Apart from its meaning as a political unit, the English word "country" also carries strong denotations of "land, terrain, territory", and somehow a country seems earthbound to me and nothing that might span several planets or even solar systems.

Of course there are words like "state" or "nation", but these don't have the same connotations of "home" and "belonging" and are not used in the emotional sense that the word "country" is used.

For example, assuming Patrick Henry would have lived in the United States of the Orion Arm instead of the USA, what word would he have used in his famous quote instead of country?

Show me that age and {country} where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty?

Or with what word would George S. Patton have called his fellow citizens to arms?

... the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s {country}.

What would "interstellar countries" be called? Would the meaning of the word "country" expand to include this new kind of national identity? Would new words have to be made up? Or does English already have a word for this?

Note: I'm looking for a term that is independent of the type of government and might apply to a democratic state, so "empire" or "realm" are not the best fit.


"Country", to me, is the term that people use in an emotional context. When they cheer for their national team in the soccer world cup, then "country" is the word that they think of, not Kingdom, or Empire, or Federation, or State. To an American, the USA is their home country, not their home federation.

In the British Empire, things were a bit more complicated. I think that England and India were considered countries – they were the home that people identified with. People from the British Emprie might have had some kind of double identity: as British and as Indian, for example. Within the Emprire they might have been proud to be Indian, instead of Australian, but at the same time they might have been proud to be British, not Chinese. Interestingly enough, the UK doesn't have a national soccer team, but England, Scotland and Wales do. So Wales is a country, while the UK is not (I think).

Looking at the British Empire and the UK as an example, it seems to me that my question is contradictory. Very likely, as KeithS wrote in his answer, "a planet [would be] considered similarly to a country on Earth", and a political unit spanning several worlds would be something like an empire or federation on Earth. And people from such an interstellar empire or federation, would consider a world (that is, a planet) their home, not the empire, unless they were faced with a person from outside this empire.

So I think, the best answer to what would correspond to a country in outer space is in fact a world, or planet, or, if planets are divided into smaller political units, a country, just like on Earth. A unit spanning more worlds would probably not instill the same feeling of belonging as a single planet would, and would not be considered a person's home and not be called a country.

Thank you all for your valuable feedback. This was very helpful. (I'm writing a novel and now I can write on.) I upvoted all answers, because I found them all helpful. I'm choosing the answer by inappropriateCode, because it best reflects my own opinion on the matter after reading all the answers and thinking on them. I find the answer by Psychrom most intriguing, but it does not completely apply to the problem at hand (emotional attachment to one's origin).

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    $\begingroup$ I would vote to transfer this to English Language and Usage, but I am not quite sure if this would be on scope there... $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Jun 2 '16 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ How is this worldbuilding? Seems like something you could look up on Dictionary.com $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 2 '16 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ @what , I dont think we would use a different word, IMO an interstellar country is still a country, just because it isnt on Earth doesnt mean it needs a different/new name. Whether it is in space or another planet they still have land, terrain and territory so why would they need a different name? $\endgroup$ – Mr.Burns Jun 2 '16 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree. Your original question was asking for a synonym. Whether you want to attach misty-eyed patriotism inspiring loyalty to that word or not is not up to the word itself, it is up to the writer. However, what the edit revealed is that you're looking for an emotionally loaded term to signify, albeit at a larger scale, what country might signify to a human being today. This is silly, because those feelings of nationalism develop over centuries due to historical events. The USA struggled for their Independence, etc. It's up to you the author to pick a term and make it mean something. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 5 '16 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ Look, at best your question was opinion based (another close reason) because we can't know what terms an interplanetary political organization might use to call itself, or how much loyalty the term would inspire in its citizens. Time and time again in the comments below it comes across that you're asking for a term which would inspire nationalism at a planetary or intergalactic scale. This may be WB-ing within the context of your story, but is out of scope for this site. People offer their opinions and you refuse or accept them based on no other standard other than your own opinion. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 6 '16 at 13:07

I'm going to approach this question from the perspective of individual and group identity, since the asker wants to understand an expression of language, which I don't think can be alienated from the very ideas and psychology around them.

