How did Africa really get its name?

For a long time, the origin of the name “Africa” has been a subject of dispute as many historians have not been able to come to an agreement on how the continent got its name.

The word “Africa” for many of its 1.2 billion people, equates to a home of unequalled linguistic, ethnic and cultural variety.

Despite being the place of ancient civilisation, for others, it reminds them of poverty and corruption. But largely, it is believed that Africa provided a home for the first man on earth thousands of years ago.

But where did the name “Africa” come from?

One of the most popular belief is that the word came from the Romans, who named the land they found on the opposite side of the Mediterranean after a Berber tribe living in the Carthage area (now Tunisia).

Some historians say that the word might have stemmed from the Latin word afri, used to refer the Berber tribe Aourigha. The Romans called the region Afri-terra, meaning “the land of the Afri”. The Latin suffix –ica is used to denote a landmass as well. Historians suggest that the suffix “-ica” could also have been used to mean “the land of the Afri”, as in Celtica (a region of modern-day France) which was named after the Celtae who lived there.

There are a number of theories stemming from different times and people on how Africa got its name and we want to take a look through 9 of these theories.

Phoenician

The name Africa has been connected with the Phoenician word afar, which means “dust.” It has also has been connected to two Phoenician terms friqi or pharika, which means “land of corn or fruit.” It has also been hypothesized that Africa may have derived from a Phoenician root faraqa or faraq, meaning “separation or diaspora.”

Roman

The Romans have been given credit for popularizing the name Africa in the West. They used the name Africa terra meaning  “land of the Afri” (or singular version “Afer”)  for the northern part of the continent. Its capital was Carthage, which is modern-day Tunisia.

The story told by some historians is that the Romans got the term from the Carthaginians, as a native term for their country. The Latin suffix “-ica” can sometimes be used to denote a land (e.g., in Celtica from Celtae, as used by Julius Caesar).

Another theory is that the continent was named after the Roman general “Scicipio Africanus,” but his name meant “Sicipio of Africa,” which would mean the general was named for being from Africa. Some say the term is drawn from the Latin adjective aprica (sunny).

Greek

The historian Leo Africanus (1495-1554) attributed the origin of “Africa” to the Greek word  aprikē  or aphrike. Phrike means cold and horror, when combined with the negating prefix a-, it means a land free of cold and horror.

Jewish 

The 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus asserted that Africa was named for Epher, grandson of Abraham, according to the Bible’s Genesis 25:4, whose descendants invaded Libya. The Hebrew name for the continent, Auphirah is supposedly written as Ophir in many Jewish records.

Arabic

Some have attributed the name to the later Muslim kingdom of Ifriqiya (sunny place) in modern-day Tunisia. However, the Arab version is considered by most historians to be a derivative of the Latin version.

Hindi

Another theory is that the word might stem from Sanskrit and Hindi in which the root Apara or Africa denotes that which, in geographical terms, “comes after” or to the west — in which case Africa is the western continent.

Yemeni

Some have postulated that it is the name of a Yemenite chief named Africus who invaded North Africa in the second millennium B.C. and founded a town called Afrikyah.

Berber

A number of historians believe the Romans got the name from a corruption of what the Berbers called the region in which they lived. The theory asserts that “Africa” stems from the Berber ifri (plural ifran), the word for “cave,” in reference to cave dwellers. The same word is found in the name of the Banu Ifran from Algeria and Tripolitania, a Berber tribe originally from Yafran (also known as Ifrane) in northwestern Libya.

Egyptian

A few historians argue that the word “Africa” is indigenous to the continent, and the idea that the Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Hindus or any Caucasoid group created the name Africa is absolutely inaccurate.

This theory asserts that Romans and Greeks began using the term only after coming in contact with African people, such as the Greek conquest of Egypt and the Roman conquest of North Africa and Egypt.

The term “Afru-ika” means “birthplace” or “Motherland,” according to historian Ivan Van Sertima. Af-rui-ka means “to turn toward the opening of the Ka, womb or birthplace.”

Another hypothesis is that the name of the 4th dynasty pharaoh, Kh-afre, reveals that an early Egyptian king had the name “Africa.” It’s believed by some that because modern Egyptologists and others often mix the order of the hieroglyphs that the ancients wrote Kh-afre is supposedly written as Afre-Kh or Africa.


The word “Africa” is an evocative one that conjures up different images for different people. For some, it’s an ivory-tusked elephant standing before the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro; for others, it’s a mirage shimmering on the horizon of the arid Sahara Desert. It’s also a powerful word—one that speaks of adventure and exploration, corruption and poverty, freedom and mystery. For 1.2 billion people, the word “Africa” is also synonymous with the word “home”—but where does it come from? There is no conclusive idea or theory on how Africa got its name and no-one knows for sure which theory is most accurate. Now lets take a look at the Etymology of the word “Africa”:

The Etymology of the word Africa or Etymological origins of the name Africa:

Afrika: Similar to the native words, Kongo (Congo) and Akkra (Accra), it is reported that original Afrikan languages spelled Afrika with a “k.” After European colonialism, the letter “k” was substituted by the letter “c.” To further support this theory many look to the Dutch spelling of Afrikaaners. (Assatashakur.org)

Afraka: According to the Doghon University of Thought, it is believed there is a West Afrakan civilization in Mali identified as the Do(h)gons. The Do(h)gons“defined our identity as AfRAkan and while the term may appear similar it is unlike the word African in that it has a meaning that is defined by us and not a European explorer. AfRAka means First-Sun-Soul.”

Africa: Originated from the Egyptian word “Afru-ika”which is translated to “Motherland.”(Dr. Van Sertima)
“Africa,” comes from the Arabic word firk or frik, which means separate, divide, or conquer. (Sacred Woman by Queen Afua)
It is also reported the spelling of Africa originated from Romans who conquered Carthage and identified the continent as Africa terra (feminine form of Africus) meaning the land of the North African tribe, Afri.
Other theories for the origin of the spelling of Africa stems from the adjective for Africa in Latin“Afer,” which means Black or Dark and “Aprica” meaning “Sunny.”

The spelling of Africa originates from the Greek word phrike, combined with the negating prefix a-, Aphrike means land free of cold or horror.

Alke-bulan: According to Kemetic History “(A)mong the many names Alkebu-lan [“mother of mankind” or “garden of eden”] was called the following: “Ethiopia, Corphye, Ortegia, Libya and Africa – the latest of all.
Alkebulan is the oldest and the only one of indigenous origin. It was used by the Moors, Nubians, Numidians, Khart-Haddans (Carthagenians), and Ethiopians. Africa, the current misnomer adopted by almost everyone today, was given to this continent by the ancient Greeks and Romans. (Yosef Ben-Jochannan)

Many people believe different versions of the Etymology and theories of how Africa got its name and as much as we would dispute some of the theories, we can never dispute the beauty of this continent, that many are privileged to call home.

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