I am writing a story where two countries decide to merge into one larger country, but I am having trouble figuring out what they would actually name the new country.

At first I though that they would stick their names together into one long name, which is what companies do when they merge. I abandoned this idea when I realized that I could not think of a historical example that did something similar.

The countries I can name that resulted from two or more smaller countries combining (i.e. Greece, Germany, Italy, China) seem to get their names from something else, but I don't know what.

Does anyone know where names for countries like these come from?

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    $\begingroup$ This is the first name-related question that might meet our rules in a long time. However, to set an expectation, I suspect that there isn't a single, predictable process ... which might make the question story-based. I'm hoping the number of historically verifiable options are finite enough to make good answers. BTW, an example of stringing names together would be the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but you might want to check out this History.SE Q. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 19 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ You might also check out this list of proposed national/state mergers and this Quora question. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 19 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ "I could not think of a historical example", Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria-Hungary $\endgroup$
    – pipe
    Mar 20 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ "The countries I can name that resulted from two or more smaller countries combining, e.g. Germany" - look closer into the parts of Germany (or formerly Prussia). There is (or was) Rhineland-Palatine, Hessen-Nassau, Sachsen-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein, Halle-Merseburg, Jülich-Kleve-Berg, Schaumburg-Lippe, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Baden-Württemberg, Nordrhein-Westfalen and probably a lot more. $\endgroup$
    – Bergi
    Mar 20 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I admit, I am no true Scotsman. I will consult the One True™ definition of "country" next time a question about a fictional story comes up. $\endgroup$
    – pipe
    Mar 20 at 16:01

7 Answers 7

  1. Sometimes, they do merge their names; for example,

    Tan-ganyika + Zan-zibar $\rightarrow$ Tanzania.

  2. Italy was a place before it was a country. It is pretty natural for a country which occupies the Italian Peninsula to call itself Italy.

    Two and a half millennia ago, it was the name of a small region at the southern end of the peninsula. The Greek colonists asked the locals what was the name of the country, and the locals answered Witeliu, Land of Young Bulls, which the Greek wrote Ouitalia, which later became simplified to Italia. In time, the name was extended to include the entire peninsula; already in the 1st century BCE Strabo uses the name to refer to the entire country south of the Alps.

    The same consideration applies to India and to Spain; Hispania and India were geographical names looong before they became countries. (And India is only called India by westerners; the Indians themselves call it Bhārat. We call it India because the ancient Greeks called it India, from the name of the river Indus.)

  3. Greece was a place and Greek was a language loooong before the Hellenic Kingdom was a thing; like two and a half millennia before. Ruling over Greece-the-place and Greeks-the-people was the entire purpose of the Hellenic Kingdom; this is why it was named the Hellenic Kingdom.

    Note that in their own language the Greeks call themselves Hellenes, and their country Hellas. The name Hellas was used for the entire area inhabited by Greek speaking people since a very long time ago, at least since the 5th century BCE. We call them Greeks in English because the Romans called them Greeks; the Romans called all the Greeks, Greeks, because the first Greeks they met were from north-western Greece, and did call themselves Graikoi, which was naturally Latinized as Graeci.

  4. German was a language, and Germans were a people long before His Majesty William I was proclaimed emperor of the new German Empire. It was called the German Empire because its people were Germans, and it was the successor state of the North German Confederation. The North German Confederation was called the North German Confederation because it contained the states in the northern part of the area where the German language was spoken.

    Before the North German Confederation there was the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, established a thousand years ago.

    Note that in their own language the Germans call themselves Deutsche, and their country Deutschland. We call them Germans in English because the Romans call them Germans. Why the Romans called them Germans we have no clue.

  5. I have no idea what you mean by giving the example of China. China is not called China in Chinese; we call it China. In Chinese it is called Zhōnghuá, "Central Essence" (or Central Nobility, or Central Eminence, etc., the second component of the compound name being quite polysemantic). Before the current People's Republic and the very much reduced Republic of China, there was the Chinese Empire, which called itself Zhōngguó, "Central Kingdom". Pretty neutral names, which don't give any preference to any of the components, which were anyway united a very long time ago.

    We call China, China, from the name of the Qin Empire, which occupied the western half of what is now China when the ancient Greeks got to learn about it. (Qin is pronounced not very different from the English word chin in Modern Standard Mandarin, and was pronounced, probably, dzin two thousand years ago.)

