Africa is the world’s largest and most populated continent after Asia. According to statistics released back in 2016, it covers an area of about 11.7 million square miles, and it is the home to about 1.2 billion people. This number accounts for 16% of the world’s population. The Suez Canal, Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean surround Africa which is made up 54 widely recognized states with most of these states being located in the Northern Hemisphere side and the rest in the Southern Hemisphere.
As seen above, we know so much about Africa but what is the original name of Africa? This question which would undoubtedly make many break a sweat and as they say, what is in a name? According to history, Africa is not Africa’s real name. The name ‘Africa’ is mentioned to have been first used by the Romans to refer to the Carthaginian Empire which was in present-day Tunisia. After the Romans conquered the Carthaginian Empire, they acquired administrative control over North Africa, and this led to the division of North Africa (by the Romans) into two; Africa Pronconsularis which was in present-day Northern Tunisia, and Africa Nova which consisted of Algeria.
One theory suggests that the name ‘Africa’ is derived from the name of a famous European traveler named Leo Africanus. The Romans wanted to destroy Africans’ connection to their culture and traditions and to change the name of their land was one of the ways. The name-changing took place after three Punic Wars between Rome (led Publius Cornelius Scipio) and the powerful Carthage. When the Romans finally captured Carthage, they called the land (North Africa) Africa and Scipio changed his name to Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. Another theory says that a medieval traveler named Leo Africanus suggested that the word ‘Africa’ is derived from the Greek word ‘a-phike.’ Other historians then came to a conclusion that ‘Africa’ was derived from the Latin word ‘aprica’ which means hot or sunny.
Although historians have come to the conclusion that the word 'Africa' was first used to refer to Northern Africa and then 2,000 years later to refer to the whole continent, the origins of the word ‘Africa’ is still a debate. Another explanation is that the name ‘Afri’ (Latin) was used by the Romans to refer to the people of Africa or those who lived south of Mediterranean. Research, however, shows that there is no evidence that the Romans derived the word ‘Africa’ from the word ‘Afri.’
So what was the original name of Africa? Africa is said to be known initially as ‘Alkebulan.’ The word ‘Alkebulan’ is said to mean “mother of mankind” or “garden of Eden.” It should be noted that before the word ‘Alkebulan’ was replaced by the word ‘Africa,’ Alkebulan was called many names including Libya, Corphye, Ortegia, and Ethiopia with Africa being the latest. It is the oldest name that has indigenous African origins and was used by Moors, the Nubians, the Numidians, the people of the Carthaginian Empire (Khart-Haddans), and finally the people of Ethiopia.
In the late seventeenth century, the name ‘Africa’ is said to have been the new name given to Alkebulan because the Europeans during their explorations preferred Latin terms to others. Most of the names given to Africa (including Africa) were however used to refer to only a small part of Africa.