Landon Donovan’s last-minute goal in the World Cup was a joyous moment. With the most amazing late-game moment in American soccer, our national team beat Algeria 1-0 to reach the second round of the global tournament.
“This team embodies what the American spirit is about,” Donovan said. “We just keep going. And I think that’s what people admire so much about Americans. And I’m damn proud.”
Exactly, Landon. That was my thought. We Americans are damn proud of being American. So why does it say “US” on your team shirt?
The Fourth of July is as good a day as any to ponder the question of why we, as a nation, don’t give more of a damn about our national name. If we think of ourselves as Americans, and we live in what we call America, why do we have to refer to our nation as ‘US’ on the playing fields of the world?
An event such as the World Cup brings the issue into sharp relief. In no other sporting event in the world is national pride so much at stake. Alongside nations with full, proper names such as England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, etc., US seems such a sorry excuse for a name. If anything, it should be USA which, of itself, is what Washington Irving referred to as “a cold national cipher” for a political construct, the United Sates of America.
From the start, many people recognized that United States of America was unsatisfactory as a name. I was not surprised to learn that considerable thought was given by early Congresses to the possibility of renaming our country.
One problem people had with the United States of America was that it provided no convenient adjectival form. A citizen would have to be either a United Statesian or some other clumsy locution. American was deemed to be unsuitable as it might be thought of as referring to inhabitants of 36 other nations on two continents, North and South America.
Several other possibilities were considered – the United States of Columbia, Appalachia, Alleghania and Freedonia. We would then be citizens of Columbia or Appalachia, etc. None found sufficient support to displace the prevailing name. By default we became citizens of the United States of America, or the United States, or the USA, or the US. But not citizens of America.
So, in effect, we gave away ‘America’ out of a misplaced sensitivity to other nations who consider themselves anything but American. Isn’t that typically American? Of course, Canadians like to think of themselves as part of North America when it suits their business and political interests, but a trifle too quick to point out they are Canadian first and foremost. And how much thought do the people of Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia give to being American?
That leaves us, the American people, to sing of America The Beautiful, pursue the American Dream and to celebrate America and being American on Independence Day. We are collectively embraced in presidential addresses as “fellow Americans”. God is invoked to bless America. And yet our national teams bear a meager, abrupt and incomplete proxy for a name. US.
How much more patriotically inspiring it would be see Team America walk out at the next World Cup.
Happy 234th birthday, America.