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The actual term "Latin America" was coined in France under Napoleon III and played a role in his campaign to imply cultural kinship with France, transform France into a cultural and political leader of the area and install Maximilian as emperor of Mexico. — Wikipedia

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Are you looking for some explanation beyond the one you provide in the body of your question? It appears that you ask a question in the title, and answer it right away in the body. If so, I think this question should be reworded as "Where does the term 'Latin America' come from", and you should post the rest as an answer. –  RegDwigнt Mar 11 '11 at 19:57
    
@RegDwight - Just supplying what I already know about the term. Just want to know WHY he called it "Latin America" as opposed to something like "America Francais" :) –  Ralph Winters Mar 11 '11 at 21:56
    
Then ask "why" instead of "how"? –  Cerberus Mar 11 '11 at 21:59
    
I'm just afraid that means this question is more about French than English, making it off-topic. –  RegDwigнt Mar 11 '11 at 22:02
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Latin means "a native or inhabitant of a country whose language developed from Latin." It includes also inhabitant of countries like France, Italy, Spain.
Hispanic means "of or relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries." It can be used to refer to Spain, but not Italy or France.

Naming those lands "Latin America" was a reason for Napoleon III to claim possession of the lands.

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That makes it clearer +1 - Thanks. –  Ralph Winters Mar 13 '11 at 4:42
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The reason is that Latin America was formerly known as "Hispanic America", thereby implicitly excluding France.

By "rebranding" it to "Latin America", France would be allowed to claim some paternity or at least influence, this in turn would justify the Mexican adventure.

I'm not sure how a Habsburg such as Maximilian would qualify as "Latin".

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Alain - I'm still a little unclear as to why he called it "Latin". Why does "Hispanic America" exclude France ? –  Ralph Winters Mar 11 '11 at 22:57
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@ralph: Hispanic means Spanish - hence not French. –  neil Mar 12 '11 at 0:22
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@ralph: as neil has rightly pointed out, France does not belong to the Hispanic group of nations. In addition, as everybody knows, Brazil is not a Spanish speaking country but a Portuguese speaking country. "Latin America" was therefore deemed more appropriate and incidentally also include France (with its little colony of French Guyana, just reclaimed from Portugal). –  Alain Pannetier Φ Mar 12 '11 at 8:53
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Everyone is over thinking a rather simple answer. The term Latin America was coined to denote that the countries in the region all speak a "romance language" derived from Latin. This includes Spanish, Portuguese, and French. Nothing more, nothing less.

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True, and North America was called "Anglo-Saxon America" for the same reason. The parts of the American continent colonized or historically controlled by Anglo-Saxon people, principally the USA and Canada. –  Sebastián Grignoli Jun 15 '12 at 13:30
    
@SebastiánGrignoli As opposed to those parts of North America colonized or historically controlled by Spanish-descended colonists, including states like Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and California, at least prior to the Treaty of Guadalupe. Those states’ names rather give them away. So does Puerto Rico’s. –  tchrist Jun 15 '12 at 13:37
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First, your quoted text says:

"The actual term "Latin America" was coined in France under Napoleon III".

So Napolean didn't coin it himself, but it coined was during his reign.

In fact, another Wikipedia page gives a more detailed history.

  1. In the 1830s it was postulated south America was inhabited by people of a "Latin race", and could become an ally with "Latin Europe" (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy) against "Teutonic Europe" (Germanic countries), "Anglo-Saxon America" (north America) and "Slavic Europe" (parts of central and eastern Europe).

  2. In the mid- to late-nineteenth centuries, intellectuals and political leaders of south America used the term Latin America as they looked to France as a cultural model rather than Spain and France.

  3. In 1856, a Chilean politician used the term in Paris and a Colombian writer used it in a poem.

  4. The term was then supported by the French Empire of Napoleon III during the French invasion of Mexico to include France as a country of influence on the area and to exclude English-speaking countries, and to embiggen France's cultural and political role in the area.

In full:

Etymology and definitions

The idea that a part of the Americas has a linguistic affinity with the Romance cultures as a whole can be traced back to the 1830s, in the writing of the French Saint-Simonian Michel Chevalier, who postulated that this part of the Americas was inhabited by people of a "Latin race", and that it could, therefore, ally itself with "Latin Europe" in a struggle with "Teutonic Europe", "Anglo-Saxon America" and "Slavic Europe".[8] The idea was later taken up by Latin American intellectuals and political leaders of the mid- and late-nineteenth century, who no longer looked to Spain or Portugal as cultural models, but rather to France.[9] The term was first used in Paris in an 1856 conference by the Chilean politician Francisco Bilbao[10] and the same year by the Colombian writer José María Torres Caicedo in his poem "Two Americas.[11] The term Latin America was supported by the French Empire of Napoleon III during the French invasion of Mexico, as a way to include France among countries with influence in America and to exclude Anglophone countries, and played a role in his campaign to imply cultural kinship of the region with France, transform France into a cultural and political leader of the area, and install Maximilian of Habsburg as emperor of the Second Mexican Empire.[12] This term was also baptized in 1861 by French scholars in La revue des races Latines, a magazine dedicated to the Pan-Latinism movement.[13]

Now, none of this is specifically about English usage, so let's throw something in.

The earliest use I can find of Latin America in English is from 1863 in British and foreign state papers:

With the other States of Latin America, excepting the Empire of Brazil, which has a Legation accredited to this Government, we have no continued diplomatic relations, but we nevertheless have a lively interest in their welfare and prosperity.

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