Different languages use different terms for citizens of the United
States, who are known in English as Americans. All forms of English
refer to U.S. citizens as Americans, a term deriving from the
Americas. In the English context, it came to refer to inhabitants of
British North America, and then the United States. However, there
is some linguistic ambiguity over this use due to the other senses of
the word American, which can also refer to people from the
general. Other languages, including French, German, Japanese, and
Russian, use cognates of American to refer to people from the United
States, while others, particularly Spanish, primarily use terms
derived from United States. There are various other local and
colloquial names for Americans.
1 Development of the term American
2 International use
3 Alternative terms
4 Colloquial terms
5 See also
Development of the term American
See also: American (word)
Amerigo Vespucci first demonstrated that Brazil and the West Indies
did not represent Asia's eastern outskirts as conjectured by
Christopher Columbus, but instead constituted an entirely separate
landmass hitherto unknown to the peoples of the Old World. Martin
Waldseemüller coined the term America (in honor of Vespucci) in a
1507 world map.
First uses of the adjective American referenced European settlements
in the New World.
Americans referred to the indigenous peoples of the
Americas, and subsequently to European settlers and their
descendants. English use of the term American for people of
European descent dates to the 17th century; the earliest recorded
appearance is in Thomas Gage's The English-American: A New Survey of
the West Indies in 1648. In English, American came to be applied
especially to people in British America, and thus its use as a demonym
United States derives by extension.
United States Declaration of Independence of 1776 refers to "the
thirteen united [sic] States of America", making the first formal
use of the country name; the name was officially adopted by the
nation's first governing constitution, the Articles of Confederation,
in 1777. The
Federalist Papers of 1787–1788, written by Alexander
Hamilton, John Jay, and
James Madison to advocate the ratification of
United States Constitution, use the word "American" in both its
original, Pan-American sense, but also in its
United States sense:
Federalist Paper 24 refers to the "American possessions" of Britain
and Spain, (i.e., land outside of the United States), while
Federalist Papers 51 and 70 refer to the
United States as "the
American republic". People from the
United States increasingly
referred to themselves as
Americans through the end of the 18th
century; the 1795 Treaty of Peace and Amity with the Barbary States
refers to "American Citizens", and
George Washington spoke to his
people of "[t]he name of American, which belongs to you in your
national capacity" in his 1796 farewell address. Eventually, this
usage spread through other English-speaking countries; the unqualified
noun American in all forms of the
English language now chiefly refers
to natives or citizens of the United States; other senses are
generally specified with a qualifier such as Latin American or North
International speakers of English generally refer to people from the
United States as Americans, while equivalent translations of American
are used in many other languages: French (un américain) (although the
term étatsunien derived from États-Unis,
United States in French, is
also accepted), Dutch (Amerikaan), Afrikaans (Amerikaner), Japanese
(アメリカ人, rōmaji: amerika-jin), Korean (미국
사람/미국인, RR: miguk-saram/migugin), Filipino (Amerikano),
Hebrew (אמריקאי), Arabic (أمريكي), and Russian
In German, the designation US-Amerikaner and its adjective form
"US-amerikanisch" are sometimes used, though Amerikaner (adjective:
amerikanisch) is more common in scientific, official, journalistic and
colloquial parlance. The style manual of the
Neue Zürcher Zeitung
Neue Zürcher Zeitung (a
leading German-language newspaper) dismisses the term
U.S.-amerikanisch as both ′unnecessary′ and ′artificial′ and
recommends replacing it with amerikanisch. The respective
guidelines of the foreign ministries of Austria, Germany and
Switzerland all dictate Amerikaner/amerikanisch for official
usage. "Ami" is common in colloquial speech. In Italian,
both americano and statunitense are used, although the former is more
In European Portuguese, americano is mostly used in colloquial speech,
but the term usually used in the press is norte-americano. In
Brazilian Portuguese, the everyday term is usually americano or
norte-americano and estadunidense is the preferred form in academia.
Chinese has distinct words for American in the continent sense and
American in the U.S. sense. The
United States of America is called
美国 (Pinyin: měiguó; Jyutping: mei5 gwok3), while the continent
of America is called 美洲 (Pinyin: měizhōu; Jyutping: mei5 zau1).
