The origin of the name Africa has been debated forever, but it’s a misconception that the continent was named after Roman general Scipio Africanus, nor is it named after Leo Africanus, a man who came much later. Both of them got their names from Africa and not the other way round.
A school of thought argues that the name Africa never originated from within the people and its people were never associated with the name.
Scorpio Africanus is the Roman general who engineered the defeat of the African nation called Carthage in what is now Tunisia. Carthage was a colony of Phoenicia, an ancient Semitic-speaking civilization that originated in what is now Lebanon.
The Phoenicians had an African mixture and with the passage of time, Carthage became increasingly African. Carthage means “the new town”.
The Romans called this entire area Africa. With the defeat of the Carthaginians, Gen. Scipio was given the name “Conqueror of Africa”. Therefore, Scipio Africanus does not give his name to Africa. He gets his name from Africa.
The man named Leo Africanus was an African, and his name means “Leo the African.” Likewise, he got his name from Africa.
Historians who have researched the name origin of the African continent say the original ancient name of Africa was Alkebulan.
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Alkebu-lan means “mother of mankind” or garden of Eden, Dr. Cheikh Anah Diop wrote in “Kemetic History of Afrika”.
Alkebulan is the oldest and the only African name of indigenous origin. It was used by the Moors, Nubians, Numidians, Khart-Haddans (Carthaginians), and Ethiopians.
Diop goes on to argue, along with other historians in this school, that the continent was also called by other many names. These names include Ortigia, Coryphe, Libya, the Land of Ham (Ham means dark skins), dark or Black continent, Kingdom in the Sky, and the land of Cush or kesh (referring to the Cushites who were ancient Ethiopians).
Several other theories shed some light on how this second largest continent with the second largest population acquired its befitting name.
Some experts believe that the name came from two Phoenician words. These words were “friqi” and “pharika”, which translate to corn and fruit respectively. According to this theory, the Phoenicians called Africa the land of corn and fruit.
Other theories include the Roman theory, whereby some scholars believe that the word originated from Romans, who named it after their tribe’s name — Afri. They gave the name Africa meaning the land of the Afri.
Then there’s the weather theory with some scholars believing that the name was coined from the continent’s climate. According to this theory, the word is derived from aphrike, a Greek word that means a land free from cold and horror.
Other theories are the geographical theory and Africus theory which claim that the continent derived its name from Africus, a Yemenite chieftain who invaded the northern part of the continent in the second millennium B.C. It is argued that he settled on his conquered land and named it Afrikyah.
There is little or no certainty on the source of the continent’s name. Several scholars have tried to explain the origin and meaning of the name Africa, but none is convincingly correct.
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