Even though it is quite a small country with a total area of 41.543 square kilometres, the Netherlands belongs to a select number of countries around the world which are known by many different names. So, what is the right way to call it – is it “Holland”? Is it “(the) Netherlands”? Are these two names interchangeable or not? Let’s shed some light on this matter.

Official name of the Netherlands as it shows on passports.

The official name of the country in Dutch is Koninkrijk der Nederlanden, which literally means, “Kingdom of the Low Countries”;  a name that reminds us that the country was originally a confederation of independent provinces.  For the sake of abbreviation, the country is often referred to as Nederland in Dutch. In English the country is officially known as the “Kingdom of the Netherlands”, or for short, “the Netherlands”.  Sometimes the ‘t’ in the article “the” before the name is erroneously capitalised but this in theory should only happen at the beginning of a sentence.

“The Netherlands” is normally used in contrast to the “Kingdom of the Netherlands” to mark the difference between the territory that is in Europe and the kingdom that consists of the countries of Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten (all three in the Caribbean) and mainland Netherlands.

Very frequently -though inaccurately- the Netherlands is also referred to as “Holland”, thus identifying the country with the most powerful province that formed the Republic of the United Netherlands in the period between 1581 and 1795.  Strictly speaking, Holland is only the central western region of the Netherlands which comprises two of the twelve provinces that make up the country – North and South Holland. Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is located in the province of North Holland; while The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government and parliament, is in the province of South Holland.

The twelve provinces of the Netherlands. Holland is the central western region of the country.

The name “Holland” is often used colloquially by the Dutch people themselves, especially when it refers to sports teams such as the football national team. During international football competitions like the World Cup or the European Cup, Dutch fans at the stadium normally cheer their team by chanting, “Holland! Holland!” instead of  “Nederland!” which would be more correct!

Yet another name which is commonly associated with the Netherlands is “Low Countries”.  This name was actually historically used to identify the region which lies around the big delta formed by the rivers Rhine, Scheldt and Meuse and it comprises present-day Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands. These three countries also form part of the “Benelux” [BE for Belgium, NE for Netherlands and LUX for Luxemburg] a customs union formed in 1948 which aimed to promote intergovernmental cooperation.

Confused? You don’t need to be! Here is a summary of all the names associated with the Netherlands:

Kingdom of the Netherlands: the official name of the country; it comprises mainland Netherlands (territory in Europe) plus the islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten in the Caribbean.

The Netherlands: short name for “Kingdom of the Netherlands”; it also refers to the territory in Europe.

Holland: the central western region of the Netherlands which comprises two of the provinces: North and South Holland.

Low Countries: the low-lying region in northern Europe around the delta of the rivers Rhine, Scheldt and Meuse which comprises the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg.

Benelux: the economic and political union comprising the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg.


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About the author

Aledys Ver is originally from Argentina where she lived most of her life until she married a Dutchman and moved to the Netherlands in 2003. She is an English / Spanish translator and does volunteer work helping new comers adapt to their new life in the Netherlands. Her main areas of interest are literature, history and languages and her hobbies include photography, cooking and travelling. She is the author of the blog "From Argentina to the Netherlands, for Love!" which she writes in English and Spanish.