There's an entire major region, spanning the entire South America and parts of North America, called "Latin America". People there tend to speak Spanish and closely related languages. There's also the classic/dead language "Latin", which, while it shares some similarities, is not very close to Spanish as far as I can tell.

Wikipedia says:

The term comes from the fact that the predominant languages of the countries originated with the Latin language.

But doesn't English and French and German and Italian and basically everything in Europe come from Latin as well? Wasn't Latin what the Romans spoke in the Roman empire? The entire basis of all these "variations" of the same basic "root" language?

I don't understand why Latin America somehow "deserves" that name when you might as well say "Latin USA" or "Latin Italy" or "Latin England" and "Latin Sweden" and so on, since they are all based on Latin too. Why specifically label a region "Latin America" just because they (also) speak a Latin-based language there?

There's a stark contrast between a Roman emperor speaking fancy Latin before the people back in the day, and a modern-day Latina dancing to Zumba music. Both are called "Latin" but they seem to have very little if anything in common which is unique to them in the "Latin America" region specifically, as opposed to all the other places where descendants of Romans/Latin-speaking peoples exist.

So why refer to "Latin America" in particular when nobody says "Latin X" where "X" is any other region?

  • 1
    because it is at a whole other continent. France, Italy, Spain etc. are already in Europe where Latin language were spoken. but when a language gets spoken in a different contient they named as such. It's not about Spanish itself but where did it originate from. If French speaking people were to colonize the region more than Spanish speaking people did, the people there would be mainly speaking French and it still would be called Latin America.
    – guest
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 10:33

3 Answers 3


But doesn't English and French and German and Italian and basically everything in Europe come from Latin as well?

Not in the same way! Essentially all European languages have borrowed a lot of vocabulary from Latin.

But for some languages the relation is much more intimate: The so-called Romance languages evolved directly from Latin. They were not only influenced by Latin, but in a way created by it. Therefore it would be justified to call these "Latin languages".

The Romance languages include Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian. They do not include Slavic languages (like Russian or Polish) or Germanic languages (like English, German, or Swedish). English is not Latin-based, but it does have Latin influences.

The dominant languages of Latin America are Spanish and Portuguese, both originating from Latin.


Latin American here.

As mentioned in the other answers, the Americas were colonized basically by the British, Spanish, and Portuguese (and to a lesser extent by the French and Dutch). All the French colonies in North America later fell under British rule.

Now, the term comes handy when referring to a clear cut subset of the Americas (the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies) that share a lot of cultural, political and historical background, and are very distinct from the other major subsets (the former British colonies, and the Caribbean). I think the choice is mostly practical: what do we call this group of countries we want to refer to in short? —what do they have in common? —Romance languages, Latin-derived culture (e.g in the legal system).

Interesting factoid: in Spanish there is also the term Iberoamérica (both Spain and Portugal are part of the Iberian peninsula), but the term applies (rather arbitrarily) to Latin America plus the Iberian countries.

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    Very strange that Iberoamérica would apply to the Iberian peninsula as well. If that weren't the case, it would have been the perfect name for "Latin America."
    – cmw
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 21:07

Welcome to the Latin SE! Latin was not just a language - it also referred to a specific group of people who lived on the Italic peninsula before the Roman Empire or Republic. After the rise of Rome, it also applied to the people who lived in Iberia (modern day Spain and Portugal). The name stuck there, and it traveled across the Atlantic and continued to describe the people there. You can read more on this on wikipedia.

  • There's nothing in that article that says it was applied to Iberians...
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 22:28

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