Geographically, the Antillean islands are generally considered a subregion of North America. Culturally speaking, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico – and sometimes the whole of the Antilles – are included in Latin America, although some sources avoid this socio-economic oversimplification by using the phrase "Latin America and the Caribbean" instead (see Latin America, "In Contemporary Usage"). In terms of geology, the Greater Antilles are made up of continental rock, as distinct from the Lesser Antilles, which are mostly young volcanic or coral islands.
The word Antilles originated in the period before the European conquest of the New World, Antilia being one of those mysterious lands which figured on the medievalcharts, sometimes as an archipelago, sometimes as continuous land of greater or lesser extent, its location fluctuating in mid-ocean between the Canary Islands and India.
After the 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus's expedition in what was later called the West Indies, the European powers realized that the dispersed lands constituted an extensive archipelago inhabiting the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The Antilles were called multiple names before their current name became the norm. Early Spanish visitors called them the Windward Islands. They were also called the Forward Islands by 18th-century British. Thereafter, the term Antilles was commonly assigned to the formation, and "Sea of the Antilles" became a common alternative name for the Caribbean Sea in various European languages.