What’s in a Name? — America’s First Name

By Heather Lodge

We learn in school that America was named after Amerigo Vespucci. His claim to the name is not due to great heroism or importance, however. He was simply an explorer of the Americas around the year 1500 and a mapmaker of that time thought, “Why not name this new land after him?” And so it was done, and so it has been ever since.

Today, we’re not going to talk about Amerigo Vespucci. We’re going to talk about an older name for America: Turtle Island. Turtle Island is the name for the North American continent in many Native American cultures. This name comes from mythology, or rather mythologies, as every tribe has a slightly different version of Turtle Island and how it came to be. The story I have decided to tell in the following audio clip is a combination of the various versions told by the Haudenosaunee and Wyandot people.


Want to know more?

If you would like to learn more about the Haudenosaunee people, follow this link to find a fantastic guide from the National Museum of the American Indian:

The Haudenosaunee Guide for Educators

Today’s Activity

Today were are going to make a turtle in honor of America’s first name. You will need:

  • A paper bowl (or paper plate for a flatter turtle)
  • A large piece of paper (green if you have it)
  • A pencil
  • Markers or Paint
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Step 1: Flip the paper bowl upside down onto the center of the large piece of paper and trace it with a pencil. Remove the bowl.

Step 2: Now that you know how big the turtle’s shell will be (the bowl will be the shell), draw a head, a tail, and four legs out from around the traced circle. This will make sure you get the scale exactly how you want it to be.

Step 3: Cut out the turtle you drew on the piece of paper.

Step 4: Glue the paper bowl onto the circle you traced on the sheet of paper.

Step 5: Color your completed turtle.
(Extra credit if you make little paper trees and houses to go on the turtle’s back!)


Bonus Activity: Go find a turtle!

Take a hike with your family and see if you can find a turtle. They live in most ponds and are active in spring, summer, and fall! If you live in Greenwich, I know for a certainty that they live in the pond at Binney Park.

By Heather Lodge

Greenwich Historical Society will be closed Saturday, 3/14 until further notice. 

All public programs and tours are cancelled. Our office will remain open to staff and scheduled visitors. We will be monitoring developments of this situation closely and taking precautions wherever possible. 

Stay healthy and safe!