Zeeland, Zealand, and New Zealand

Are these places related?

Two of them – Zeeland and New Zealand are absolutely related. But perhaps not Zealand.

First, some definitions:

  • Zeeland: a coastal province of The Netherlands

  • Zealand: the largest island of Denmark, where Copenhagen is located

  • New Zealand: an island nation in the South Pacific (and where I was born, incidentally)

  • Zealandia: a underwater geologic structure in South Pacific that some consider to be a submerged continent

Zeeland (The Netherlands) and Zealand (Denmark) had the names first.

New Zealand was founded by Abel Tasman, a Dutchman. He sighted it in 1642, but never made landfall. He named it after the Dutch province Zeeland, which literally means “Sealand.” He called the landmass “Nova Zeelandia” or “New Sealand.” (He also named the Australian island of Tasmania, and Tasman Straight, which is the water between Australia and New Zealand.)

(Other place names come from Zeeland as well: there are municipalities in both Michigan and North Dakota named by Dutch settlers for the same province.)

A century later in 1769, the Englishman James Cook circumnavigated and mapped the coastline of Nova Zeelandia. He would land there on his second voyage in 1774. He is credited with anglicizing the name to “New Zealand.”

As for the Danish island, the origins are murkier. Wiktionary says:

Possibly from Old Norse Selund, a compound from selr (“seal”) + the suffix -und (“suffix for placenames”), thus meaning place with seals. The later name was Sjóland, which changed the meaning to “sea-land;” see sær (“sea”)

So “Zeeland” and “Zealand” might have completely separate origins and only coincidentally are phonetically similar. And confusingly, New Zealand is named for Zeeland, not Zealand.

Why I Looked It Up

Like I mentioned above, I’m from New Zealand. I was aware of Zeeland, Michigan, and vaguely knew there was some relation.

Then, in The LEGO Story: How a Little Toy Sparked the World's Imagination, I encountered Zealand (LEGO is from Denmark), and decided to clear up my confusion.

This is item #617 in a sequence of 621 items.

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