Why Are The Dutch Called Dutch? (Explained By The Dutch)

Photo of author
Latest update:

The name of the people living in a country is usually similar to that of that country. The English live in England, and the French live in France.

So, why are people from The Netherlands called Dutch?

The Dutch, living in The Netherlands, are the exception to this rule. So, why are people from The Netherlands called Dutch? Why are the Dutch called Dutch?

The English word Dutch is derived from the German word Deutsch and Deutsch is what the Germans call themselves in German. The English regarded the Dutch as Germans, but they narrowed the scope of the word Dutch after the independence of the Netherlands.

Linguists call the use of any name derived from a place to describe the people living there a demonym. The different terminology in the case of the Dutch living in the Netherlands is caused by the separate historical roots of the names Dutch and The Netherlands.

Why Are People From The Netherlands Called Dutch?

The Netherlands and Germany were part of the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages. The German word for Germany is Deutschland, and the English correctly regarded the Dutch as the West Germans.

The name Dutch is the English derivative of the German word Deutsch. The Germans call themselves Deutsch (German) and live in Deutschland (Germany).

Initially, the English used the name Dutch to describe the Dutch and the Germans together.

However, when The Netherlands became independent in the 17th century, the English word Dutch narrowed its scope to the people living in the Netherlands; the Dutch. The English name for the people living in Germany became the Germans.

The Dutch language is a Germanic language and was initially called Nederduits, which is a nice segway to understand the background of the name The Netherlands.

Why Is The Netherlands called The Netherlands?

The name The Netherlands was first used in the 15th century to describe the part of the Holy Roman Empire that is now The Netherlands. 

The name The Netherlands refers to its geographical location as a low-lying country. Nederland is the Dutch word for The Netherlands, and “neder” means low in Dutch.

The Low Lands is the name of The Netherlands in many languages other than English. For example, the French name of The Netherlands is Les Pays Bas, meaning The Low Countries and the Spanish Países Bajos also means The Low Countries. I must admit that I find this a rather appropriate name for a country mainly below sea level.

The Low Countries as a name is also used in Dutch (de Lage Landen). However, it is used in Dutch to describe The Netherlands and Belgium together and not just The Netherlands.

This is because The Netherlands and Belgium were one country before Belgium gained independence in 1830.

You may also wonder why it is Netherlands (plural) instead of Netherland. The reason for using the plural form Netherlands is that The Netherlands was originally formed as the Republic of the 7 United Netherlands.

This predecessor of The Netherlands was an alliance of 7 independent counties commanded by William of Orange in their independence war against Spain. You can read more about our Dutch history in another article on this website; why is orange the national color of The Netherlands?

What is also confusing is that The Netherlands is also called Holland in English. I have explained those names in another article on this website. However, the use of the name Holland has no link to the use of the term Dutch.

What Do The Dutch Call Themselves?

The Dutch call themselves Nederlanders, and The Netherlands is called Nederland in Dutch. De Lage Landen is the Dutch expression for the Low countries but implies The Netherlands and Belgium together.

The NetherlandsNederland
The DutchNederlanders
The Low CountriesDe Lage Landen

English Expressions About The Dutch

There are many expressions in English about the Dutch, many of which are outright pejorative. These expressions and idioms are derogatory because of the rivalry between The Netherlands and England in the 17th century when these two countries waged several wars against each other to decide who was the dominant seafaring nation.

In 1667 the Dutch even destroyed the English fleet in their harbor of Chatham on the Medway, and the Dutch like to believe that these pejorative expressions about the Dutch are a result of the immense frustration of the English after losing one sea battle after another to the Dutch.

English Expression about the DutchMeaning
A Dutch treatA split bill
To go DutchEach person pays for themselves
Dutch courageCourage supported by alcohol
Dutch uncle A person who offers harsh comments and criticism
Taking Dutch leaveLeave a party without saying goodbye
Dutch agreementAn agreement between two drunk people

What is remarkable is that shortly after inventing all these derogatory expressions about the Dutch, a Dutchman, William III of Orange, also became King of England. You can read more about that particular historical twist in another article on this website.

If you want to understand more about the Dutch, you may be interested in reading other related articles on this website.

  • Why is orange the national color of the Netherlands?
    • Discover why the peculiar color orange became the national color of the Dutch and why The Netherlands became completely orange during football championships.
  • Are the Dutch the tallest in the world?
    • Discover if the Dutch are the tallest in the world (spoiler alert: yes) and how they became so tall.

Photo of author
Pim Tijburg
Pim has lived his entire life in The Netherlands and he enjoys writing this blog about his home country. His mission is to make you like The Netherlands as much as he does.