Holland Or Netherlands?

I must admit I didn’t pay much attention to those countrys’ names until the recent football World Cup. It was also the first time in my life I bet on football (Singapore Pools) probably influenced by the prediction by that octopus Paul.

My World Cup 2010 bet slip that didn’t win hehe;

Credit : Singapore Pools

I first got startled by the Channel 8 news when it showed “Holland vs xxxxx”, then the next moment it showed “Netherlands vs xxxxx”.  My mind suddenly went ‘blank’ and quickly refleshed my mind to think if they meant the same country like what I’ve learnt in primary school then – Sri Lanka is the new name for Ceylon. I checked with my son who is in Sec.4 now (probably his teacher might have taught him), and he said he was not sure and his teachers have yet to touch on that….(maybe after World Cup final). I’m wondering why from the same source (Channel 8 in this case), 2 different names were used? Is Netherlands the new name for Holland like Sri Lanka?

A check on the 11 July 2010 (just before the World Cup final) Sunday Times;

Credits : Singapore Press Holdings

As you can see, even on the same page – Netherlands and Holland, 2 different names, were used! Now check the Singapore Pools website;

Credit : Singapore Pools

It stated Holland instead of Netherlands, which is the same as my bet slip shown above.

First thing to verify is – Do Holland and Netherlands mean the same country? Second thing – when do we use Holland and when to use Netherlands?

OK, first thing first – very simple : Holland and Netherlands mean the same country. Most of us use Holland to refer to Netherlands as a whole but in actual fact, Holland comprises of North Holland and South Holland which are the 2 of the the 12 provinces in Netherlands. So to be more precise, Netherlands is the country’s name and Holland is the province’s name. Now the name Holland and Netherlands are used interchangeably without one realising they are referring to the same (at least to some people like me). Now after knowing the truth, I would preferred to use Netherlands when I’m referring to the whole country.

So have I forgotten what my teacher taught me? A check with my primary school Geography texbook “New Primary Geography For Singapore” in 1971;

Credit : McGraw Hill Far Eastern Publishers (S) Ltd

Yes I was taught Netherlands at that time but I don’t remember why I wrote the word “Holland” in bracket.

To add to the confusion, Netherlands is usually referred to as “荷兰” (Holland) in Chinese. Very seldom you can hear one said “尼德兰王国” (Netherlands) – and this is very true as I’ve asked my parents and both answered me 荷兰 is the country’s name. But one thing they told me that I’m not aware of is Holland was also known as “低地国” in the past. This simply means “Low Country”, but why? This is because geographically, Netherlands is a low-lying country and thus in Dutch (the language of Netherlands) “Nederland” means “Low Land” literally. So how “low” is it – 27% of it lies below sea level and the average elevation for the whole nation is only 11 meters above sea level.

This is confirmed by my son’s Sec.1 Atlas book;

Credit : Pearson Education South Asia Pte Ltd 2002

Maybe we should learn from the Netherlands on how to prevent flood and build better drainage system (OK maybe our Marina Barrage pumps already from Netherlands, right?). Flood control and land reclamation have been ongoing in Netherlands and they are among the world’s leading experts in hydraulic engineering.

So “Netherlands” in dutch is “Nederland”. One of the best ways to learn about a country is via stamps. I took a look at my stamps and realised that I only have Nederland stamps and not Holland stamps;

Now where the name “Holland” comes from? The name Holland ultimately stems from the term ‘holt land’ which means ‘wooded land’. Do take note of another incorrect, fake etymology holds that it is derived from ‘hol land’ (‘hollow land’), inspired by the low-lying geography of the region. In the past, two-third of Holland’s land lay below sea level and made up mostly of mud flats and shallows, salt marshes, blackish lakes, and flood banks, and also with patches of “woodland” (“Holt Land”).

The purpose of this post is not to go into detail history of Netherlands but just a very brief explanation why the confusion on the word “Holland” and “Netherlands”. But for those who are keen to read more about Netherlands, here is a very good read “A Brief History of Netherlands“.

From the 10th to 16th century, Holland was a county ruled by the Count of Holland. After independence around circa 1581-1795, Holland became a province of the then Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. By the 17th century, Holland had risen to become a maritime and economic power, dominating the other provinces. Colonies and trading posts were established all over the world.  The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch, was established in 1602, when the States-Generarl of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia. This will lead to my next post…a very interesting one…

Thus we can see that the term “Holland” is more popularly used than “Netherlands” because most traders were from the Holland province in the past. Holland was the richest and most powerful province then.

What my father wrote;

“Beggars must not be choosers” or “Beggars cannot be choosers”
“行乞者不得有选择”
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7 Responses to “Holland Or Netherlands?”


  1. 1 Unk Dicko Tuesday, July 20, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Good fact-finding post!
    I think Holland and Netherlands is used interchangeably, though the former is more commonly used.
    Again, why are they called “Dutch” which more logically should be “Hollanders” or ” Netherlanders”?
    Haha..great that charity have benefitted from your W Cup contributions!

  2. 2 yg Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    yes, names referring to countries can confuse. is uk the same as great britain? how about the british isles and great britain?

  3. 3 laokokok Friday, July 23, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Thanks Dicko.
    Good question: Why the people are called “Dutch” instead of “Hollanders” or “Netherlanders”? In modern context, the word “Hollanders” refer to the people from the province Holland instead of the whole of Netherlands while Netherlanders is more accurately used to refer to whole.

    The word “Dutch” is more popularly used to refer to people of the whole Netherlands instead of Netherlanders because of a variety of reasons.

    So when referring to the people of Netherlands as a whole, the adjective is “Dutch”. This can be seen in their national airline KLM (before the 2004 merger with Air France of course)
    which is Royal Dutch Airlines – So “Dutch” here is an adjective referring to the people of Netherlands as a whole.

    The adjective “Dutch” is derived from the language “Diets”, a very old word in an ancient (Dutch) language meaning “The people”. Note that in the 16th and 17th century, “Deits” and “Duits” were spelling variants of the same word.

  4. 4 laokokok Friday, July 23, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Hi YG, agreed that countries names are confusing and that’s why I don’t do well in Geography and History hehe.

    UK is not the same as Great Britain.

    The complete name of UK is the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. The United Kingdom is made up of:
    – England : The capital is London.
    – Scotland : The capital is Edinburgh .
    – Wales : The capital is Cardiff.
    – Northern Ireland : The capital is Belfast.

    While Great Britain is made up of England, Scotland and Wales. It does not include Northern Ireland.

    Also note that Britain refers to England and Wales only. Though sometimes people use the shorten name Britain instead of Great Britain to mean the same thing.

    The British Isles and Great Britain means differently. The British Isles is a geographically term which includes two large islands, Great Britain and Ireland, and 5,000 small islands, most notably the Isle of Man which has its own parliament and laws. The largest island in the British Isles is the Great Britain and note that The Isle of Man is neither part of Great Britain nor the United Kingdom.

  5. 5 Equally Old Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Thank you LKK for this informative piece.

    From young, we know that Holland = Netherlands and Netherlands= Holland but what the hack, how many of us go question what’s the difference!

  6. 6 laokokok Monday, July 26, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Me too Equally Old. All the while calling Netherlands as Holland until now.

  7. 7 Tisu Girl Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 11:02 am

    yes, i was watching tv and the host said 荷兰 but the subtitle shows Netherland. Wanted to find out but slipped my mind again…


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