Are people from the United States of America "Americans"? | SpanishDict Answers
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9 Vote

I have seen sometimes on this website that people from other places in North and South America do not like the idea of people from the United States of America being referred to as "Americans".

Is this really true?

Here in the Estados Unidos de Mexico - where people refer to themselves as "Mexicans", people from the United States are referred to as "Norteamericanos".

Why is it OK to refer to people from the United States of Mexico as Mexicans and not OK to refer to people from the United States of America as Americans?

  • Posted Jul 14, 2010
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  • Funny - on my Brazilian Visa, it lists my nationality as NORTE-AMERICANO, while on my Mexican visa, it lists my nationality as USA and on my US Passport, it lists my nationality as United States of America. - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Please do not fail to read Izanoni1's answer. Brilliant and spectacular. - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • I've never heard of United States of Mexico on the news, just Mexico. I may understand why others in the Latin Countries dislike this fact but Americans is the only widely accepted English term to refer to US Americans. It's inevitable. pun intended - epicfail Jul 15, 2010 flag
  • Estados Unidos Mexicanos. That's the name of the country. - petersenkid2 Jul 15, 2010 flag
  • Every body living here says Mexico. - epicfail Jul 16, 2010 flag

30 Answers

15 Vote

I think that sometimes people can be completely insensitive to the feelings of other and other times people make problems out of thin air. To me, this is one of the latter cases. Trying to call people from the USA "Staters" or "United Staters" takes political correctness to an absurd extreme.

I understand that the Americas are one contiguous land mass (if you make allowances for the Panama canal), but so are Europe and Asia, and if you make the same allowances for the Suez Canal that are made for the Panama Canal then in reality Europe, Asia and Africa could all be considered a single continent. Last time I checked, however, there were still seven continents.

On the other hand, the discussion of continents is somewhat irrelevant, from what I can tell, when you consider that the word "nationality" refers to the names with which nations use to describe their own citizens and not to the names by which entire continents are classified. The idea of a nation, is a political distinction, and therefore an artificial one. Moreover, ideas like United States; Confederation; Republic are political ideas based on organization and do not generally refer to the name of the country itself. As petersenkid has already noted there is more than one United States on the North American continent.

It might help to remember that every sovereign nation on the contiguous American continent (North and South America) was at one time part of a colonial system of some European power. At the time that America broke away from its colonial roots to form its own sovereign nation, the fact of the matter is that there were no other United States in America. The history of this name dates back to the second continental congress and the Declaration of Independence (in 1776 and at least 30 years before any other nation of the Western Hemisphere would gain independence) in which the following declaration was made to the world:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;

Still, it is an odd twist of language (and possibly one which lacks precidence) to call a nations citizenry by the political organization that the nation identifies with rather than by the name that it chooses for itself. It would be as if instead of calling Chileans or Colombians by this name they were instead to be identified (in terms of nation of origin) simply as "republicans" based on the fact that the official names of these countries are the Republic of Chile and the Republic of Colombia, respectively.

Even stranger is that throughout history, there are and have been numerous Confederations, Republics and United States in the world, yet some would feel it more of a slight to refer to citizens of the U.S. as somehow uniquely of this character (i.e. estadounidense) than to simply refer to them as Americans. That is to say that citizens of the US are labeled as citizens of THE (one and only) United States yet this somehow comes across to some as less presumptuous than to apply the label of "Americans."

Of course considering how many nations, following America's successful bid at independence, tried to model in whole or in part their first attempts at independence on the example presented by the United States, I suppose that it does make some sense that people might recognize the U.S. as THE United States. For example

At the same time, however, the entire argument (at least to me) is ridiculous. Throughout history, nations can and have had the sole discretion in terms of naming their own nations. Often a nation is named on the basis of some particular cultural tie to a person or landmass. The story is no different with the US. At the time that the U.S. came into existence, there was no other nation named "America." I imagine that use of the name probably had something to do with the fact that those on the continent were likely drawing a distinction between themselves and their European (in particular, English) counterparts whom they no longer identified with. That is that they no longer felt as strongly tied to the European continent but now felt more a part of the American continent.