  6. To add to the list of examples, my own country is called Romania because most of the inhabitants speak Romanian. The local name of the language was similar to the modern one at least since 16th century, although other designations were used as well. When Wallachia (which we did not call Wallachia in our own language) and Moldavia united in 1859 there became apparent a need for a name for the new united country; what was more natural than to name the country after the language of its people?

  7. Another example is Yugoslavia, Land of Southern Slavs. All¹ the nationalities, Serbs, Croats, Montenegrins, Slovenes, Macedonians, were indeed Slavic, and they spoken Southern Slavic languages; so, it was indeed a country of Southern Slavic peoples.

    ¹) All the nationalities except the Albanians, of course. But nobody cared about the Albanians until they absolutely had to care about the Albanians.

  8. The final example is the Netherlands, literally the Low Countries. They are indeed very low, with one quarter of the territory below sea level and the tallest hill barely above 300 meters high. The name Netherlands for the region became current some five hundred years ago.

    Note that originally the name Netherlands, or the Low Countries, included what is today Belgium. Belgium was created² by the Great Powers in 1830; the new kingdom needed a name, and, since all the diplomats of that era had a thorough classical education, it was named after the Belgae, who inhabited sort-of that area in the 1st century BCE, as Caesar informs us.

    ²) The people of the southern half of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands started a little revolution. The king deployed a ridiculously small number of troops to quell the uprising; they utterly failed to do so, and the attempt inflamed the people, who elected a provisional government and declared independence. At the London Conference, France took a decisive stand in favor of making the Netherlands smaller, and the other Great Powers did not feel inclined to go to war over the matter.

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    $\begingroup$ "Sometimes, they do merge their names; for example," Czechoslovakia? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Mar 20 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Pelinore: Of course, but I chose the example of Tanzania because it still exists. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 20 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if there was any debate on Tanzania vs. Zantania vs. something else. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ with Greece it may be worth noting that at the time of their war of independence from the Ottomans, most Greeks described themselves as ρωμαϊκοί romaïkói "Romans" because the Byzantine Empire had always referred to itself as the Roman Empire. Greek nationalists decided that the pre-Roman Hellenes were politically more powerful as a rally cry than the Byzantine Empire so pushed this new identity and it stuck $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Mar 20 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Tristan: And in addition they called their language Romaic... But the intellectuals who drove the movement for independence knew that they needed material and moral support from the west, and it was the Hellenes whom the west wanted to help. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 20 at 15:05

It will depend on political facts

You have to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Why are these countries merging?
  2. How will the newly formed nation be organized politically?

The bottom line is that naming a country is not like naming a baby: people aren't going to simply sit around and toss out words and names they've "always liked," and then pick whatever seems like a "good fit."

Why are these countries merging?

If they're doing it because they all belong to the same religious tradition, the new name is almost certainly going to reflect that fact, probably referencing by name the sect itself or some character from its mythology, or some aptly-chosen episode or principle from its traditions. For example, if both countries are filled with people who worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the new name is probably going to mention pastafarianism or noodles and appendages. ("Pastafaria" is a likely choice.)

If they're merging because the monarchical families of both nations have been intermarrying for generations and they've decided to simply pool their political power and resources, the new name is almost certainly going to be a nod to the personal histories or pedigrees of those royals, or to some symbol of their unity that they already cherish. That might be something as straightforward as the name of the estate that is traditionally inhabited by the most recently joined couple from both families.

If they're merging because they share some historical origin, the new name is probably going to be a reference to that shared history, very likely a riff on an already established demonym that applies to people of that origin. If they think their distant ancestors all originally came to this land from some specific place, the new name will be a reference to that place. If they all spoke a specific language, the new name will be a reference to that linguistic tradition.

How will the newly formed nation be organized politically?

Consider the United States of America. "United States" is not a sui generis name, but a factual description of the high-level political structure of the nation: the U.S. is a collection of individual states that are still legally and politically distinct despite being close allies. When the South later seceded to form the Confederate States of America, they could have invented a completely unique name for themselves, but they didn't: they still styled themselves "States of America" because they intended to retain the large-scale political organization of the U.S. and they were obviously still on the American continent.

The same goes for the USSR: it wasn't some creative name like "Wendy," but a literal statement of the nation's political origin, organization, and philosophy.

In your case, you've got two separate countries, and each of them has its own political structure before the merger. Will the new country have the same organization, or is it changing (and, indeed, is the change the reason for the merger)?

Are they both monarchies? Will the new country also be a monarchy? Or will it have multiple co-rulers like the Roman Empire did during the Tetrarchy? In that case, the new country name might make mention of the fact.

