Origin and History of the Name – Australia

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The name Australia is derived from the Latin australis, meaning southern.

Legends of an “unknown southern land” (terra australis incognita) date back to the Roman times and were commonplace in medival geography, but they were not based on any actual knowledge of the continent.

The Dutch adjectival form Australische (“Australian,” in the sense of “southern”) was used by Dutch officials in Batavia to refer to the newly discovered land to the south as early as 1638. The first English language writer to use the word “Australia” was Alexander Dalrymple in An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean, published in 1771.

He used the term to refer to the entire South Pacific region, not specifically to the Australian continent. In 1793, George Shaw and Sir James Smith published Zoology and Botany of New Holland, in which they wrote of “the vast island, or rather continent, of Australia, Australasia or New Holland.”

The name “Australia” was popularised by the 1814 work A Voyage to Terra Australis by the navigator Matthew Flinders.

Despite its title, which reflected the view of the Admiralty, Flinders used the word “Australia” in the book, which was widely read and gave the term general currency. Governor Lachlan Macquarie of New South Wales subsequently used the word in his dispatches to England. In 1817 he recommended that it be officially adopted. In 1824, the British Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as Australia.

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