In any event, it seems a bit petty that anyone should actually become angry with this peculiarity in nomenclature. After all, Christopher Columbus is often credited with "discovering" the Americas, yet I doubt anyone makes much of stink when it comes to the fact that Colombia is named after him. We are all "the Land of Columbus," yet only one nation in this Hemisphere has had the hubris to claim this for themselves. For that matter, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama should all rightfully have the same claim for its citizenry considering that they were all originally part of Greater Colombia which eventually split, leaving the Republic of Colombia to retain the rights to this particular name.

Considering Simón Bolívar helped lead the peoples of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela to Independence, I suppose that there is also an argument that each of these countries could lay claim to being "Bolivians."

Then there is Ecuador. There are at least nine other countries in the world through which the equator runs, yet there seems to be no vocal opposition to the people of this nation laying claim to the title of "people of the equator." Probably even the most presumptuous of all would be the nation of El Salvador whose citizens purportedly belong to THE "Republic of the Savior."

Of course this entire discussion is both ridiculous and superfluous because we all know that us "Americans" -- that's right, I said us "Americans" -- just love to tick people off. I mean, not only do we take the name of the whole blasted continent(s) and claim it for ourselves, we also go and name a state after an entire people who live on entirely different continent (incidentally, I wonder if Georgians [from the U.S. state] and Georgians [from the European state] ever duke it out over who the real Georgians are). And we all know that the "real" Paris is in Texas. Then again, we have also been known to create the same type of confusion over names within our own nation (Quick pop quiz: if you are from Washington, do you live on the East Coast or the West Coast?)

I guess what it all boils down to is that if you wanted to be called the nation of "Americans" then your country probably should have thought of it first....or at least laid claim to the title before the U.S. did. In any case, after nearly 250 years of being referred to (as a nation) as Americans, it is a bit late to start crying foul play now.

Besides, if you start changing things now, then what will become of all those "cleverly" contrived euphemisms that we seem to churn out every so often in the name of political correctness. Would you actually desire that we actually coin new terminology like "African-United-Statesarian" and "Asian-United-Statesarian" to replace the already garish terminology that is currently employed? I just can't do it.. I was raised an American, and by gum I am going to die an "American". Besides "UnitedStatesarian" is just too durned hard to say.

  • Before anyone gets offended by the last couple of paragraphs (if anyone even gets that far), please recognize that this was written tongue in cheek (or rather keyboard in I-don't-know-what). If it offends, please forgive my indelicate sense of humor, I.. - Izanoni1 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • would just like to blame it on the delirium which occurred as a result of having written such an audaciously long diatribe - Izanoni1 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • This is, without a doubt, the greatest answer I have seen to any post on any social networking site. I would double or triple accept it as the best answer if I could. - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Additionally, I commend you on your eloquence - especially the precise and spectacularly placed "durned". - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • A most excellent article, Iza, and very knowledgeable too! Again, the problem is not so much with what the citizens of the US choose to call themselves, but rather the fact that other Americans feel that said citizens have no more right to claim ... - Gekkosan Jul 14, 2010 flag
5 Vote

I don't quite understand this either. I am from the USA, and just because I would consider myself an "American" does not at all mean that I am not acknowledging the fact our whole continent is the "North American continent" and that there are other people in our continent besides our individual country. It's just what we have been raised to say.

And personally, I especially don't understand the criticism of those who call themselves "Americans" for using that term on THIS site, of all places, where we are obviously pretty cultured and aware of other cultures, since we are here to learn about Spanish and the various Spanish-speaking cultures.

Sorry if this comes across as abrasive, I don't mean it in bad spirits at all! I just don't understand why it is an issue.