If the new country will be a direct democracy, the new name will probably reflect that fact. Very possibly, the name will be chosen democratically, which means the new nation might be named Boaty McBoatface as a deliberate flex.

As I said at the outset, people will take the naming very seriously. That's because the name of this country is necessarily going to come up in all of the most serious contexts that are possible.

It will be printed on the letterhead of the most powerful and wealthy people who live there. It will be shouted loudly by those same people at official occasions of pomp and circumstance. It will appear in the names of countless items of national identity like flags, songs, seals, etc. It will have to be stated explicitly in every single declaration of war and peace it ever issues. People will die with this name on their lips, clutching its flag to their breast having given their life's full measure in its defense.

None of those people are going to like it if that name is some cringeworthy darling, a mashup of edgy memes, or obviously the product of lazy word association. They will want a name worthy of some dignity.

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    $\begingroup$ so you're saying after the national divorce, the Republican half of the USA isn't going to be called the Capitalist Republic of Kekistan? $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Mar 20 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ re: USA, USSR, see also: UK, UAE, for the same reason. Also several (mostly island) nations do things like this, e.g.: "Federated States of Micronesia", and numerous countries with an "&" in the name, e.g. "Trinidad & Tobago", "St. Kitts & Nevis", "St. Vincent & the Grenadines", "Sao Tomé & Principe", etc. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ @user253751 CRK would work as both a literal statement of political philosophy ("Capitalist") and a deliberate flex ("Kekistan") aligned with the broadly shared goal of owning all the libs (which would presumably be the national pastime, second only to standing in line outside a paycheck cashing business). $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Mar 20 at 22:57

There's a few options going for Historical precedents:

1: A Colonized country (e.g. taken over by force) - New old country name - see: New England, New York, New South Wales, New Zealand etc.

2: Assuming a mutual merger - United or Union thing - see: The United States, United Arab Emirates, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics etc.

3: Speaking of Republics: Czech Republic, Republic of Ireland, Peoples Republic of China etc.

4: A New name based on some shared feature - e.g. Scandinavia, Mediterranean, Himalayan etc.


5: (thanks to JBH) - Commonwealths are also a good choice - whether it's the Commonwealth from the Ex-British Empire, the Commonwealth of Virginnia (yes, it's a state and not a country but I'm counting it)

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    $\begingroup$ Trinidad and Tobago. Serbia and Montenegro. Mario and Luigi. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 19 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ re: 5 - "Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth" for a more historical example (although that may just be a translation convention, since commonwealth and republic are to some degree synonymous. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron Aristotle vs Mashy Spike Plate. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Mar 20 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ @NeilTarrant The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was not a republic. $\endgroup$
    – Taemyr
    Mar 21 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Taemyr - My point is that the words 'commonwealth' and 'republic' have an overlapping meaning, not that the PL-commonwealth was a republic. Literally the word Republic comes from 'res' (things) and 'publica' (public or common), and Commonwealth is another expression of the same concept - e.g. the time of the English Republic is known as the Commonwealth. In the specific example of Polish states, 'Rzeczpospolita' is used in the name of the PL-Commonwealth (where English translates it as commonwealth) and in the Second Polish Republic (where English translates it as republic). $\endgroup$ Mar 21 at 14:36

To add one more option to the already-impressive list: they could go with an acronym.

The name Pakistan was coined by Choudhry Rahmat Ali, a Pakistan Movement activist, who in January 1933 first published it in a pamphlet Now or Never, using it as an acronym. He explained: "It is composed of letters taken from the names of all our homelands: Panjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan."

  • $\begingroup$ I'm stretching my mind pretty hard and I don't see Sindh (unless you want to count the "s" from "stan") or Baluchistan represented in "Pakistan". Does it make more sense in one of the local languages? $\endgroup$
    – The Photon
    Mar 22 at 16:45

Apart from the valid other answers (yep, upvoted 'em all), another aspect to consider comes to my mine.

How much do they merge?

In some cases, the states go all-in, like the Federal Republic of Germany (formerly known as the "Tri-Zone") and the German Democratic Republic. Of course, that was a reunion after a split-up. In this case, the GDR was not officially considered a state by the FRG back in the days. Resulting name was Germany. But that's not my point.

The NATO (like the Warsaw Pact) combines countries (states) on the military level - under very specific circumstances.

The EEC (European Economic Community) combined countries (states) on an economic level. It was replaced by the EU (European Union, which was at first called the European Community), where they additionally also built up a common legislative. Somehow similar to a federation, the individual parts retain a certain amount of authority over their own laws. That makes sense, as members have different cultural backgrounds, geological differences, possibly different languages, whatever.

