What’s in a country’s name?

Will Mexicans rename their country Mexico? What do Chinese people call China? Just how Bolivarian is Venezuela?

You may not have known it but Mexico’s official name is the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos). Following independence from Spain in 1810, according to outgoing President Felipe Calderòn, Mexicans were emulating their neighbors to the north who were seen as a beacon of democracy and liberty breaking away from European colonialism.

In the last days of his Presidency, Calderòn has sent a piece of legislation to the Congress to officially change the country’s name to “Mexico”. The country’s official name is seldom used – only for official documents and diplomatic protocol. The President feels it’s time to make official what everyone already calls the country and stop emulating the USA.

Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen, but it got me to wondering, what other countries are commonly known by something other than their formal name. Plenty of countries have a longer formal form:

  • UK: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Venezuela: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
  • Bolivia: Plurinational State of Bolivia
  • Macedonia: former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Virtually every country in the world has the common name preceded by “Kingdom of” or “Republic of” or god forbid, “Democratic Republic of”, or anything with the word “People” in it – those last two usually means you’re in a bad place.

What interested me more were those instances in which the English version of a country/territory’s name was totally different than the one used in indigenous language(s). Here are some that came to mind.

  • Bhutan: Bruk Yul
  • China: Zhunggua
  • Egypt: Miṣr
  • Finland: Suomi
  • Germany: Deutschland
  • Greenland: Kalaallit Nunaat
  • India: Bharat (or something similar) and sometimes Hindustan
  • Japan: Nippon
  • Korea: Han Guk
  • Scotland: Alba
  • Switzerland: translated into English as the Helvetic Confederation
  • Tibet: Bod

If you know of others, leave them in the comments section below.

Also, a special shout out goes to Barbuda. Everybody always forgets about it. It’s not just Antiga people – it’s Antiga and Barbuda. Poor Barbuda, always in the shadow.


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