Dutch dilemma? It’s all in a name

Wessel is a citizen of the Netherlands

All Dutch citizens carry passports from “the Netherlands,” not “Holland”

Don’t mention Holland to my Dutch family unless you mean it or you’ll get this smarty-pants answer:  I’m not from Holland.

Wait, how can a Dutch citizen not be from Holland?

Because the Netherlands has an identity crisis.

Yes, the country is officially, legally, and historically named the Netherlands. Or, in Dutch, Nederland, as in “low country.” Hence the NL country abbreviation you see on car stickers. The country is bordered by Belgium, Germany, and the North Sea. To the west, across the water, is England. (And, for the record, the Netherlands is not part of Scandinavia, as some people mistakenly think.)

So what’s with the name Holland?

Well, two things, one official and one not. 
The provinces of North and South Holland are in the west of the Netherlands

The provinces of North and South Holland are in the west of the Netherlands

The Netherlands has 12 provinces. Two of those are North Holland and South Holland on the west coast. Until 1840, they were one province, called Holland. Their residents were, and still are, Hollanders. The country’s largest and most well-known cities are in Holland — Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague.

So, Holland has always been the most powerful and populated part of the Netherlands. But it’s only a part of the country. (This conundrum has similarities with the whole United Kingdom / England / Great Britain thing, which we won’t even get into here, will we?)

Dutch guilder that was in use before introduction of the euro in 2002

Dutch guilder that was in use before introduction of the euro in 2002

As you can guess, my Dutch family members are not from those provinces, therefore they’re not from the official Holland. They’re from the province of Drenthe, in the northeast, which is more rural and has the country’s lowest population density. (Americans, think Nebraska with canals.)

Holland is used as the commercial name for The Netherlands

Much to the Koks’ dismay, “Holland” is used on most Dutch souvenirs

Making matters even worse for them, the name Holland has, unofficially, been used interchangeably with the Netherlands for many years now. Many Dutch people from all provinces say they’re from Holland. Even the country’s tourism website, run by The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, is called Holland.com. Personally, I’ve met several non-Hollanders who refer to their country as Holland.

So, while my famiy’s provincial sensitivity is understandable, I do think they’re fighting a losing battle, and one that does not appear to have all that many soldiers these days. But, as a family member through marriage, I feel compelled to join in and fight the good fight, too. I hereby dedicate this blog post to the Familie Kok and their fellow non-Hollanders. Lang Leve Nederland!

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15 Responses to “Dutch dilemma? It’s all in a name”

  1. boldlygosolo Says:

    I agree. It has always been confusing. But somewhere along the way I got it into my head that I was supposed to say “the Netherlands.” And it stuck. But thanks for the explanation, again, as to why.

    Ellen at boldlygosolo.com

  2. Marian Says:

    As I was born in Haarlem I am a “true” Hollander. However, I always refer to my country of birth as The Netherlands. This came about at a very early age when I was around 9 or 10. People would ask where I was from. If I said Holland and the people asking were Americans, they would assume I meant Holland, Michigan!

  3. didaniel Says:

    I can’t believe people would think Holland, Michigan! I’d never heard of it until I met Wessel and started becoming aware of all the Hollands in the US.

  4. karel Says:

    Bravo Diane, you are making progress !

  5. Carlo Says:

    Hup HOLLAND hup!

  6. Raquel Strauss Says:

    Well…finally! Some clarity on this longstanding peculiar issue. Now I know: My wonderful son-in-law comes from Amsterdam, Holland, The Netherlands, Europe, The Earth, The Milky Way, etc.

    Go Orange! :-)

  7. lenie Says:

    Is me bekend. Vertel dat ook aan iedere Amerikaan die daar geinteresseerd in is. Ook als ik op de scholen over Nederland spreek. Ben een echte Hollander, geboren en getogen in Maassluis but always refer to “The Netherlands” als er wordt gevraagd waar ik vandaan kom.
    Diane asked me (Wessel) to translate for the non-Dutch speakers in the crowd:
    I know about this. I also tell this to every American who is interested. Also when I talk about the Netherlands at schools. I am a real Hollander, born and raised in Maassluis but always refer to the Netherlands when asked where I am from.

  8. Jose Kreuk Says:

    I’m a true Hollander too. For 36 years I lived in the province of North Holland, but when people ask me where I’m from, I’ll answer The Netherlands. This is the official name of my home country. The Netherlands, means “The Low Lands” an appropriate name for a country that’s for 60% below sea level.

