Home About Colombia What’s in a name? Colombia vs. Columbia
Colombia vs. Columbia

What’s in a name? Colombia vs. Columbia

by Sabine
Published Last updated on
Languages / Talen

Confusion all around, because what is the real name of the country I live in? The country associated with drugs, Pablo Escobar and the FARC, but also with beautiful nature, white beaches and lovely people. Are we talking about Colombia or Columbia? Colombians themselves get pretty mad at the many Americans who keep misspelling their country’s name, even journalists get it wrong. But not only Americans do not know the difference between Colombia and Columbia. In fact, I have regularly heard the wrong variant passed around even in the Netherlands and even in comments on my blog I see the confusion. So time to settle this lack of clarity once and for all. Colombia vs. Columbia: what means what?


The country of Colombia

A little history

In the year 1499, it was the Spaniard Alonso de Ojeda who was the first to set foot on Colombian grounds. Present-day Colombia was discovered in 1536 by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada and Sebastián de Belalcázar, after which it was a Spanish colony for a long time. Colombia declared its independence in 1810, but it was not until 1819 that true independence was achieved under the leadership of Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander. Simón Bolívar then became the first president of the Republic of Greater Colombia, consisting of present-day Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama. In 1830, Bolívar was deposed and Venezuela and Ecuador separated. Panama followed in 1903.

Name changes

Several name changes occurred throughout this period. In 1819 the name Republic of Greater Colombia was adopted, then in 1830, after the secession of Venezuela and Ecuador, the country was renamed the Republic of New Granada. In 1858, the name was changed again, this time to Granadine Confederacion, only to be changed to the United States of Colombia five years later, in 1863. It was not until 1886 that a name was finally given to this piece of land: Republic of Colombia.

Christopher Columbus

Despite never having set foot on Colombian grounds, Colombia is named after sailor Christopher Columbus, Alonso de Ojeda’s traveling companion. And there we have the name confusion right away. Now you wonder: why do they name Colombia after someone named Columbus? With an “u,”. As you may know, Christopher Columbus is not a Spaniard, but an Italian. His Latin last name is Columbus, but in Italian his name is Cristoforo Colombo.


But then what is Columbia?

This is actually quite simple. Columbia is:

  • a prestigious university in New York;
  • a sportswear brand;
  • part of the state of “British Columbia” in Canada;
  • one of the oldest record companies in the world (1988): Columbia Records;
  • a river in Canada and the northwestern US;
  • the name of an Argentine bank;
  • a school in Chicago;
  • an Apeldoorn-based soccer club;
  • the capital of the U.S. state of South Carolina;
  • a restaurant chain in Florida;
  • the well-known American film company Columbia Pictures;
  • a NASA shuttle space shuttle;
  • the name of 14 more places in the United States;
  • and a French motorcycle brand.

It’s Colombia, NOT Columbia

Conclusion: Columbia really has nothing at all to do with the country of Colombia.

So there is only one correct name for this beautiful country, and that is Colombia. Or as the message of the incredibly fun and informative American spelling campaign set up by a Columbian spelling campaign reads: It’s Colombia, NOT Columbia!



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