"Columbia" (; ) is a historical name used by some Europeans and Americans to describe the Americas, the New World, and sometimes, more specifically, the United States. It is also a name given to the "Spirit of the Frontier" of which was used to illustrate Manifest Destiny among several other American political causes. It has given rise to the names of many persons, places, objects, institutions, and companies; e.g., Columbia University, the District of Columbia (the national capital of the United States), and the ship Columbia Rediviva, which would give its name to the Columbia River. Images of the Statue of Liberty largely displaced anthropomorphism Columbia as the female symbol of the U.S. by around 1920.
Columbia is a New Latin Toponymy, in use since the 1730s, for the Thirteen Colonies. It originated from the name of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus and from the ending -ia, common in Latin names of countries (paralleling Britannia, Gallia etc.).
Massachusetts Chief Justice Samuel Sewall used the name Columbina (not Columbia) for the New World in 1697.Thomas J. Schlereth, "Columbia, Columbus, and Columbianism" in The Journal of American History, v. 79, no. 3 (1992), 939 The name Columbia for "America" first appeared in 1738 The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 8, June 1738, p. 285 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Dec. 1885, pp. 159–65 in the weekly publication of the debates of the British Parliament in Edward Cave's The Gentleman's Magazine. Publication of Parliamentary debates was technically illegal, so the debates were issued under the thin disguise of Reports of the Debates of the Senate of Lilliput, and fictitious names were used for most individuals and placenames found in the record. Most of these were transparent anagrams or similar distortions of the real names; some few were taken directly from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels; and a few others were classical or neoclassical in style. Such were Ierne for Ireland, Iberia for Spain, Noveborac for New York (from Eboracum, the Roman name for York), and Columbia for America—at the time used in the sense of "European colonies in the New World". Debates in Parliament, Samuel Johnson.
The name was perhaps first coined by Samuel Johnson, thought to have been the author of an introductory essay (in which "Columbia" already appears) which explained the conceit of substituting "Lilliputian" for English names; Johnson also wrote down the Debates from 1740 to 1743. The name continued to appear in The Gentleman's Magazine until December 1746. Columbia seems an obvious calque on America, substituting the base of the surname of the discoverer Christopher Columbus for the base of the given name of the somewhat less well-known Amerigo Vespucci Vespucius.
As the debates of Parliament, many of whose decisions directly affected the colonies, were distributed and closely followed in the British colonies in America, the name "Columbia" would have been familiar to the United States' founding generation.
In the second half of the 18th century, the American colonists were creating their own identity distinct from that of their British cousins. At that time, it was common for European countries to use a Latin name in formal or poetical contexts to confer an additional degree of respectability on the country concerned.E.g. "Gallia" for France, "Helvetia" for Switzerland, "Lusitania" for Portugal, "Caledonia" for Scotland, and "Hibernia" for Ireland, etc. In many cases, these nations were personified as pseudo-classical goddesses named with these Latin names. Located on a continent unknown to and unnamed by the Romans, "Columbia" was the closest that the Americans could come to emulating this custom.
By the time of the Revolution, the name Columbia had lost the comic overtone of its "Lilliputian" origins and had become established as an alternative, or poetic name for America. While the name America is necessarily scanned with four syllables, according to 18th-century rules of English versification, Columbia was normally scanned with three, which is often more metrically convenient. The name appears, for instance, in a collection of complimentary poems written by Harvard graduates in 1761, on the occasion of the marriage and coronation of King George III. Hoyt, Albert. "The Name 'Columbia'", The New England Historical & Genealogical Register, July 1886, pp. 310–13.
The name "Columbia" rapidly came to be applied to a variety of items reflecting American identity. A ship built in Massachusetts in 1773, received the name Columbia Rediviva; it later became famous as an exploring ship, and lent its name to new "Columbias."
No serious consideration was given to using the name Columbia as an official name for the independent United States, but with independence the name became popular and was given to many counties, townships, and towns, as well as other institutions, e.g.:
The adjective Columbian has been used to mean "of or from the United States of America", for instance in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois. It has occasionally been proposed as an alternative word for "American".
Columbian should not be confused with the adjective "Pre-Columbian", referring to a time period before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.
Especially in the 19th century, Columbia was visualized as a goddess-like female national personification of the United States and of liberty itself, comparable to the British Britannia, the Italian Italia Turrita, and the French Marianne, often seen in political cartoons of the 19th-early 20th century. This personification was sometimes called "Lady Columbia" or "Miss Columbia". Such iconography usually personified America in the form of an Indian queen or Native American princess
laurel wreath, but most often it was a cap of liberty.
In World War I, the name "Liberty Bond" for savings bonds was heavily publicized, often with images from the Statue of Liberty. The personification of Columbia fell out of use, and she was largely replaced by the Statue of Liberty as a feminine symbol of the United States.
Statues of the personified Columbia may be found, among others, in the following places: