"The" Philippines

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Fri Apr 1 22:42:21 UTC 2005

In a message dated Wed, 30 Mar 2005 09:58:48 -0500,:Michael McKernan
<mckernan at LOCALNET.COM> writes

>sally o. donlon wrote:

>>As a kid I always wondered  why we said Hawaii for the Hawaiian Islands,
>>but not Phillipi for the  Phillipine Islands.

>Sally's youthful attempt to apply her  understanding of the 'rules' of
>English  helps to expose some layers  of complexity beyond the simple
>accuracy of Jonathan  Lighter's

>Place names imposed by colonial 'powers' are a curious  mixture of 'native'

>-The Hawaiian islands,(as I  understand it, correct me if I'm wrong) named
>after the 'big island' of  Hawai'i.  (if this approach had been used for
>what are now the  Phillipines, then the country might now be the Luzon
>Islands, or simply,  Luzon.)

The Hawaiian Islands became known as "Hawaii" because they were politically
unifed by Kamehameha I, who started out as king of the Island of Hawaii.   The
name "Hawaii" for the whole archipelago as well as for the political unity
was well-established before the Islands became a "colony" of the United States
over a century later.

>-The Phillipine Islands, named by Spanish imperialists as las  Islas
>Filipinas, after Felipe II, King of Spain.

Weren't the Phillipines named by Magellan, who was Portuguese and who
preceded the Spanish imperialists?

> The English, who have an
>interesting habit of anglicizing  some foreign personal or place names, but
>not others), in this case (I  believe) already had 'Phillip' as the English
>equivalent of Felipe, so  these islands came to be anglicized as the
>'Phillipine Islands',

You forget that Felipe II of Spain was for a while King of England.

Back to the original question.  There are several countries whose name  takes
"the" in English.  The Phillipines because they are an  archipelago.  Japan,
although also an archipelago, does not take  "the".  Why?  I think because
Japan was thought of by English-speakers  as a country before it became known to
the Occident that there was more than one  island to it.  Remember Columbus
asking the West Indians for the island of  "Cipango" which is what he knew Japan

The Dominican Republic, the Soviet Union, the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics, because the defenite artice is required by "Republic" or  "Union".
"The United States" because there are multiple States.

A geographical region, as opposed to a nation or state, generally takes the
definite article, e.g. the Midwest, the Sahara, the West Siberian Plain.
"The" Ukraine was an area of Russia for centuries before achieving political
status as "the" Ukrainian SSR, and kept its definite article when it became an
independent nation.

"The" Netherlands because "Netherlands" is recognizable to English speakers
as an archaic form of "Lowlands".  However, I think "The Hague" is a
mistranslation of the Dutch name.  Note that "New Netherlands" (the Dutch  colony
ruled over by Pegleg Pete in his capital city of New Amsterdam) does not  take the

"The Bronx"---I can only suggest that "Bronx" is a Dutch word referring to  a
landform or something similar.  Compare "The Wisconsin Dells".   Similarly I
wonder if "dalles" from "The Dalles" is an Indian word meaning  perhaps
"rapids" or "canyon".

       James A. Landau

If you cross an artillery battery with a tank of sulfuric acid, you get a
21-gun solute.

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