What to Call People in Holland

Ever wonder why people from the Netherlands are commonly referred to as “Dutch” instead of a term that sounds more nation-specific, like Netherlandian or Netherlandish, etc? Furthermore, what is the difference between Holland and the Netherlands? The Netherlands is not the only country to have multiple names to refer to its nation and people, but it is one of the most frequently confused among foreigners. If you are planning a trip to this beautiful country, it helps to know these things. So, let’s start with the basics.

The country is called “Holland” in English, but if you want to be super correct, the real right way to say it in English is “the Netherlands”. “Holland” actually refers to a region in the western part of the Netherlands, which at one point in early history was its own, separate country. In a way, saying “Holland” instead of “the Netherlands” is a bit like saying “England” instead of “Great Britain.”

No, the “the” in “the Netherlands” is not supposed to be capitalized, but sometimes it is done incorrectly. If you have trouble remembering, just consider this— it’s “the United States” never “The United States”. And as we covered in the first paragraph, the people are called “Dutch”, which is also the name of the language they speak.

When it comes to the Dutch language though, the official (and most common among locals) name for the country is “Nederland”. “Nederlanders” is then the name for the people, with “Nederlands” being the name for the language. But similarly to English, the more colloquial term for the country is “Holland”, with “Hollanders” being the name for the people and very occasionally, “Hollands” being the term used for their language.

But if this is the case, where does the term “Dutch” come from? Historically, the English did not make distinctions between the people of the “Low Countries”, that is, the coastal region of northwestern Europe, consisting of Belgium, the Netherlands, parts of Germany and Luxembourg. Actually, throughout the 15th century and then the first half of the 16th century, all inhabitants from Germanic lands were called “Flemings”, “Theotonici”, “Doch”, or even “Germani”. It wasn’t until the second half of the 16th century that all Germanic speakers were called “Douch” or more recognizably, “Dutch”, and so this covered Holland as well. The name itself comes from the German word for German, which is “Deutsch.” Gradually, “German” took over for this term in most places while “Dutch” became restricted to just the Netherlands.

Make sure you don’t refer to people in Holland as “German” however. It can be a little confusing because of the origin and relation of the different terms, but just keep in mind that the Netherlands and Germany are two different countries. Additionally, Dutch and German have similarities, but they are two different languages.

Another important distinction to make is the one that exists between the Netherlands and Belgium. Many foreigners believe that the two are part of the same country because they both speak Dutch, but they are in fact separate with differences in regional dialects (and residents of each may get offended if you believe they are the same). And despite speaking Dutch, people in Belgium are known as “Belgians” instead of Dutch, which is reserved for the Netherlands. That being said, the two nations are known to be great allies, and there is a lot of cooperation between their governments.

So, while you are in the Netherlands and speaking English, the best term to use is “Dutch.” A less common term is “Dutchman” or “Dutchmen” for more than one person, but this name is gradually going out of style in the English-speaking world. If you want to speak Dutch, saying “Nederlander” will suffice. That being said, you can also get more specific depending on what city you are in. If you are in Amsterdam, for example, the correct term is “Amsterdammer”. If you really want to get in good with the locals, however, the more colloquial term in both Dutch and English is “Mokummer” instead. This may just be one of the most interesting terms of all, as “Mokum” is a Yiddish name for “safe haven” or “place”, and it is the popular nickname for the city of Amsterdam.

Having these terms and meanings down correctly upon your arrival in Holland (the Netherlands in general) will help gain you respect among locals and set you apart as a smart, thoughtful tourist. If it helps, keep a cheat sheet in your pocket (along with some basic Dutch terms to help you navigate your way around). But, even if you do mess up, just apologize and express interest in learning more about their culture. In the end, just treat others as you yourself would want to be treated, and have fun making new friends!