You are learning Spanish now and you are focusing on verb tenses, masculines and feminines, pronunciation, and the difficult ser and estar. What you are less concerned with right now is how to deal with the country names. But watch out! If you don’t pay attention, you could be making one or all of the following mistakes in Spanish.
Country names mistakes in Spanish
1. Puerto Rico and Costa Rica
I remember that one time Jared ordered a package to be shipped to Puerto Rico. In the end, it showed up fortunately to the correct place, but someone on the box had written “Costa Rica” as the country. These two countries don’t look similar when written, but they have been confused before. One of the things I learned in my journalism classes is that what happens close to you is more relevant than the things happening far away. This same principle can be applied here, Europeans might not master the Latin American geography, just as I don’t know where all the European countries are located.
Puerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean and Costa Rica (not an island) is in Central America, over 1200 miles away.
2. Uruguay and Paraguay
These two sound similar because both names comes from the guaraní language and are also named after a river. There are different theories of the possible guaraní interpretation for each name. But despite them having a common origin, today they are different countries. Uruguay and Paraguay both share borders with Brazil and Argentina, but a strip of land from Argentina keeps these two South American countries from touching each other.
3. Las Maldivas and Las Malvinas
The first sentence that you read in Wikipedia for Maldivas is “No debe confundirse con Malvinas” or “Not to be confused with Malvinas.”
According to their official travel guide, Las Maldivas or Maldives is actually a country in the Indian Ocean “made up of 1,190 coral islands” and just 90 of them are developed.
On the other hand, Las Malvinas or Falkland Islands are a British territory located in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf close to Argentina. The United Kingdom and Argentina both claim ownership for the islands.
4. Dominican Republic and Dominica
The confusion of Dominican Republic and Dominica is one of Jared’s pet peeves. At some point in the Dominican Republic history, the important Spanish settlement of Nueva Isabela was changed to Santo Domingo (in honor of Saint Dominic). This settlement became the capital and the island was popularly know as Isla de Santo Domingo. In 1844, the country name was changed to Dominican Republic after claiming national independence from Haiti.
Separately, Christopher Columbus named the island of Dominica after the day of the week on which he spotted it, a Sunday (dominica in Latin or domingo in Spanish).
Both country names are similar and even the Spanish demonym (gentilicio) is confusing. A person from the Dominican Republic is known as dominicano and a person from Dominica is known as dominiqués.
5. Colombia and Columbia
This is getting tough now! With only one letter difference, this set looks so similar. There is only ONE Colombia, the South American country. On the other hand, Columbia (with the U) has been used to name many cities, towns and counties in the United States and in Canada.
Remember: Colombia is Shakira’s native land, but there are a lot of “Columbias” spread across the United States and in Canada.
6. Suiza and Suecia
Due to the pronunciation similarity, mixing these two countries is common for Spanish speakers, including me. And even Google is aware of it! If you do a search for “Suiza” in Google, the “Searches related to…” at the bottom will suggest you “Suecia” and vice versa.
7. Tasmania and Tanzania
If the only thing you know about Tasmania is the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil, know that this character is based on a carnivorous marsupial found in the wild only on the Australian island state of Tasmania; not be confused with Tanzania that is a country in East Africa.
8. Americano and Estadounidense
This one is more a concept clarification between the demonyms americano and estadounidense. The Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas of the Royal Spanish Academy states that the use of the name americano should be avoided to refer exclusively to the inhabitants of the United States. “America” (and consequently “American”) is used in English as an abbreviation of “United States of America.”
The Royal Spanish Academy adds that the correct name in Spanish you should use to refer to the people from the United States is estadounidense. Do not forget that América is the name of the whole region (North and South America) and americanos are all that live on it.
What other country pairs can be confusing for you?
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