I, for example, am living in Scotland, but was born and raised in Northern Ireland; which I regard as the homeland. I identify as British and Irish (even though I'm fond of the EU; I don't naturally identify as European). I also notice that English friends are more likely to identify as English than British; perhaps because England as an entity is stand alone, and Northern Ireland derives its existence in relation to the union between England and Scotland. So depending on exactly how freely people travel and mingle within your universe, and political circumstance, will heavily influence the outcome of how they think about things. I don't see why people wouldn't think like that; they have a homeland on their homeworld, within their homesystem. I think that's irrespective of the nature of the regime; federation, empire, etc. Individuals will have complicated and mixed identities, but in the end they'll always have a homeland. Even nomads still identify with their land; which incidentally is why the Mongols were tolerant of religious diversity in their empire, they didn't have a missionary religion and didn't think others could have a spiritual connection with Mongolia, which was their land.

So long story short; the space equivalent of a country could still be a country, depending on a planet's population density and ideological diversity (compare the European continent to Australian). Or a planet/world could be a unit of higher measurement, that still falls within whatever political entity rules it; federation, empire, etc.

But it's also worth noting that we evolved to think in tribal terms, so the natural unit of identity is the tribe. The bigger the organisation above that the less likely people are to identify with it as primary. For example, consider the differences in how people within the EU view themselves, as Europeans or nationalists? Similar with the USA. Are they say, Texan first (always seems to be the case) and American second? Or something completely ideological and non-territorial, like Christian first and American second? That would depend on how strongly the organisation's influence is, along with their experience. The more cosmopolitan the more likely people are to identify as part of a far greater abstract whole, the more rural the more likely they are to have a strongly localised identity.

You could have a far away top level organisation, like a federation of systems, but it may control a great deal of day to day for its citizens, and therefore people are exposed to it as an idea rather than any local identity, which may simply not exist if colonisation is led by their federation of systems rather than a unique group of weirdos who go out specifically to have ownership over their own space; in which case their local identity will definitely be strongest. The words they use to describe themselves and their land/space will vary depending on their emotional relation to that which they know.


This depends on how big your territories are going to be, we use country as a fairly arbitrary word to define a politically defined area. We imply that it means more than that but ultimately it doesn't.

You could have any of the following, some more strictly defined than others:

  • World
  • Planet
  • Colony
  • System
  • Federation
  • Sector

Remember that the British Empire was partly democratic and partly autocratic depending on where you were standing at the time. This is liable to be true of any colony based expansion of human territories. Empire is not such a bad word as it specifically implies an entity made up of many smaller entities. The difference between an Empire and a Federation being that an Empire is centralised.


I like both of the other two current answers (@Separatrix and @Luís Henrique), but thought I'd offer a slightly different direction.

State. According to dictionary.com definitions #7-12,

7. a politically unified people occupying a definite territory; nation. 8. the territory, or one of the territories, of a government. 9. (sometimes initial capital letter) any of the bodies politic which together make up a federal union, as in the United States of America. 10. the body politic as organized for civil rule and government (distinguished from church). 11. the operations or activities of a central civil government: affairs of state. 12. (initial capital letter). Also called State Department. Informal. the Department of State.

... which, to me, sounds just fine for this purpose.

