The name Africa has been connected with the Phoenician word afar, which means ”dust.” It has also has been connected to two Phoenician terms friqi or pharika, which means “land of corn or fruit.” It has also been hypothesized that Africa may have derived from a Phoenician root faraqa or faraq, meaning “separation or diaspora.”
The Romans have been given credit for popularizing the name Africa in the West. They used the name Africa terra meaning “land of the Afri” (or singular version “Afer”) for the northern part of the continent. Its capital was Carthage, which is modern-day Tunisia.
The story told by some historians is that the Romans got the term from the Carthaginians, as a native term for their country. The Latin suffix “-ica” can sometimes be used to denote a land (e.g., in Celtica from Celtae, as used by Julius Caesar).
Another theory is that the continent was named after the Roman general “Scicipio Africanus,” but his name meant “Sicipio of Africa,” which would mean the general was named for being from Africa.
Some say the term is drawn from the Latin adjective aprica (sunny).
The historian Leo Africanus (1495-1554) attributed the origin of “Africa” to the Greek word aprikē or aphrike. Phrike means cold and horror, when combined with the negating prefix a-, it means a land free of cold and horror.
The 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus asserted that Africa was named for Epher, grandson of Abraham, according to the Bible’s Genesis 25:4, whose descendants invaded Libya. The Hebrew name for the continent, Auphirah is supposedly written as Ophir in many Jewish records.
Some have attributed the name to the later Muslim kingdom of Ifriqiya (sunny place) in modern-day Tunisia. However, the Arab version is considered by most historians to be a derivative of the Latin version.
Another theory is that the word might stem from Sanskrit and Hindi in which the root Apara or Africa denotes that which, in geographical terms, “comes after” or to the west — in which case Africa is the western continent.
Some have postulated that it is the name of a Yemenite chief named Africus who invaded North Africa in the second millennium B.C. and founded a town called Afrikyah.
A number of historians believe the Romans got the name from a corruption of what the Berbers called the region in which they lived. The theory asserts that “Africa” stems from the Berber ifri (plural ifran), the word for “cave,” in reference to cave dwellers. The same word is found in the name of the Banu Ifran from Algeria and Tripolitania, a Berber tribe originally from Yafran (also known as Ifrane) in northwestern Libya.
A few historians argue that the word “Africa” is indigenous to the continent, and the idea that the Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Hindus or any Caucasoid group created the name Africa is absolutely inaccurate.
This theory asserts that Romans and Greeks began using the term only after coming in contact with African people, such as the Greek conquest of Egypt and the Roman conquest of North Africa and Egypt.
The term “Afru-ika” means “birthplace” or “Motherland,” according to historian Ivan Van Sertima. Af-rui-ka means “to turn toward the opening of the Ka, womb or birthplace.”
Another hypothesis is that the name of the 4th dynasty pharaoh, Kh-afre, reveals that an early Egyptian king had the name “Africa.” It’s believed by some that because modern Egyptologists and others often mix the order of the hieroglyphs that the ancients wrote Kh-afre is supposedly written as Afre-Kh or Africa.