Remember it’s the country of COLOMBIA not…COLUMBIA

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Edward Buckley/Illustration

Okay we get it: half the world still refers to the Republic of Colombia as… Columbia! As in British Colombia, District of Columbia, Columbia (AZ), Columbia (TN), or Columbia (SC). The latest celebrity to make this historical – and contemporary – blunder is television host Jimmy Fallon of the Tonight Show (or more precise his community manager), referencing the South American nation as “Columbia” especially as one of his late night stars, Colombian reggaetonero Maluma, was announcing his first show in his hometown of Medellín. Concert expected to draw an audience of 45,000 and “biggest of his career.”

“Colombia is ‘Encanto”… man,” remarked Maluma. “The film tells the true story of COLOMBIA.”

“I don’t want people to think COLOMBIA is Pablo Escobar anymore…and all violence.” – Maluma

One might think that 200 years since its independence as a nation, the spelling record would be set straight. Yet far too often, confusion persists.

That’s Colombia with an ‘O’. Not Columbia, with a ‘U’.

We are geographically far from British Columbia and a shuttle age that endured many missions after the ‘Columbia’ disintegrated over Texas in 2003. Yet many still get it wrong. There are no Rocky Mountains in Colombia. We are in the Andes.

The spelling confusion could be justified if one has never traveled to South America or one’s knowledge of the world has been stunted by a lack of education. Even us journalists get it wrong. But that’s no excuse.

We can rely on Google Earth these days to see where Guyana is in relation to French Guiana, and Ghana in relation to Guinea-Bissau.

We can rely on Google Earth these days to see where Guyana is in relation to French Guiana, and Ghana in relation to Guinea-Bissau. Or vice versa. But if you are an editor at a major news group and you are covering a story in ‘Columbia,’ you are lost in a linguistic and cultural forest.

At one point in its long history, Colombia was part of ‘La Gran Colombia’ a region which today includes Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador. After liberating these countries from Spain during his military campaigns in the early 1800s, Simon Bolivar knew the importance of ‘what’s in a name’. He had defeated his colonial masters in the “Land of Colon” (Tierra de Colón), named after the Genovese seafarer Christopher Columbus.

And even wiki-historians get some of these facts wrong. Columbus was Italian, not Spanish. He was commissioned by the Royals of Castile to bring back spices from the Far East and found himself sailing towards the Americas. This was three centuries before Bolívar’s campaign of independence for inhabitants of the ‘New Granada.’

The word ‘Colombia’ appears in an early newspaper – ‘Colombiano’ – published by General Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816), one of Bolivar’s close ideological allies and the military commander who would enlist the support of the British to free his native country, Venezuela, from Spanish rule. He was a Tocqueville of sorts, dreaming of a united continent, which would extend from the warm shores of the Caribbean to the frozen plateaus of the Patagonia.

His vision endured only on paper. After his army deserted him, he was captured by his Old World enemies and sent to languish in a Spanish prison. He died in 1816.

For historians, the origin of ‘Colombia’ is rooted with the name Columbus. Maybe therein lies the confusion. Columbus is the Anglicized name of Colón. But centuries after the spice race, I still get emails asking if I am “living in Columbia.”

I generally respond with an ‘O’ and a ‘yes,’ although its been many years since I’ve been to Vancouver, or visited the famous New York university.

So let’s set the record straight, once and for all.

‘Colombia’ is the name of a country with 51 million inhabitants. It has a yellow, blue and red striped flag. The natives generally are a friendly lot, who work hard for a living. They have contributed much to the world of science, sport, art and music.

And they will continue to do so, even if Shakira, Maluma, Balvin, Vives, Falcao, Cuadrado, Bernal and so many others, are often geographically misplaced by one vowel.