Holland and the Netherlands

by Calanon

The difference between Holland and the Netherlands explained

Have you ever wondered what the difference is, and why some Dutch people are annoyed when people refer to the country as Holland? The truth is that Holland is only part of the Netherlands. Referring to the country as that is like calling the USA Texas, or thinking that London designates the entirety of the UK.

Explaining the difference

This is a topic that I feel very passionate about, but what is the difference and why is it wrong to call the whole country Holland?

Well, let me first explain that Holland is a region in the Netherlands that comprises of two provinces - North Holland and South Holland. These two provinces in the Netherlands only make up 37% of the population, meaning that a lot of Dutchmen and women aren't from Holland! Not only that but it only takes up 1/8 of the landmass. There are also two provinces in the Netherlands who really don't like being called Hollanders, and these are the Frisian and the Limburgish, both having their own identity and languages. Most Frisian will actually take it as an insult if you say that they are from Holland! Some may try to argue that these two languages are simply dialects. This is not true. A Dutchman who speaks only Dutch cannot understand Frisian at all. As a side point, did you know that the closest language to English (except from Scots) is Frisian?

Location of Holland

The area in orange is Holland
The area in orange is Holland

Word etymology

I have encountered numerous people that try to tell me that the reason they refer to the entire country as Holland is because of them both meaning "hollow land". This is not true at all!

The word Holland is derived from its original name, Holtland which is a Middle Dutch term meaning "wooded land". This is quite clearly in reference to the area being wooded. On the other hand, the Netherlands means the low-lying nature of the country.

Historical confusion

Now, I'm sure many of you are wondering why so many people call the entirety of the Netherlands Holland and why they have for so long. Quite simply it's a case of pars pro toto, which is Latin for taking a part for a whole. It is a similar case to England and the United Kingdom, or even Great Britain and the UK (Northern Ireland is part of the UK too!). During the Age of Exploration, Holland was the most important part of the Netherlands. That said, for 4 year period (1806-1810) the entire country was called the Kingdom of Holland when Napoleon set it up as a puppet kingdom for his brother. However that's the only time, every other time the country has been the Netherlands. Yet since it was the most important part with all the important cities and all of the other provinces just being there, the Hollanders who sailed the world and explored told people that they were from Holland. In fact, modern Hollanders will also refer to the entire country as Holland, as will a few non-Hollandic Dutch. This of course lead to people thinking that the entire country was Holland, simply because it was the most important part. It's still important, but not as important as other provinces become stronger, such as Utrecht which is home to Utrecht University, one of the more well known universities in the Netherlands.

Updated: 04/20/2014, Calanon
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Mira on 01/11/2014

Pinned onto my Travel board.

Mira on 01/02/2014

Nice article! I love the points you made.
Welcome to Wizzley!

evelynsaenz on 01/01/2014

Thank you for explaining the difference between Holland and the Netherlands. I had always thought they were the same.

frankbeswick on 09/17/2013

Holland is an old word for high land. It distinguishes Holland from the coastal region of the Netherlands, Zeeland [sea land ], which is below sea level and needed dykes for flood defences.

Note that nether is still used in some English place names to denote lower or low, which is what the word means [netherlands = lowlands.] Not far from where I live in in North West England is a place called Nether Alderley There is a place in Lancashire [North West England] called Upholland [uphigh land] to distinguish it from the surrounding plain. In the same broad area I know of Horrocks Lane [high rocks lane.]

Jyreeil on 09/16/2013

I was actually just talking about something like this with somebody recently, and we actually also came to the conclusion that Holland is just a part of netherlands.

Calanon on 01/20/2013

I'm glad you both have learnt something. :)

HollieT on 01/20/2013

Interesting read and very insightful. I will never refer to the Netherlands as Holland again.:)

Mladen on 03/31/2012

It is Serbian. I thought it would be irrelevant to mention it. :)

Calanon on 03/31/2012

You're welcome. :)

JoHarrington on 03/31/2012

That cleared things up nicely. Thank you for that!

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