In honor of Columbus Day we are having a look at the rise of the geographical names (Columbus, Columbia) that derive from the explorer and became common in the United States. This is from George R. Stewart’s Names on the Land:
“Columbus had never risen as a hero during the colonial period. Great Britain had always, for political reasons, emphasized the Cabots’ discovery of North America. By the time of the Revolution however, there was no chance that Spain would extend a claim of sovereignty over New York or Philadelphia, and the Cabots were shadowy agents of a British king, unheroic in stature. The new nation began to look back toward Columbus as a kind of founding hero.
Columbia was a happy coinage. Virginia and Georgia had already made such names familiar. It was almost everything that the United States was not—short, precise, original, poetic, indivisible, and flexibly yielding adjectives and nouns. [Philip] Freneau used it several times in American Liberty, and in the succeeding years it gradually became established in poetry. In 1786 it was adopted for the new capital of South Carolina.”