  • It is a real, sensitive, and often heated issue for those inhabitants of the Americas who feel that they should not have to put up with "American" = "citizen of the US of A". You rarely hear about it outside the US, but it is a common and... - Gekkosan Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • ... recurring discussion elsewhere. - Gekkosan Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Honestly - I don't hear much of it here in Mexico City. Maybe in other parts of Latin America or in "provincia" it is more pronounced. - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
4 Vote

Complicated argument. I do believe that many people from the rest of the Americas do resent that citizens of the United States of America refer to themselves as "Americans". Strictly speaking, they shouldn't even be "Norteamericanos", because Norteamérica includes both Mexico and Canada. One problem is that there isn't a word in English equivalent to Estadounidense, so they don't really know what else to call themselves...

Lots of people in the Hispanic Americas simply settle for "Gringos", although that word was originally used for the English invaders - and of course it tends to have some offensive overtones, and many US citizens don't very much like being addressed in that manner.

Anyway, this is an old argument that never gets settled, so I'm not sure that it will get very far this time around, eiher.

  • How is "Estadounidense" any good? That doesn't distinguish between Estadus Unidos de Mexico and Estados Unidos de America. - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Haha,I was just about to ask the same thing. - Yeser007 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • It doesn't , but NO Mexican ever calls him or herself "Estadounidense". Los Mexicanos son Mexicanos. In most of Latin America, if you say "Estadounidense" people know what you are talking about, and rarely question it. - Gekkosan Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • I would like to respectfully add that no USA person calls himself anything except American, and anywhere in the world if you say "American", people know what you are talking about. - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • One other point... if people from Estados Unidos de America are Estadounidenses, are people from la República de Colombia called Republicanos? - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
3 Vote

I'm not sure if this is the correct answer, however, I have heard that people from the United States of America are called Americans because we have the word "America" in the name of our country.

I have never heard Mexico referred to as the United States of Mexico. But even if it is called that, the word Mexico is included in that name, therefore people from this country are called "Mexicans" in the same way we are called "Americans".

It is true that all people living in North, Central and South America live in "the Americas". I'm sure there is also a better explanation, but this is the only one I have heard of so far. smile

  • I have never heard Mexico referred to as the United States of Mexico? That's the name of the country. Estados Unidos Mexicanos. - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • I'm surprised also Nichole that you have never heard that before. - Yeser007 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Well that's because when people talk about "los Estados Unidos Mexicanos," they just say Mexico, including people who are from Mexico. - maripositaxx Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • I have just never heard to this country being referred to as anything other than Mexico. I am aware that it is comprised of states which are united. - Nicole-B Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Many times Mexicans have asked where I am from. When I say Soy de los Estados Unidos, they never say..."So you are from this country?" - Nicole-B Jul 14, 2010 flag
3 Vote

I have seen similar remarks here.

I suppose we should ask citizens of the USA how they would like us to refer to them.

I have been called English and British. Both are accurate, either is acceptable, although I tend to use English.

  • Ah, but if you are a Scott, or Irish, you *would* very much resent being called "English".... - Gekkosan Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • and even if you are Welsh. - ian-hill Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Not resent, but it would be wrong. - fontanero Jul 15, 2010 flag
  • Soy escocés :-) - lagartijaver Jul 15, 2010 flag
  • Do you also accept British? Loch Lomond is beautiful, you're very lucky. - fontanero Jul 15, 2010 flag
3 Vote

I cannot really add to what has been said at length above but will confirm that the citizens of the USA calling themselves "Americans" does annoy people here in Bolivia.

People here consider themselves as Americans.

Anyone note the hypocrisy in this statement (not on your part Ian, just in the attitude presented). If someone who lives in the U.S. calls themselves an American then it is "annoying" to someone living in Bolivia, yet in the very next breath it is implied that it is OK for a Bolivian to consider themselves American. Strange.

If you look up the terms citizenship or citizen (ciudadanía o ciudadano) you will find that these terms refer to the relationship between a person and the city or country in which he lives -- not the continent that they live in. A Bolivian, then, when speaking in terms of citizenship is not an American citizen.

There are many Nations in the Americas but only one American nation.

On the other hand, I can see how this might sound presumptuous 200 some-odd years later; however, in light of the fact that at this nation's inception and for at least the first 30 to 50 years thereafter, it was THE, one and only, United States of America.