  • $\begingroup$ "State", to me, does not carry the same emotional identification as "country" does. A Texan might say "my home-state", meaning he is not from New York, but an Englishman wouldn't say that he is looking forward to return to his home-state from a holiday abroad. $\endgroup$ – user8976 Jun 3 '16 at 7:08
  • $\begingroup$ @what, as an Englishman we do refer to the state when the government does or pays for something e.g. "State Schools" are what the US would call public schools, i.e. paid for by the government. We don't use it as a geographical entity but we do as a political entity. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 3 '16 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix I understand, but I'm interested in the emotional entity. $\endgroup$ – user8976 Jun 3 '16 at 7:41
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    $\begingroup$ @what, the emotional entity is basically programmed. During empire, the educated upper classes were loyal to empire, the soldiers probably were too, but now if you ask a Scotsman, he'll be Scottish, a Yorkshireman loves Yorkshire, and a Londoner always a Londoner (though he'll tell you how much he hates the place). The people have to be taught what to be loyal to and if left alone will be loyal to something easy and local where everyone is known. Americans find it easy to love their country because they're taught to, Brits don't because we aren't. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 3 '16 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ I will admit, in agreement with @what, that state has a more sterile "feel" to it. Phrases like "enemy of the state" sort of imply (to me, at least) a faceless, emotionless political entity rather than a word like "fatherland." With that said, state eliminates both geographical (e.g., "fatherland") and government structure (e.g., "kingdom") aspects. $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Jun 3 '16 at 13:40

"Sector", probably, or "system" if they are centered around a particular star.

But I don't think the kind of emotional territorial attachment we are used to can be replicated at a multi-planet level. Supposing humans are the only intelligent species in the political galaxy, they would either dispense with the notion of nationalism/patriotism, or its equivalent would be more jus sanguini; it would be more important to consider to whom you were born than where that happened. If there are other intelligent species, then, well, chauvinism would quite certainly be linked to species rather than location, unless each species had different requirements regarding the kind of habitat they can live in. (Those damn chlorine breathers effing greenies!)

  • $\begingroup$ A "system" already has a meaning in space, that of a star circled by planets, so using the same word for an abstract entity might be confusing; similarly a sector already denotes a threedimensional space defined by certain astrophysical boundaries such as nebulae or empty space. -- I firmly believe that there will always be different political entities. Look at the UK trying to leave the EU, and Scotland leaving the UK. People have differing opinions, different cultural background, and if they don't have them, they will form with time and distance. $\endgroup$ – user8976 Jun 3 '16 at 7:14

Nation is a safe bet. Nations are defined by the people and/or institution rather than by the pieces of land. And I'll argue it works because we have the word "nationalism".

I would be careful on using "state" if you have a federal state. Using state to refer to the state may confuse people thinking you are talking about one of the state of the state, rather than the state itself. I think this is self-explanatory.

Using the form of government is acceptable under certain conditions. First and foremost, context has to making it crystal clear what you are talking about. See what "the Empire" refers to depending if we are talking about Ancient Rome or Star Wars.

Secondly, said form has to make sense give your country/nation/else. Example: UK. You can use "kingdom" because it's in the name, "realm" because it's a synonym, or "Great Britain" because it's common even if technically incorrect.

I'll end with this: the context always matters. If it is clear what you are talking about, then you can put whatever label on it.

  • $\begingroup$ "Nation" is good if the political unit is settled by people from the same cultural background. What does an Englishman mean with "nation" and "country"? I think his nationality is English (not Scottish), while the UK is his country. But not being English myself, I'm not sure. $\endgroup$ – user8976 Jun 3 '16 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ AFAIK, legally there's only British. It depends on one's personal view whether you view your country/nation as England or the UK. In any case, "nation", "country" etc. will mean something different to everybody. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jun 3 '16 at 8:47

I don't see a blatant problem with "country". Nothing in the word connotes a subset of a single planet to me.

Even if it does mean that to you and others, words often are adapted to new situations. "Computer" used to be a job title for a PERSON who performed arithmetic calculations. When the mechanical devices came along, they were seen as replacing human computers and so were called by the same name. Today I doubt anyone uses the word "computer" to refer to a person.

If and when we colonize other planets, it's hard to say what words people will use. My guess is that words for terrestial nations will just be carried over. If, say, India were to establish a colony on Mars, I suspect we would say that the "country of India now consists of the Asian sub-continent and their Mars colony".

It's also possible that people will adapt some other word or invent a new word, but I don't know how we'd predict what word.

Some terms would clearly be inapplicable. Like today we say "This is the area controlled by such-and-such nation". An interstellar nation wouldn't occupy an "area" but a "volume". I wonder if people in the future will casually refer to "the volume our nation controls" rather than "the area". Etc.

