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Originally Published: 6/18/2008



By The Issue Wonk


We’re all familiar with the term Washington, D.C. And we all know that “D.C.” stands for “District of Columbia.” I’ve always wondered -- Who the hell is Columbia? With a little summer lull (I hope) I thought I’d take a break from all the heavy-duty issues and learn something just for the fun of it.


Columbia” is the feminine form of the name “Columbus,” referring to Christopher Columbus. (Wikipedia) Before the American Revolution, citizens of the colonies were not especially endeared to Christopher Columbus, but the British emphasized the exploration of John and Sebastian Cabot and, probably due to the dislike of the British, colonists began to embrace Columbus as the founder. In fact, at the time of the Declaration of Independence, they considered naming the new country “Columbia” and advocates kept pressing for this even at the time of the writing of the Constitution. Even though “Columbia” lost the name game, it remained popular and that is why many towns have the name “Columbia.”


The name “Columbia” became a poetic way of referring to the United States of America. It became the female personification of the U.S., similar to the male personification of Uncle Sam. Pictures of her began appearing (see insert). Columbia began to be perceived as the representation of the U.S.


At the time of the founding of a federal city, meant to house the offices of the United States and, therefore, unsuitable to be placed in any state, the “Territory of Columbia” was established. Later, people wanted to name a city after the first president, George Washington, and began calling the capital of the District of Columbia Washington City. Later, as we all know, it became known by Washington, D.C. (just like Chicago, Illinois).


Although it isn’t obvious, Columbia, while not in great use, is still around. Columbia records is named for her and used a picture of her as its logo. Columbia pictures is also named for her and the lady we see in the logo still is a representation of her. And, the song “Hail, Columbia,” an early national anthem, is now used as the anthem of the Vice President of the United States.




© The Issue Wonk, 2008



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