The other peoples who would grow to be nations were merely (in terms of political divisions) extended provinces of other European nations. I wonder how these same Bolivians would feel if some country's citizens were to show annoyance at the fact that they had "monopolized" the name of Simón Bolívar in naming their country....as though any person of any country in this day and age actually had any say so as to what a country chose to name itself over a hundred years ago. Just plain strange.

  • I appreciate both of your answers Ira. I just didn't bother to post a comment on the first because I knew it would get lost among the other fifty comments. jeje Great explanations. - Nicole-B Jul 15, 2010 flag
3 Vote

I have never heard a person from the south of the U.S. / Mexico border or north of the U.S. Canada, when asked about his nationality say "I am an American." In arguments/discussion such as this, I have heard "Yo también soy de América (o de las Américas")." (but that's a matter of context). I cannot believe that the same person, if asked by the immigration people when arriving in a European/Asian country and being asked "What is your nationality?" would ever answer "I am an American."

Since New York is a fairly well known city, I usually reply "Soy de Nueva York" (and 9 times out of 10 the response is "Ah, eres americano/norteamericano" (to which, I modestly respond, "pues, sí".

If the PC terminology that is so popular in the U.S. is to be observed, then I would expect that the Aztecs, Mayans, and Mapuches, et al. should all be referred to as "native Americans" (in disregard of the many other people who were born somewhere in the Americas).

When the goal of language becomes "not offending anyone's sensibilities", communication becomes impossible.

  • Wonderful response. I wish I could vote for it twice. - petersenkid2 Jul 15, 2010 flag
  • Excellent answer. "not offending..." seems to be the culprit. Way too much political correctness going on these days. - Yeser007 Jul 16, 2010 flag
2 Vote

I like very much what was said above:

I do believe that many people from the rest of the Americas do resent that citizens of the United States of America refer to themselves as "Americans". Strictly speaking, they shouldn't even be "Norteamericanos", because Norteamérica includes both Mexico and Canada.

I have heard US citizens say that Mexico was part of South America. I am one of those persons that do resent US citizens who call themselves "American" and frown upon any other person from Latin America who also dare call themselves "American". The American continent is from Canada to Chile, so we are all Americans.

However, since USA is "United States of America" I do understand why they call themselves "Americans"; I do not mean any offense whatsoever, but can't quite see USA as a name for a country; more like the literal meaning: united states of America.

Why is it OK to refer to people from the United States of Mexico as Mexicans and not OK to refer to people from the United States of America as Americans?

My answer would be because we are all American: Canadians, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Chileans, Peruvians, Cubans... you name it and many US citizens (in my experience) scold Latin Americans because we use that term too.

It is a very touchy subject, a very complicated argument, and my answers are not meant to offend anyone at all... if I did, I am terribly sorry and will edit my post if asked.

Thank you. smile

  • Thank you very much for your answer. It is very well written and very insightful! :-) - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
2 Vote

Until recently i always thought that only people from the USA were called "Americans" but then when my Mexican boyfriend showed me an American programme that took the mickey out of British people (grrrrr mad) and i started to defend my country from that poor attempt at humour, he pointed out that he too was an American and he pretended to take offence at the things i had said about America (It was only in defence!! I think America is an amazing country...wait! continent smile). He said that people in Mexico like to refer to themselves as Americans as well as Mexicans.

I'm not sure if what I've just written is relevant to your question - sorry if not :S. It's quite a confusing concept

  • An American programme that takes the mickey out of British people!! Never heard of such a thing, but I bet I would find it hilarious. I like the Simpsons, South Park etc where they are taking the mickey out of themselves. ;P - galsally Jul 15, 2010 flag
  • Sounds relevant to me. - Yeser007 Jul 15, 2010 flag
2 Vote

Anybody who was born in America (canada, United Sates, and mexico) is an American.