Now, let's go even further. Cities have their own legislation. In the United Kingdom, we still have a region called Scotland, and cities like York. Yes, the York law "From Monday to Saturday, within the medieval walls of the city of York, it is legal to murder a Scotsman – but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow." was abolished in 2013, but it still illustrates the point that a "combined country" made up of "combined cities" is not really a uniform homogenous entity.

Ah, yes, Tanzania. Part of it was Germany East Africa, then the British territory Tanganyika (later part of the British Commonwealth), to merge later with Zanzibar later to become the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar - which would, a few months later, be transformed to Tanzania. This was not a united country at first, it was just that the governments of Tanganyika and Zanzibar had some common goals.

TL;DR version:

Consider the function of the combined country/state/union/federation/empire/pact/organization. That will give some possible names based on their function.

Note that propaganda from the government may also play a major role. Like, ya know, "Republic of the Union of Myanmar" or "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation". Uh.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, the name of the common country in your first example is still Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland), just the "Federal Republic of" is usually omitted as there is no risk of confusion anymore. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ @PaŭloEbermann I was about to say the same thing. The nickname of "West Germany" changed to just "Germany", but the official name did not change. $\endgroup$ Mar 21 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Paŭlo Ebermann Yes, that's correct. It's a special case because the new nickname was the result of some implicit consensus among the people of the world (as opposed to some government decision). It's still a federation and a republic. I am tempted to edit my answer, but I believe it would get too words and not anything to the essence of the point I am trying to make...and the comments of Paŭlo Ebermann and Ben Hocking already nail it pretty much. Thanks for your comments! $\endgroup$
    – Klaws
    Mar 22 at 7:56
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    $\begingroup$ Don't think there ever was an "European Commercial Union". It goes mostly European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) -> European Economic Community (EEC) -> European Community (EC) -> European Union (EU). The ECU was the European Currency Unit, the predecessor of the Euro. $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Mar 22 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @jcaron Thank you. You are, of course, correct. ECSC + EURATOM + EEC (pre-1965) => EEC (post-1965) => EC => EU. The EEC was also known as EWG, ECM, CEE, CCE, EEG, among others. Seems I picked the one name which never existed. Answer has been updated. $\endgroup$
    – Klaws
    Mar 25 at 8:06

Not countries, but provincies of Dominican Republic:

  • "Monte Cristi" and "Puerto Plata" merged into "Monte Plata"
  • "Bayajá" and "La Jaguana" merged into "Bayaguana"

You're spoiled for choice of good answers here: considerations of political motivation from Tom; the socio-linguistic and cultural contexts in which real nations have formed from AlexP, and supporting examples from others.

The storyteller must also consider who gets to pick the name. Sometimes it's victorious politicians who carve up territory as spoils, as did the European powers with the remains of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. The same people who coined the phrase "The Great Game" to describe geopolitics went on to cause, or be involved in, some of the trouble described elsewhere in this thread.

Speaking of trouble, sometimes governments take things by force, and the carving-up happens by the generals as they fight. Maybe the press covering the war gets to do the naming. Remember your Clausewitz: "War is the continuation of politics by other means." In the real world, again, you have your pick of character studies and real-time analysis of how large international bodies behave in the context of war. How have regional names in the news today received their names?

You brought up companies, which are another avenue to populate your story. The corporate world is full of stories of (real!) rich people who sometimes do crazy things, and affect the world in fascinating ways. Are the "deciders" in your story ruthless corporate types, clever tricksters, honest businessmen, crafty guild mavens? The merger of the country might not be decided by the businesses themselves, but there will be economic considerations. Whoever works with the details will organize them a certain way, and will probably name things however makes sense to the character.

To make a macro aside, economics should not be ignored, because it affects how people make decisions. How is market share to be distributed, and by whom? Will the civilian companies of the new country be expected to compete, and how ruthlessly will they do so with their new countrymen? Will the government intervene to protect some industries, or some individual players? Will some (or all) industries be subject to special controls by the government; maybe important logistical concerns, weapons manufacturers, or some key technology? How involved are government officials in business? How honest are they? What are societal expectations? How does your government get its revenue, what percentage of the population does it employ, and how well are its members paid? These are decidedly economic concerns which may or may not also affect your government. They will almost certainly affect your characters.

The name for a new country, then, is a product of the process that generated it, which is enacted by the characters in your story, who are shaped by their time, place, and culture. That's how I'd figure out how to name a country.

Hope that helps, and happy writing!


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