There are separate demonyms derived from each word; a U.S. citizen is
referred to as 美国人 (Pinyin: měiguó rén; Jyutping: mei5 gwok3
Although some Spanish speakers use the translation of American
(americano) as well, the official Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas
de la Real
Academia Española nonetheless recommends instead
estadounidense (literally United Statesian) because American can also
refer to all of the inhabitants of the continents of North and South
America. In Spanish-speaking Latin America and the Caribbean,
Americans are estadounidenses, and in colloquial uses, gringos, but
the word usually has a disparaging meaning depending on the context in
which it is used.
The only officially and commonly used alternative for referring to the
people of the
United States in English is to refer to them as citizens
of that country. Another alternative is US-American, also
spelled US American. Several single-word English alternatives for
American have been suggested over time, including Usonian, popularized
by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the nonce term "United-Statesian".
H. L. Mencken
H. L. Mencken collected a number of proposals from between
1789 and 1939, finding terms including "Columbian, Columbard,
Fredonian, Frede, Unisian, United Statesian, Colonican, Appalacian,
Usian, Washingtonian, Usonian, Uessian, U-S-ian, Uesican, United
Stater". Nevertheless, no alternative to American is common in
English. Names for broader categories include terms such as
Western Hemispherian, New Worlder, and North Atlantican.
Yankee (or Yank) is a colloquial term for
Americans in English;
cognates can be found in other languages. Within the United States,
Yankee usually refers to people specifically from
New England or the
Northern United States, though it has been applied to Americans
generally since the 18th century, especially by the British. The
earliest recorded use in this context is in a 1784 letter by Horatio
United States portal
List of demonyms for U.S. states and territories
^ a b c d e "American, n. and adj.". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford
University Press. 2008.
^ Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, p. 87. Retrieved
November 28, 2008.
^ Holloway, Thomas H., ed. (2010). A Companion to Latin American
History. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 6.
^ "The Charters of Freedom". National Archives. Retrieved
^ Articles of Confederation, Article 1. Available at the Library of
Congress' American Memory.
^ Alexander Hamilton. "The Federalist no. 24".
^ James Madison. "The Federalist no. 51".
^ Alexander Hamilton. "The Federalist no. 70".
^ "The Barbary Treaties: Treaty of Peace and Amity".
^ "Washington's Farewell Address 1796". From The Avalon Project.
Retrieved November 10, 2008.
^ Vademecum. Der sprachlich-technische Leitfaden der «Neuen Zürcher
Zeitung», 13th edition. Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zürich 2013,
p. 102, s. v. US-amerikanisch.
^ Eidgenössisches Departement für auswärtige Angelegenheiten:
„Liste der Staatenbezeichnungen“ Archived 2015-11-03 at the
Wayback Machine. (PDF)
^ Bundesministerium für europäische und internationale
Angelegenheiten: „Liste der Staatennamen und deren Ableitungen in
den vom Bundesministerium für europäische und internationale
Angelegenheiten verwendeten Formen“ (PDF)
^ Auswärtiges Amt: „Verzeichnis der Staatennamen für den amtlichen
Gebrauch in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland“ (PDF)
^ (in Spanish) "El gentilicio recomendado, por ser el de uso
mayoritario, es estadounidense" Unidos Estados Unidos (3) RAE.
Retrieved March 31, 2011.
^ a b Wilson, Kenneth G. (1993). "American, America". From The
Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Retrieved April 27, 2009.
Archived June 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
United States Guide: Introduction, The US-American education
system: The US has the most diversified". Just Landed.
^ University of the Pacific (United States): 1.5.4 - Sources of
Cornell University International Students and Scholars Office
(ISSO): What Is a US American? Part One
^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1999:1580) gives the first meaning of
Usonian as "a native or inhabitant of the United States".
^ "United States". From the Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved May
^ Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (1994:88). First
published in the December 1947 issue of American Speech.
^ Matthews, Allan (2006). Sovereigns Peacefully Take Charge.
^ Bartow, Arthur (1988). The director's voice. p. 50.
^ Carlson, Elwood (2008). The lucky few. p. 15.
^ a b "Yankee". From the Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved November
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Merriam-Webster, Inc.
1994. ISBN 978-0-87779-132-4.
Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press