  • ...and all the Central American and South American countries, too. See? Touchy issue. Not easy at all. - Gekkosan Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Technically yes, Eric. But on the same level, you can see why Brazilians don't call themselves americans, they are a country in and to themselves, their country just happens to be in S. America. - amykay Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Well Amy, all of the countries fall into that same category. - Yeser007 Jul 15, 2010 flag
2 Vote

I call myself an American when I'm speaking English and estadounidense when I'm speaking Spanish. There really isn't a good alternative in English, but there is in Spanish. Japanese takes it to more of an extreme. While they do have names for citizens of other countries, in general you are either Japanese or you're not.

I have been told by people in South America that they don't like estadounidenses calling themselves americanos. It is a bit arrogant, if you look at it from their point of view. On the other hand, I don't think norteamericano is appropriate either, since that slights our Canadian and Mexican continent-mates.

My attitude is that words mean what people agree they mean. Most people agree that in English an American is from the United States. In Spanish they generally agree that the correct word is estadounidense. I go with the flow.

  • Good answer. But still doesn't address the United States of "what". America? or Mexico? - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Were the states that made up New Grenada presumptuous in naming, in 1863, there short lived confederation of states the United States of Colombia? - Izanoni1 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Well, we were the first United States in America, so that does give us some precedent. At the time everyone else was still a colony, just like we had been. - KevinB Jul 14, 2010 flag
1 Vote

The official name of Mexico is the United Mexican States, not the United States of Mexico, a small difference to be sure. Here is the link to the entry in Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_of_Mexico

As far as people in the USA not referring to themselves as Americans, what do you think they should call themselves? Staters? United Staters?

  • On the Mexican coin I am holding in my hand, it says Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Your United Mexican States is one possible translation, United States of Mexico is another. - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • True, true. I'm just going by what Wiki said...that was the first site I checked... - amykay Jul 14, 2010 flag
1 Vote

The learned people on this site are for the most part aware that the United States is just one country in North America but it is unbelievable how many Americans I have encountered that do not know this and some are my relatives!. I am from Canada in North America and call myself Canadian. Someone from the United States, being only one country, could hardly call themselves United Statesians and so they have always referred to themselves as Americans. Since there are many countries in South America the citizens refer to themselves usually with ian at the end of whatever the country is.ie. Brazilians, Chileans etc. It is usually when I am in Europe and I am asked what country I am from, that I am faced with having to explain that Canada is also in North America and the United States does not comprise all of North America. I have explained to it Belgiums, Parisiennes, Italians, Bosnians and many more. It becomes tiring after a while. The questions go something like "And are you from America?" "Yes, but I am Canadian. "I thought you would be an American if you are from America" Sigh!

  • hahaha! - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • And they say that American kids are horrible at geography....Sheesh! sounds like its a global epidemic - Izanoni1 Jul 15, 2010 flag
  • Well It is actually older adults I am referring to and not the young adults. - Brynleigh Jul 15, 2010 flag
1 Vote

My experience in traveling thru Latin America has been a mixed use of the words. Some are okay with Americanos while others want to use Norteamericanos to differentiate. Seems Canadiens are genreally lumped together with US Citizens. The US State Dept teaches estadounidense in its language training, which seems to slowly be catching on. It does clarify, but takes a new speaker a while to get used to saying.

  • Estadounidense does not differentiate between united states of what? Mexico or America. - petersenkid2 Jul 14, 2010 flag
  • Estadounidense, (to me, like a Mexican and native Spanish speaker) immedietly makes me think about the USA. Just a note, though, - MadderSky Jul 14, 2010 flag
1 Vote

I travel to Argentina twice a year with my girlfriend, so this is answer is from my experience.. The traditional name for someone from the USA in South America is "Yankee". There is a very negative connotation to this term, since the US supported dictatorships in South America for decades. (Read about Operation Condor.) Recently, the term "Gringo" has been catching on. It, too, has a somewhat negative connotation, but nothing like Yankee. I describe myself as a Gringo to people I meet in Argentina, and I often get a chuckle or a smile. By the way, "Gringo" comes from the Mexican-American War, 1845-1848. A popular song at the time that the US troops sang was "Green Grow the Violets".

  • Volets?! I've never seen a green violet. I do know, however, of a song (of Scottish origin) call "Green grow the rushes" - samdie Jul 15, 2010 flag
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