What Do Australia and Antarctica Have in Common?

Antarctica was called Australia until that continent took the name in 1824, leaving Antarctica nameless for 70 years.
Antarctica was called Australia until that continent took the name in 1824, leaving Antarctica nameless for 70 years.

If you had visited Australia before 1824, you would have had to travel several thousand miles farther south than you would today. That's because the Australia we're familiar with was then known as New Holland, and the name "Australia" was given to what we now call Antarctica.

To clarify: In antiquity, people believed that there was a southern continent no one had ever seen, and they labeled this hypothetical land Terra Australis (South Land). When the continent we now know as Antarctica was actually discovered, Europeans decided to call it Australia, in honor of the old name. However, when the authorities in New Holland wanted a new name in 1824, they simply claimed the name Australia, leaving the old Australia (present-day Antarctica) nameless.

In later decades, Antarctica was typically called the "Antarctic Continent." That mouthful was finally abandoned in favor of the simpler "Antarctica" (which means "opposite the Arctic") in the 1890s.

What's in a name:

  • In 2018, Swaziland's King Mswati III announced the country would return to its original name, eSwatini, which translates to "land of the Swazi."

  • In the 1960s, there were two Congos in Africa; today one is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the other is the Republic of the Congo.

  • In 2019, the Republic of Macedonia became the Republic of North Macedonia, a change required to become part of NATO and differentiate itself from the region of Macedonia in Greece.

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    • Antarctica was called Australia until that continent took the name in 1824, leaving Antarctica nameless for 70 years.
      Antarctica was called Australia until that continent took the name in 1824, leaving Antarctica nameless for 70 years.