You’ve probably heard people referring to the Netherlands as Holland, and the two have been accepted as synonyms for a long time, but in reality they’re not. It’s not just English speaking countries that make this mistake. If you go to Spain, for example, it’s common to heard Holanda (Holland) used to describe what is actually Países Bajos (the Netherlands).
So, why do people refer to the Netherlands as Holland and what’s the difference between the Netherlands and Holland? The first question is more complicated that the latter. Holland actually refers to South and North Holland in the West of the country. The Netherlands is the country as a whole.
So it’s technically incorrect to refer to the Netherlands as Holland and in recent years the Dutch government has spent a lot of money ‘rebranding’ to try and get people to use the correct name for the country. After all, there are twelve provinces in the Netherlands and Holland only refers to two.
Why do people call the Netherlands Holland?
Well, the two provinces of North Holland (Noord-Holland) and South Holland (Zuid-Holland) are the most populous regions in the Netherlands and have long been important trading hubs. Plus, the Netherlands has had many names in its history.
In the 16th century the area was named the United Provinces Of The Netherlands (Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden) after Frisia, Guelders, Utrecht, Holland, Zeeland, Overijssel and Groningen revolted against Spanish rule.
Then, in 1795, French troops conquered the Dutch Republic (as it has come to be known) and the area became the Batavian Republic (Bataafse Republiek) under King Louis I. The area of Holland was an incredibly wealthy region and it’s not possible to overstate how important it was in terms of trade.
This is how the name Holland became synonymous with the Netherlands. Ships would set out to different parts of the world and most of the people on those ships would have been from Holland. You might find that some Dutch people will still say that they’re from Holland rather than the Netherlands, but it’s not advisable to start walking around Utrecht, for example, and calling it Holland.
So there you have it: Holland refers to North and South Holland, which were split into North and South in 1840. The Netherlands refers to the country as a whole, including all twelve provinces in European Netherlands and those in Caribbean Netherlands: Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius.