How Did Australia Get Its Name?

By total land area, Australia is the sixth largest country in the world.
By total land area, Australia is the sixth largest country in the world.

The nation of Australia comprises of many small islands, the Australian continent’s mainland, and the island of Tasmania. By total area, Australia is the sixth largest country in the world and the largest in Oceania. The region derives its name from the term Australis, a Latin word which means "southern." The name is believed to have originated specifically from ‘Terra Australis’ a hypothetical continent that was hypothesized in pre-modern geography. The term Australia owes its popularity to an English explorer, Matthew Flinders who first used it 1804. Since 1817, Australia was the region’s official name after replacing New Holland as the previous name.

Historical Background

From the fifteenth century, Terra Australis which is translated into English as the ‘land of the south’ was used in world maps even though the region was more on hypothetical than an actual survey. Terra Australis was theorized from a belief that Northern hemisphere continents ought to be balanced by land in the south. The record for this type of theory dates back to the 5th century; it is on maps drawn by Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius a Roman provincial. However, the earliest record of the term Australia being used in English was in 1625 when Sir Richard Hakluyt wrote ‘A note of Australia del Espiritu Santo’ which was published by an English cleric by the name Samuel Purchas.

The Name Australia

In 1794, the term Australia was specifically applied to the region for the first time by botanists Sir James Smith and George Shaw wrote in their 1973 Zoology and Botany of New Holland of ‘the vast island or rather continent of New Holland, Australia or Australasia’. In 1799, James Wilson included it on a chart. As of 1804, the term was made famous by Flinders who was in turn persuaded by Sir Joseph Banks his patron to use it since it was what most people in the region was familiar with, and Flinders used the name Australia in his manuscripts and charts. In 1824, the admiralty decided that the region should be called Australia.

Nicknames Of Australia


Since the early 20th century, people living outside of Australia have informally referred the country to as Oz. However, Australians rarely refer to their country as Oz. The term Oz dates back to 1908, but in the form of Oss, as recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary. Oz is mostly assumed to mean the fictional Land of Oz from the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz which is based on ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ a novel by the American author L. Frank Baum. The spelling of ‘Oz’ is believed to have been hugely influencing by the movie even though the pronunciation always had the sound ‘z’ instead of ‘s.' many critics are convinced that the continent of Australia inspired the author. Therefore, they believe that the Land of Oz was a reference to the region.

Other Nicknames

Unofficially, the country of Australia is also known as ‘Down Under’ or ‘the Land Down Under.' The name is derived from the position of the country in the Southern hemisphere. The name ‘Down Under was first recorded in 1886 in print and later on made famous by artists known as men at Work in their 1980 song which is known by the same name. Australia is also known by other nicknames including Aussie which is used as a demonym and Straya. Some of the epithets used to refer to the country include ‘the Lucky Country,' and ‘the Greta Southern land.'


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