make a connection to one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe makes us think there was some sort of scurvy-induced dementia going on.
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Ever since we were capable of memorizing a rhyme, we've known that Columbus discovered the Americas. But why are the Americas named the Americas, while all Columbus got was a country in South America known for its drug lords, civil conflict, and Shakira?
Well, the story you might have heard in school is that it's all because of one Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian pickle dealer/explorer who wrote some letters implying that he had reached the American mainland more than a year before Columbus. In 1507, said letters reached the desk of a German mapmaker by the name of Martin Waldseemuller, who first labeled these newfound lands as America, the feminine form of Vespucci's first name. That's a pretty straightforward story, right?
"Europeans ... equal ... dicks. Got it."
The Crazy Reason Behind the Name:
It would be, except for the fact that, depending on whom you ask, either those letters were forgeries or Vespucci was the Renaissance explorers' answer to Thomas Edison (i.e., a lying douchebag who leeched the credit from others to bolster his own fame and fortune). Apparently even Waldseemuller had second thoughts as to the authenticity of Vespucci's (or Vespucci's forger's) story, as he removed all references to America from his later maps. By that time, though, it was too late -- other mapmakers had already adopted the name.
"Sorry, Leif Erikson, but getting your name on a globe is a marketing game."
But wait, it gets more complicated! Others theorize that the word "America" was already in common use before Waldseemuller stuck it on his map -- he just assumed that Vespucci's first name was the source of the word, when in actuality it came from "Amerrique," an Indian tribe in Nicaragua that both Columbus and Vespucci had infected and enslaved -- er, visited. Some even think that Vespucci fudged his first name from Alberico to Amerigo just to make it sound more like the common name for the New World and ensure his lasting legacy.
But wait, there's one more! Still others theorize that the name didn't come from either "Amerigo" or "Amerrique," but from Richard Amerike, a 15th century businessman who didn't discover jack shit, but who threw piles of money at other people so they'd do it on his behalf. And if you think about it, that seems like a pretty fitting ancestral origin for modern America.
Even though the proponents' points could certainly raise an eyebrow, serious historians (you know, ones with impressive beards) don't give much credence to either the "Amerrique" or the "Amerike" theory, instead sticking with the tried-and-true forger-or-asshole origin. No matter which story you buy, one thing's for certain: Damn, there sure were a lot of people whose names smacked of freedom back in the olden days.
Related Reading: If you're more interested in the stupid stories behind your favorite songs, click here. Axl Rose recorded himself having sex for the song 'Rocket Queen'. And the true stories behind these viral images are more incredible than you'd ever believe. We've also got these hidden stories behind popular children's songs if you're into that.