How did Africa get its name?

Africa was once called the “Dark Continent,” mainly due to the fact that it was a mysterious land with inhabitants that were described as “savage” and “violent” by foreigners in ancient times. However, after further research on the origins of man, scientists have discovered that Africa was the birthplace of the human species. In addition, the great Egyptian civilization was founded in the continent and reigned supreme over its people for a certain period of time. Because of Africa’s rich history, there are diverse languages, cultures, and ethnicities found within the continent. Another reason as to why it has so many languages and cultures is that it accounts for 15% of the world’s population, making it the second-most populous continent in the world after Asia.

Despite the various historical evidence and artifacts found in Africa, many experts are still wondering how the continent got its name. Different theories and hypotheses were brought out by historians and researchers, but until now, these “guesses” are not considered as the real answers as to why the continent is named Africa. These theories are usually based on historical and even literary evidence, but none of them are proven to be true.

Where to Buy
The New Complete Works of Josephus
The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville
The Lion and the Jewel (Three Crowns Books)


A classical historian named Flavius Josephus proposed that Africa was named after Epher, Abraham’s grandson and the leader of an unknown tribe that invaded the land and gave it the name that we know today. That tribe is now called in historical records as the Afri tribe that once occupied Northern Africa. However, the said tribe and its name do not exist anymore, but the word “Ifira” is derived from it and is used as the name of an area found in Nigeria. Another word called “Ifran” also comes from “Afri” and is utilized as the name of the Berber tribe called Banu Ifran.

Aprica or Aprike

Isidore of Seville wrote in his book, Etymologiae, that the word “Africa” is derived from the Latin word “aprica,” which means “sunny.” It is also possible that the Latin word carried over to the Greek language and was the inspiration behind the word “aprike,” meaning “without cold.” Both “sunny” and “without cold” perfectly describe the weather and climate in Africa, as it is usually warm in the continent, and most countries found there do not experience snow or winter.

Faraqa and Pharika

The name Africa may have also come from two Phoenicians words, which are “faraqa” and “pharika.” The word “faraqa” is supposed to mean “separation,” which is appropriate for Africa’s land that is separated from Europe and Asia. The other word, “pharika,” means “fruit” and is one of the main exports of the continent because of its abundance of fruit-bearing trees or plants.

Africa Terra

Another popular theory as to how Africa got its name is that during the invasion of the Romans in the continent, they called it “Africa terra,” meaning “land of the Afri,” the tribe that we have discussed previously. Because of this name, it is widely believed that it was the Romans that gave the Afri tribe its name since they most likely didn’t have one before the invasion. Furthermore, the Latin –ica suffix added to the name of the continent is used to denote a landmass on the map. However, according to the Hebrew language, adding the suffix to the word “afar” (means “dust” to the Hebrews), will bring out the phrase “land of dust,” which is supposed to describe the sands found in Northern Africa.

While the Europeans designated the name “Africa terra” to the area within Libya, they continued to use it as the name of the continent when they conquered other places to the south of Africa. Upon deciphering and realizing that the term “Africa” is a European construct, many influential people around the continent wanted to change the name of their land. One of these people was writer Wole Soyinka, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, who wanted to change the name of Africa into words that are found in their language. But the proposals to change Africa’s name didn’t push through, as changing it would prove to be too complicated in the Modern Age since almost all people have already become accustomed to calling it Africa.

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