Before moving here, I would use both names, the Netherlands and Holland, indistinctly. It wasn’t until I started researching more about this country that I realized I was making a mistake. Since I wanted to know everything about the Lower Lands before moving here, I started reading a lot about this topic and why I was making a mistake. So let’s get straight to the answer!
No, the Netherlands is not exactly the same as Holland, yet Holland is in the Netherlands. Officially, this country is called the Kingdom of the Netherlands. However, Holland is used so often that even Dutch people themselves don’t really make any distinction between one name and the other.
Before visiting the Netherlands for the first time, and when I was getting ready to come do my Erasmus here, I used to call it Holland. This is the most common name Spanish and English speaking countries give to this land. It wasn’t until I realised that since I was going to study in Utrecht, that I saw my mistake: Utrecht is not even in Holland, it is another one of the 12 provinces. So, why do we call it Holland?
Why isn’t the Netherlands The Same as Holland?
When speaking colloquially and someone says Holland, they obviously mean the Netherlands. That was me until a couple of years ago when I discovered that I was living in Utrecht, which happens to be a different province of the Netherlands that is not Holland, it is the province of Utrecht.
This general confusion is something that I have discovered to be more common than I thought, so it wasn’t just me: this territory has been renamed a lot and throughout History, everything, the name, the political and the geographical situation have changed a lot.
The Netherlands is a total of twelve provinces and two of them constitute Holland. Calling the whole Netherlands Holland would be like calling Europe, Spain, or the United States, Alabama.
However, chances are that if you have heard of something Dutch, it probably is in Holland anyway:
- Tulips (Keukenhof, the biggest tulip oasis, located in Noord-Holland)
- Amsterdam ( and most of the biggest cities of this country, the Hague, Rotterdam, Leiden)
- Windmills (or a big concentration of them close to Amsterdam)
- Cheese (Gouda, the cheese and the city)
- Polders (sea level barriers)
This doesn’t mean that there are no windmills in the rest of the Netherlands, it only means that Holland represents very well all the Dutchness and cliches that have been spread all over the globe for centuries.
What exactly is Holland?
After all that introduction you may still be wondering what exactly is Holland and why did it happen that most people started using Holland when talking about the whole country:
Holland is a territory inside the Netherlands, and since Amsterdam is in Holland, it is also easier to associate the most well-known part of the country with the name of the province this city is in. Even though everybody would understand you if you say Holland, and even some Dutch people would say it when speaking English, it is only one of the 12 provinces of the Netherlands. These provinces are Friesland, Groningen, Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Utrecht, Flevoland, Gelderland, Overijssel, Drenthe, Zeeland, Limburg and Noord-Brabant.
Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland (literally North and South Holland), are the two most vastly populated provinces. These two together constitute Holland and the most famous and three of the biggest cities of the Netherlands are in this territory.: The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
Some of my Dutch friends have explained to me that they believe these two coastal provinces of this country, Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland, were the strongest provinces of the Lower Lands back in the day when they started expanding and commercialising with the rest of the world, making this name famous overseas.
It makes sense, also considering their geographical location: being open to the sea and having high affluents, counting with the Amstel river itself, made of their location a particularly good one for international trade of goods.
I have recently read that when Napoleon made this territory a Kingdom, he decided to call all this territory of the Seven United Netherlands after the main provinces: Holland. And, apparently, this is the reason why in recent history this territory is known as Holland because this was the origin of this Kingdom. Thanks, Napoleon.
Holland: A Little bit of History
The Discovery of American in 1492 did not only affect the Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal but apparently also the Dutch Empire, who was starting to grow at that time.
Thanks to all the wealthiness coming from overseas, the ambition and companies from the old continent started being sustained by all this movement. Back then the states mentioned all over again are Spain, France, England and Holland.
Holland was one of the main states who participated since then in the expansion and commerce overseas. The area currently representing the Netherlands was the Republic of Seven United Netherlands (Lower Lands), of which Holland was one of them. Its highest point in History was during the Dutch Golden Ages on the 17th Century: painters, scientists, writers, philosophers and important businessmen started building the history of the Netherlands and its prosperity.
In this case, Holland represented overseas by the Dutch East India Company and had territories in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Nowadays, some of these territories are still strongly related to this small country in Europe. On the 18th Century, European countries began to change their ideology and taking seriously the power they had over the colonies overseas. (The Political Economy of Empire in the Easly Modern World)
The Kingdom of the Netherlands was born in 1815 with Willem I from the dynasty of the Orange-Nassau, who became the head of the state. The last territories to create a conflict were in the southern provinces that after 1830 claimed their independence as a new territory: Flanders: the Flemish provinces belonging to Belgium. Nowadays, Dutch is still spoken in this territory and history up to this point doesn’t distinguish between Flanders and the Netherlands.
What Do You Call Someone From the Netherlands or Holland?
