How Australia Got Its Name? Who Named Australia

In ancient time people assumed that the world basically flat. They also thought that if you ever reached the end of this flat earth you would fall off into the unknown. The ancient Greeks, however, came to the conclusion that the world was a sphere; round like a tennis ball and consisting of two halves, the northern and southern hemispheres. Aristotle (384–322 BC) argued that a great landmass must exist on the bottom of the earth in the south to counterbalance the "known world" on the top.


The Greeks They Said it Must Exist

In about 200AD a Greek astronomer and mapmaker named Claudius Ptolemy drew in an imaginary land on the bottom of his maps of the world. Over time this imaginary land came to be referred to as Terra Australis Incognita which means the Unknown Southern Land.


The Spanish They Thought They Found It

Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, a Portuguese navigator in the service of the Spanish, was commissioned by King Philip III to find Terra Australis. In 1606 his expedition reached a large island, now part of the nation of Vanuatu. Queirós believed he had landed on part of the southern continent, and named it Australia del Espiritu Santo. In fact, he was nearly 2,000 kilometres away.

This is the first usage of the word "Australia". In his printed memoirs this name was altered to Austrialia del Espíritu Santo (Southern-Austrian Land of the Holy Spirit) being a concatenation of Austria and Australis in order to flatter Phillip III who was of the House of Austria.


The Dutch They Had No Idea

Dutch explorers of the 17th century charted sections of the northern, western and southern coasts of the continent but didn't realise they had found the unknown southern land. They referred to the lands they charted as Nova Hollandia (Latin for 'New Holland'). This name was subsequently adapted by many.


The British Found It and Named It

The first ever recorded reference in the English language was in “A note of Austrialia del Espíritu Santo” by Sir Richard Hakluyt in the 1625 publication Hakluytus Posthumus which referred to Queirós's memoirs.

The British explorer James Cook, who had been secretly commissioned in 1770 by the British Admiralty to find the southern land, used the word "Astralia" but only in to context of the Spanish name for Vanuatu. Cook continued to use the term New Holland and called the land he claimed for the British – New South Wales.

George Shaw in his work Zoology of New Holland of 1794 wrote "the vast Island or rather Continent of Australia, Australasia, or New Holland, which has so lately attracted particular attention."

It was the English explorer Matthew Flinders, who was the first to circumnavigate the entire continent in 1803, suggested the name in his hand-drawn map of the continent as Terra Australis but only in a footnote to his 1814 book A Voyage to Terra Australis. He suggested:

"Had I permitted myself any innovation on the original term, it would have been to convert it to AUSTRALIA; as being more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth."

On 12 December 1817, Governor Lachlan Macquarie recommended to the British Colonial Office that the "Australia" be adopted as the name of the continent still being referred to as New Holland.

Finally, in 1824, the British Admiralty agreed that the continent should be officially called Australia.

Related Article: Who Discovered Australia


The Official Name for Australia What is the Official Name of Australia?

The official name for Australia is the Commonwealth of Australia.

This name was official proclaimed on the 1st of January 1901 when the former colonies and territories of the British Empire that occupied the continent of Australia and the island of Tasmania agreed to join together (federate) to form a country.


The Land of Oz

The Strine word "Oz" is a phonetic shortened form of the word Australia. It first appeared in 1906 as “Oss” and sometimes as “Aus” (rhymes with boss). This morphed into “OZ”, sounding the same as oss and Aus. This transformation may have been a consequence of the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.

What the People of Australia Call Their Home We Come from the Land Down Under

The people of Australia refer to their country by these names.

• Australia
• Oz
• Land Down Under
• Aussie

Related Article: Australia Facts, Description, People, Language, Economy


Our Other Fantastic Pages

Australian Animals

Australia has some of the most unusual animals in the world.

View More

Great Barrier Reef

Located in Australia it is the world's largest coral reef.

View More

Australian Aboriginals

The Aboriginals were the first people to come to Australia.

View More

Australian Outback

The Outback is vast and breathtakingly beautiful.

View More

 Waltzing Matilda   

Waltzing Matilda is Australia's favourite song.

View More