More than one name is used to refer to the Netherlands, both in English and in other languages. Some of these names refer to different, but overlapping geographical, linguistic and political areas of the country. This is a common source of confusion for outsiders. In English the country is called 'the Netherlands' (or frequently 'Holland'), while the people and the language are called 'Dutch'. In Dutch the official (and predominant) terms for these are 'Nederland' for the country, 'Nederlanders' for the people and 'Nederlands' for the language, although they are occasionally (colloquially) called 'Holland', 'Hollanders' and 'Hollands' respectively.
Occasionally the the is incorrectly capitalised: 'the Netherlands' is similar to names such as 'the United States' and 'the Federal Republic of Germany', so the 't' should not be capitalised except at the beginning of a sentence.
Historically the English did not distinguish inhabitants of the Low Countries by 'nationality'. In the 15th and the first half of the 16th century, all persons from Germanic lands were called Flemings, Theotonici, Doch, or sometimes Germani. In the second half of the 16th century, all Germanic speakers or inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire were called Dutch or Douch.
'Netherlands' literally means 'Low countries' or 'Lowlands'. Dutch neder and English nether both mean 'down(ward), below'. The English word is now uncommon, as is the Dutch, mostly replaced by lower in English or laag in Dutch. Neder or nether may simply have denoted the geographical characteristics of the land, both flat and down river.
In the 15th century, the name Nederlanden came in use. It was a geographical description of low regions in the Germanic lands. Thus it was also used to refer specifically to the estuaries of the Scheldt, Meuse and Rhine, including the Lower Rhineland. The term later became restricted to those districts. About 1490, it came into use to refer to inhabitants of the Habsburg Netherlands.
The English word Netherlands is derived from the Dutch 'de Nederlanden', it is known as a cognate of the High English language also referred to as an "anglicisation". A cognate is a word related to one in another language with the same phonetics sound and usually the same meaning. These words are often related in origin and in genetics, descending from the same ancestral root. Some clear examples of this are the English word 'auto' (car), being derived from the German Das Auto, and the Dutch word jacht becoming 'yacht' in the English language.
No 'first use' of Netherlands in the English language has yet been attested. One would expect first use during the Tudor period (1485–1603) or earlier, but the Tudor designation may have been 'Flanders' or [the] 'Low Countries', while the Northern Netherlands were usually designated 'United Provinces' (rather than 'United Netherlands') or more simply, 'Holland'.
Today the Kingdom of the Netherlands encompasses the Netherlands, one constituent country of the Kingdom, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. In Dutch common practice, the Kingdom of the Netherlands is shortened to 'Kingdom' and not to 'Netherlands', as the latter may confuse the Kingdom with the constituent country. The Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands also shortens the Kingdom of the Netherlands to 'Kingdom' rather than 'Netherlands'. Outside the Kingdom, however, 'Netherlands' is a common name for the Kingdom of the Netherlands (e.g. as a short name in international organizations and during bilateral meetings).
The English adjective 'Netherlandish' means 'from the Netherlands'. It is normally used in reference to paintings produced anywhere in the Low Countries during the 15th and early 16th century, which are collectively called Early Netherlandish painting (in Dutch Vlaamse primitieven, Flemish primitives—also common in English before the mid 20th century). Later art and artists from the southern Catholic provinces are usually called Flemish and those from the northern Protestant provinces called Dutch, but art historians sometimes use 'Netherlandish art' for art produced in both areas between 1400 and 1830.
In many languages including English, 'Holland' (Hollande, Holanda etc.) is a common name for the Netherlands as a whole. Even the Dutch use this sometimes. Strictly speaking, Holland is only the central-western region of the country comprising two of the twelve provinces, North Holland and South Holland (see figure) and thus linguistically a pars pro toto related to use of Russia for the (former) Soviet Union, and England for the United Kingdom. The use is sometimes discouraged. For example, the 'Holland' entry in the style guide of The Guardian and The Observer newspapers states: "Do not use when you mean the Netherlands (of which it is a region), with the exception of the Dutch football team, who are conventionally known as Holland". The Times style guide states "use the Netherlands...for all contexts except sports teams, historical uses, or when referring to the provinces of North and South Holland".