It is a fun question because Dutch people themselves use these terms indistinctly but: anyone from Holland is Dutch but not everybody who is Dutch is from Holland.
As you may have noticed in my sentences, I called them Dutch. People born in the Netherlands are called Dutch. This means that anyone who has been born in any of these twelve provinces or the islands is Dutch. However, besides being Dutch, if you were born in either of the two provinces of Holland (Noord-Holland or Zuid-Holland), you are also a Hollander.
The language that is spoken in this whole territory also receives the name of Dutch. In Dutch ( Nederlands, the language), the translation of Dutch (the citizenship) is Nederland and the country, Nederland.
I didn’t know this, but recently I have read that Dutch people use the word Holland when cheering up their football team. One of their favourite songs: Hup Holland Hup. This means that with the use of Holland or Hollander they are not going to feel bad, it is just convenient sometimes. But don’t worry, all of them dress in Orange for the event.
I would also like to point out that there are certain groups of Dutch people who have different characteristics that make them want to define themselves as something else: this is the case, for instance, of Frisian. Frisian-Dutch are citizens from the northern provinces of the Netherlands (Friesland), a cornered territory in Groningen, in front of the northern islands. The inhabitants of this territory have their own ways when it comes to sports, traditions and language! If you happen to meet Frisians, you will notice that they speak a different language, similar and at the same time different to Dutch.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands
Since we are talking about this country and what its actual name is, well, I believe we would be even more correct if we would call it the Kingdom of the Netherlands, since it happens to be the complete name of the Lower Lands. This country is constituted by:
- The 12 provinces of the Netherlands we mentioned before: Friesland, Groningen, Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Utrecht, Flevoland, Gelderland, Overijssel, Drenthe, Zeeland, Limburg and Noord-Brabant.
- Islands of the Norther Sea: Texel, Terschelling, Vlieland, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog.
- Caribbean territories: that like Australia, have the Queen of England as the head of their Kingdom, yet they are independent countries with their own government and their own currency. These are Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten.
- Three special municipalities: Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius
Indonesia, Suriname, territories in the coasts of Brazil, Ceylon, South Africa, Formosa, part of Belgium, part of New Guinea and New Zealand (called like this after the province of Zeeland) were also territories of the Kingdom, back in the day. The decades of influence is tangible in all these cultures, but mostly the Dutch culture, that got enriched thanks to this melting pot of cultures.
The Netherlands: Facts
- The Netherlands as we know it today was born as a unitary structure in 1848 with a Constitutional Reform and the creation of a new state. (Revolutionary Reform in the Netherlands).
- The Netherlands is a Parliamentary and Constitutional Monarchy: the monarchic dynasty is represented by the Orange-Nassau and the current King of the Netherlands is Willem Alexander.
- The Queen, Maxima, is Argentinian, and she had to learn Dutch before she was allowed to married to her husband, Willem-Alexander.
- Napolean was the one making the Seven Provinces of the Netherlands become a kingdom when he named his brother Louis king of Holland in 1806. This structure remains up to nowadays.
- The Netherlands received this name because of its topography: Nederlands means literally low lands. A big percentage of this country is under the sea level, and most of this territory constitutes Holland!
- The Netherlands is an overly populated country: there are over 17 millions of people living in the Netherlands and 6 of them (35% of the total) lives in Noord-Holland or Zuid-Holland, the two most populated areas of the country).
- The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, and this is also the name their inhabitants receive (in the language these words are exactly the same and the only difference is an S at the end of the word indicating the language: Nederland is the land and Nederlands is the language).
- Dutch people invented the concept of tariff: during their expansion and commercialisation with other European countries, came up with the idea of making central European countries pay to pass through their territories (canals and rivers) to go to the sea.
- The Netherlands was one of the founder countries of the European Union. They also use the euro as the main currency in mainland Netherlands. If you want to know more about this I wrote an interesting article about this not so long ago: here.
- Schiphol Airport, located in Noord-Holland, is the lowest airport in the world, around 5 meters under the sea level, it is a great example of how amazing Dutch engineers are and how much they have developed their water-fighting techniques since the 15th Century.
- Most of Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, located in Noord-Holland, is built on wooden poles that are 12 meters deep, also showing these engineering skills I was talking about.
To Sum Up
- Dutch people can be from Holland or one of the other 10 provinces of the Netherlands.
- Holland is constituted by two different provinces: Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland.
- Most of the biggest cities in the Netherlands are located in Holland.
- The Netherlands is the official name of the country (the Kingdom of the Netherlands), but nobody would correct you of mind if you say Holland.
- Holland is a term used for centuries to refer to this country and there are several reasons why is so popular abroad: Napoleon’s influence and the influence and popularity that traders from Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland cultivated over the centuries.
- It doesn’t really matter where in the Netherlands you go, Holland is not the only great place to visit, you will be amazed by the whole country!