  • $\begingroup$ i agree. Thank you for that answer. $\endgroup$ – user8976 Jun 3 '16 at 7:34

Word Ideas

I would use words more directly in line with a "dominion" (general area ruled by) than a "country" (specific area owned by).

Empire, Enclave, Realm, Sovereignty, Bastion, Commonwealth, Sanctuary -- these all display a sense of personal place, along with a general rulership, without defining an area.

Personally, to evoke that 'sense of home' that the word 'country' gives, I'd use Commonwealth, Enclave, or Sanctuary.

Commonwealth gives a vibe that states that the people are of similar minds - it's inclusionary.

Enclave gives a distinction between themselves and whoever else is being spoken about - it's exclusionary.

Sanctuary gives off a sense of security and well-being - a good fit for those seeking a place to call "home".

Personal Thoughts

I don't think you're going to find a single word for all of the different types of groups of people. Some might be aggressive, and so the word for them shouldn't reflect 'belonging' or 'home'.

You could also just use simple words like "common" to point out a group of people, then describe them after;

"Look at this red common here on the map. That's the Tholo'den Empire. They're not exactly the friendliest bunch. They'd rather slice your neck apart than trade with you."

"And this common?" I pointed to the yellow marker on the map.

"A bit iffy. From what I recall, that's the Bastion of Kaza. Yellow commons like them act different every time we see them. Makes it hard to predict what they'll do next."

"And here's us!" He points to a green marker, "Kitta Sanctuary."

  • $\begingroup$ Very clever and inspiring example ("common"). Thank you. $\endgroup$ – user8976 Jun 3 '16 at 7:35

In fiction involving interstellar colonization under a single governing entity, typically a planet is considered similarly to a country on Earth; the basic idea of most authors is that in order to have the necessary resources for real space exploration, a species needs to stop spending those same resources on petty unimportant things like killing each other. That can only happen when fractious world governments put aside their differences, and the most obvious way to do that is to unify those world governments under a single banner.

Multiple planets colonized by that race and all under the same top-level government, therefore, would be very similar to the concept of an "empire". "Local" governments administer to the needs of each planet, but strategic control over all of them is handled by the central government on the race's home planet.

Another concept is the "sphere of influence". In universes with multiple spacefaring races, this is a common concept regarding territory recognized as belonging to a specific race. It often extends some arbitrary number of light-years away from the home planet's star and/or any other major inhabited worlds. Anything in that sphere of influence is regarded by other races as that race's property (and their responsibility). This grants them exclusive rights to valuable resources in their own and any nearby star systems, and the right and obligation to defend this same territory from any nearby rivals.

  • $\begingroup$ I firmly believe that interstellar colonies will fragment politically, just as colonies do on Earth. Think of the settlemend of the Americas. There will always be political dispute among humans, leading to attempts at independence. $\endgroup$ – user8976 Jun 3 '16 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with this question is that in most parts of the world, nations, states and countries have the same borders, and thus people regard them as being basically the same. No one from those parts of the world (e.g. the US, unless you're a Native American) can really appreciate the distinctions between them. So you're going to get a lot of Americans saying one thing and a lot of people from the UK (a state containing 3-and-a-bit countries) saying something different. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Jun 3 '16 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeScott I think the situation is a bit more complex on Earth. Historially, there were many entities similar to the UK. E.g. the Soviet Union. The oversea colonies of Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. Poland, which didn't exist as a state for some time, but Poles still lived on the same land. Alsace, given to France after World War II. Corsica (part of the French state, but its inhabitants don't see themselves as French). Political, cultural and linguistic division and independence efforts in Spain. And that is just some of Europe. $\endgroup$ – user8976 Jun 4 '16 at 9:07

It all depends on who is choosing the word and what emotional attachments they have. Gain majority vote and keep country as tribute to the roots of your territory. Any of the following have my vote - nation, federation, cosmostate, and spacenation