Obvious Examples

Listed below are countries whose names start with a definite article in the most frequently used form, because a common noun forms part of their name. This list ignores the less commonly adopted names of countries (e.g: the Syrian Arab Republic, the Russian Federation, the Fijian Islands or the Socialist Republic of Vietnam):

Less Obvious Examples

This list ignores archaic names, like 'The Lebanon' and 'The Argentine'.

  • The Bahamas: Possibly originates from Spanish - baja mar means 'low sea', although some suggest the indigenous Lucayans called their land ba-ha-ma , meaning 'large upper middle land'.
  • The Gambia: Refers to the river that the small West African country surrounds. If the British colonists had heard correctly, both river and country would be called Ba-Dimmer.
  • The Netherlands (and by extension, the Netherlands Antillies): Literally means 'the low countries', which is in itself anachronistic since the country has been a single state since the seventeenth century. The Dutch call their own home 'the low country'.
  • The Philippines: A contraction of The Philippine Islands, which was what the country was called prior to gaining independence. It was first named Las Islas Filipinas after King Philip II of Spain, and was then frequently renamed (Spanish East Indies, New Castille and Saint Lazarus Islands). Evidently 'Phil's Islands' didn't take the cake.
  • The Seychelles: A somewhat exotic-sounding name that actually came from a French finance Minister, Jean Moreau de Sechelles. The name referred to several islands which were collectively known as the 'Seychelles Islands', and eventually was contracted down to 'The Seychelles'.
  • The Sudan: A case of outsiders naming (and hence defining) a country - the Arabs called the area Bilad as-sudan ('land of the blacks'). In English and other languages the definite article is less commonly used nowadays, but it is used in the official name: Jumhuriyat as-Sudan.
  • The Ukraine: In Russian, literally means 'the borderland'. while in Ukrainian, literally means 'the country'. Conveniently, this allows both countries to hold egocentric tendencies without offending each other. In English the definite article is sometimes removed.

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