Historically Holland was the most powerful region in the current Netherlands. The counts of Holland were also counts of Hainaut, Friesland and Zeeland from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Holland remained most powerful during the period of the Dutch Republic and the cities in Holland were important trading cities. Since Holland was the most economically developed region of the Netherlands, it was historically the region that dominated foreign trade, and hence most of the Dutch traders encountered by foreigners were from Holland, which explains why the Netherlands is often called Holland overseas. After the demise of the Dutch Republic under Napoleon, that country became the Kingdom of Holland (1806–1810). Today the two provinces making up Holland, including the cities of Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam, remain politically, economically and demographically dominant – 37% of the Dutch population live there.
The name 'Holland' for the Netherlands is used colloquially by the Dutch themselves, especially in relation to football, where the national team is sometimes cheered on with the cry 'Holland!' The name is used in international promotion, too, because 'Holland' is the best known worldwide.
In the provinces furthest from Holland, notably Friesland, Groningen and Limburg, the word Hollander is frequently used in a pejorative sense, to refer to the perceived superiority or supposed arrogance of people from the Randstad – the main conurbation of Holland and of the Netherlands. Therefore, people from these provinces do not always appreciate being called Hollander.
In Belgian Flanders as well, the word Hollander is sometimes used in this pejorative sense.
'Dutch' refers to the inhabitants of the Netherlands and their language, and is used as an adjective meaning 'coming from or belonging to the Netherlands'. Dutch is spoken not only in the Netherlands but also by the Flemish community in Belgium (in the Flemish Region and the Brussels-Capital Region), in parts of northern France (around Dunkirk), and in Suriname, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. Its southern dialects are sometimes called Flemish. Afrikaans, spoken in South Africa and the southern part of Namibia, is derived from the Dutch language and closely related to it.
The English Dutch, the Dutch dietsch, and the German deutsch are cognate words. They have the same etymological origin, deriving from the Common West Germanic theodisca, which meant '(language) of the (common) people'. During the early Middle Ages, the elite mostly used Latin and the common people used their local languages.
In the United States, the term 'Dutch' has sometimes been used instead of Deutsch to mean German or to indicate a German origin: Dutch Schultz, the Pennsylvania Dutch, 'the Flying Dutchman' for Honus Wagner, etc.
The name 'Low Countries' may refer to the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but it also refers to the historical region de Nederlanden: those principalities located on and near the mostly low-lying land around the delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers. Very roughly that region corresponds to all of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. It was called Greater Netherlands by irredentists who sought to unite it. This historical region also was referred to as 'the Netherlands' in English.
Between 1579 and 1794 a region comprising present Belgium, Luxembourg and parts of northern France was called the Southern Netherlands (or the 'Spanish Netherlands' between 1579 and 1713, the 'Austrian Netherlands' after 1713, after the main possession of their Habsburg lord).
The region was united three times, in the Seventeen Provinces as a personal union during the 16th century, in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands between 1815 and 1830 under King William I, and as the Benelux customs union founded in 1948.
In most languages, the name for the country literally means Low Countries or is derived from Nederland or Holland. There is great variety between the forms used. Sometimes the name for the country is one form and the adjective to refer to it is another. The use of Dutch as the general adjective for the Netherlands is an international exception, but the use of one word to refer to the country and another to refer to the language is not exceptional. Read more about this difference in the article Names for the Dutch language.
Abel Tasman gave the name New Holland to the continent now known as Australia, a name it retained for 150 years until the United Kingdom renamed it in 1824. There was also a colony called New Holland in South America. Part of Lincolnshire is also known as Holland.