  9. taco Says:

    The success of the Holland “brand” is simply due to the economic and demographic dominance of the region – that’s where most Dutchmen live and where most money is generated.

    It’s similar to the terms “Russia” and “Soviet Union,” which were often used interchangably. Russia was the most important Soviet republic by far, but the easiest way to get a rise out of an Uzbek or Ukrainian would be to call him Russian.

    Jose commented on the appropriateness of the name Netherlands for a country that’s largely below sea level.

    Interestingly, the Holland area accounts for the majority of reclaimed land, while “The Netherlands” also includes higher-ground provinces such as Drenthe.

    Perhaps we should consider switching the tags: Use “Holland” for the entire country and limit the use of “Netherlands” for the area below sea level.

  10. Wessel Kok Says:

    This topic is very confusing. Even George from Seinfeld couldn’t figure it out. Listen to this sound clip from the Seinfeld episode on Sept 25, 1997:

    [audio src="http://www.bydianedaniel.com/uploads/19970925_Seinfeld_Who_are_the_Dutch.mp3" /]

  11. Ina Says:

    I live in the province of Fryslân and if I say I am from Holland or the Netherlands, they (the Frisians) get upset. Fryslân is just not Holland or the Netherlands to them To make it more complicated, the island I live and was born on, used to belong to the province of Holland. That was changed under German occupation. We don’t feel Frysian at all here… I hope one day I will be able to say I am European. But that somehow doesn’t sound right either.

  12. Raquel Strauss Says:

    Países Bajos es conocido por ese nombre por tratarse de un estado que tiene la cuarta parte de su territorio por debajo del nivel del mar. De ahí su nombre en inglés Netherlands, formado por nether (bajo) ylands (tierras), y en la lengua del país, el neerlandés, Nederlanden (formado por neder y landen) , o en portugués, Países Baixos. En español es más común oír la denominación Holanda, que no es correcta, puesto que es el nombre de apenas dos provincias de este país: Holanda del Norte y Holanda Meridional. Antiguamente, estas dos provincias estaban cubiertas de bosques, lo que dio lugar a su nombre, formado por held (madera) y landen (tierras). Según la Academia Española, holandés es el natural de Holanda, aunque el diccionario no precisa si se refiere al país que llamamos Holanda o a las provincias que llevan ese nombre. Como segunda acepción encontramos que es el gentilicio de los habitantes “de aquella región de los Países Bajos”.
    Neerlandés es también el nombre del idioma hablado en el país, del que se distinguen dos dialectos, el flamenco, usado en el sur de los Países Bajos y en Bélgica, y el holandés, que se emplea en el norte de los Países Bajos.
    From: La palabra del día (5) [distribucion@elcastellano.org], retrieved 7/4/10.
    Corrección: Varios amables lectores de los Países Bajos comentaron que la palabra para madera en neerlandés es hout y no held, y que el neerlandés tiene unos diez dialectos, y no dos, como dije por error. Retrieved 7/6/10.

    The Netherlands are known by that name for being a state that has the quarter of its territory below the level of the sea. Its name in English, Netherlands, formed by nether (under) and lands (earth), and in the language of the country, the Dutch one, Nederlanden (formed by neder and landen), or in Portuguese, Paises Baixos. In Spanish it is more common to hear the Holland denomination, that is not correct, since it is the name of merely two provinces of this country: Holland of the North and Southern Holland. Formerly, these two provinces were covered with forests, which gave rise to its name, formed by held (wood) and landen (earth). According to the Royal Spanish Academy, Dutch is a person of Holland, although the dictionary does not require that we call the country Holland or the provinces that take that name. As a second meaning we found that ” is the nation of the inhabitants; of that one region of the Netherlands.”
    Dutch is also the name of the language spoken in the country, from which one can distinguish two dialects, the Flemish one, used in the south of the Netherlands and Belgium, and the Dutch, that is used in the north of the Netherlands. From: The word of the day (5) [distribucion@elcastellano.org], retrieved 7/4/10. Correction: Several amiable readers of the Netherlands commented that the word for wood in Dutch is hout and not held, and that the Dutch one has about ten dialects, and not two, as I said by error. Retrieved 7/6/10.

  13. Raquel Strauss Says:

    I posted the Spanish view of the Dutch just so Oranje will have a better chance of winning on Sunday! Hup Oranje Hup!

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