We learned in grade school that America was named after Amerigo Vespucci, but we didn't learn much about the Italian explorer or how his name came to be linked with two continents and eventually the short name for the Unites States of America. The picture here shows one panel of the world map that provided that link.
Similarly to many other countries, the US did not decide on its name after a careful selection process in which its people sought a fitting linguistic symbol of shared national heritage; instead, its name was somewhat randomly bestowed upon it by an outsider. The person credited with naming America was a German cartographer named Martin Waldseemüller. Born around 1470, Waldseemüller drew his seminal map in 1507 with a colleague, Matthias Ringmann. He created a 32-square-foot woodcut map that had a land mass separate from Europe or Asia, in its own hemisphere, with two oceans on either side. And he gave one sliver of it a name: America.
That sliver was a just a small part of South America, but somehow the name stuck. Waldseemüller did not include the label "America" on his subsequent maps, indicating that he learned more about the relative explorative contributions of Amerigo Vespucci. Read about the single map that named America, and see all 12 panels of it at Quartz. -via Digg
(Image source: Library of Congress)