What’s in a Name? Dutch Government Bans ‘Holland’ in Favour of ‘The Netherlands’

Dutch government bans Holland in favour of The Netherlands

While the British government is currently occupied negotiating a Brexit deal, I learned during my recent trip to the Netherlands that the Dutch government has totally different points on their agenda. Namely, to rebrand the country’s name internationally. Instead of ‘Holland’ they want to be known as ‘The Netherlands’. Many find it absurd and a waste of money and energy. So why is the Dutch government so keen on this name change?

Holland is a region in the west of the Netherlands

I know quite a few Dutchies who get very irritated when people use the name ‘Holland’ when they’re referring to the country. To understand their frustration, you have to know that The Netherlands consists of twelve provinces. And two of them on the west coast are called North-Holland (indicated in yellow on the map below) and South-Holland underneath it. So strictly speaking, the name ‘Holland’ refers to this region and not to the entire country. In this sense, Holland is actually a so-called metonym.

I don’t think it will bother anyone living in the region, but calling all Dutch people  ‘Hollanders’ (Dutch word for people who come from Holland), would definitely lead to some upset among many Dutchies!

Map with the twelve provinces of the Netherlands // Dutch Girl in London
Map by Alphaton on Wikipedia

But not only foreigners use the name Holland

Holland is the official name employed by the Dutch tourism board. I hardly spot postcards with ‘Greetings from The Netherlands’ printed on it. And I bet the majority of souvenirs sold to tourists say ‘Holland’ on it.

However, it’s not only foreigners who use the name ‘Holland’, it’s also very common among Dutch people. Even one of the most famous national football songs is called Hup Holland Hup (‘Go Holland Go’) and despite its incorrect name, the Dutch-language TV show Ik hou van Holland (‘I love Holland’) is immensely popular!

A few days after I first heard the story about the desired name change on Dutch news, I went to a heavy metal concert in my old hometown of Tilburg. I found it quite amusing that the singer of the band, Machine Head, kept using the correct name ‘The Netherlands’ whenever he encouraged the audience to make a large mosh pit. I wondered if he had received the memo from the Dutch government upon arrival to The Netherlands.

Where does the name Holland come from?

Time for a little history lesson then! Holland derives from the 11th-century term holtlant which means woodland. At a certain point it was used to denote the entire country. In the next centuries the country’s name changed just as often as its political status did. However, it’s been officially known as the Kingdom of the Netherlands since the 19th century.

The Netherlands sounds more sophisticated

In addition to the incorrect usage of Holland vs The Netherlands in geographical terms, the Dutch government also believes that the image of Holland is a cliché. It conjures up an image of hundreds of windmills dotted around the landscape, people walking around in clogs whilst munching cheese and smoking weed. I’m not convinced the country would ever get rid of its image of a drug-friendly destination though. As it stands, the majority of tourists only seem to know the city of Amsterdam and hardly venture outside of the ever-crowded city centre.

Tote bag with the text 'Yes, I am Dutch. No, I don't live in Amsterdam.'

Despite the Dutch government’s ambitious plans, I’m not sure how this will pan out. Just think of the extra costs for shop owners and tourist organisations! I don’t believe they will accept the government’s rebranding campaign that easily. And then there’s also the practical use of the name ‘Holland’. I’m already anticipating many comedy moments when tourists try to pronounce ‘The Netherlands’. My bet is that they will continue using ‘Holland’ just for convenience-sake.

Find more funny articles related to Dutch language & culture here:

What about you? Are you on Team Holland or Team The Netherlands?
Let me know your thoughts in a comment below!
Thanks, Zarina xx


16 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? Dutch Government Bans ‘Holland’ in Favour of ‘The Netherlands’

    1. Thanks for your message! I’ve been hearing complaints from lots of Dutch people about the usage of Holland actually! Perhaps I just surround myself with grumpy people 😉

  1. I actually live in Holland. Noord-Holland. I can understand why people from other provinces don’t like the word Holland when talking about The Netherlands. The Netherlands is more than North- and South-Holland.
    It sounds very different from Holland, I can see the reasons behind it. But I also think most people outside The Netherlands use Holland much easier. My experience is that saying The Netherlands sometimes gives a puzzled look compared to Holland, everybody knows Holland…

  2. Team Netherlands!! Not really sure why, though maybe it’s because I haven’t used Holland in a really long time!

  3. This is one of those funny ones I think. ‘Holland’ is so popular and easy to say that changing the name to something longer (and to two words no less!) seems tough for people to get their head around. I don’t know one person in my entire family who tells people I live in The Netherlands even. I’m not sure it’s going to catch on. I love ‘The Netherlands’ though, I think it makes the country sound much grander than ‘Holland’, and I always say it because of that haha.

    1. Ha ha, I think that’s exactly what the Dutch government are aiming for, to get rid of their more common ‘Holland’ rep (i.e. get wasted on drugs and alcohol in Amsterdam). I do prefer The Netherlands, but like you, am not convinced this will catch on internationally.

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