In A Nutshell
For centuries, it’s been very common for people all over the world to refer to the Netherlands—to the disdain of some of the Dutch—as “Holland.” It’s so common that some of you will be surprised to know that it’s wrong. The truth is Holland did exist hundreds of years ago. It was a beacon of knowledge and wealth in Europe, and it was so magnificent that it overshadows an entire nation to this day.
The Whole Bushel
Most of us have heard someone referring to the Netherlands as “Holland,” and some of us have even done it ourselves. But some Dutch might be offended if you call their country Holland: It’s much like calling the United States of America “Dakota” or Great Britain “England.”
The present-day Netherlands consists of 12 provinces: Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Flevoland, Gelderland, Utrecht, North Holland, South Holland, Zeeland (and now you know where New Zealand gets its name from), North Brabant, and Limburg. The Netherlands is one of the countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which also includes the six islands of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles (in the Caribbean Sea).
The Netherlands’ largest and most famous cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague) are located in North Holland and South Holland, making them the most well-known provinces of the country.
The fame of these provinces began in the Dutch Golden Age which roughly spanned the 17th century, when the Dutch ruled the world’s trade routes and excelled in the fields of science, military, and art. During this era, North Holland and South Holland were unified as simply “Holland.” It was the political, economic, and cultural center of the United Provinces of the Netherlands—then the world’s wealthiest nation—which preceded the Kingdom of The Netherlands.
This led to a widespread recognition of “Holland” all over the world, especially in Europe where it began to be used as a synonym for what we now know as the Netherlands. Thus, a single region overshadowed the entire Dutch Empire.
Over the centuries, Holland was split and renamed several times (Amstelland and Maasland are two examples), until it became what we now know as North Holland and South Holland in 1840.
The history and power of that Dutch province was such that viewing The Netherlands simply as Holland still persists to this day; some Dutch may even refer to their country as Holland when talking to a foreigner.
Holland is now used as a brand name for The Netherlands, mainly in business and tourism, a name that represents the greatness of a nation.