The Netherlands vs. Holland
Across the globe, you often hear people refer to the Netherlands as Holland. The terms are used interchangeably by many, as if they mean the exact same thing. But this is simply not the case. The Netherlands and Holland are two distinct places. Where does this confusion come from, and why do people call the Netherlands Holland? We’ll try and clear things up.
What is the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is a country in Western Europe. The Netherlands also controls three territories in the Caribbean, and together they make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve provinces, and borders Germany, Belgium, and the North Sea.
What is Holland?
We mentioned that the Netherlands is made up of twelve provinces. The name Holland actually refers to two of these provinces, each with Holland in their name – North Holland and South Holland. Within these provinces, you will find some of the major cities people typically associate with the Netherlands, like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Haarlem, and The Hague. If you have ever been to the Netherlands, it is more than likely you have also been to Holland.
Why Do People Call the Netherlands Holland?
Okay, so the difference between the Netherlands and Holland is actually quite simple, but that still does not quite explain the why. Why do people call the Netherlands Holland? Time for a quick history lesson.
From around the 10th to the 16th century, Holland was a unified political region within the Holy Roman Empire. By the time the Dutch Republic was formed, Holland came to be a maritime and economic power, and would remain so throughout the Dutch Golden Age (roughly spanning the 17th century).
As the Dutch set out into the world, trading routes were established. They would travel to far off places, with most ships coming out of Holland. At the time, the regions of the Dutch Republic were autonomous, each with their own government. So when someone would ask a Dutch sailor where they came from, they would likely answer with “Holland.”
Given the autonomous history of Holland, and the fact that it is home to many important cities, Holland came to be a common and accepted nickname for the Netherlands.
When to Use Each Term
Since Holland has long been an informal name for the entirety of the Netherlands, no one is going to be too mad if you use one term over the other (just don’t confuse the Dutch with the Danish!).
However, if you want to be correct, use the Netherlands when talking about the country, and use Holland when talking about the provinces of North and South Holland. Remember, there are ten other provinces in the Netherlands, each unique from one another, so give them some love and don’t just use Holland to refer to the entire country.
How much do you know about the Netherlands? Test yourself in the quiz below!
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.