Zeeland is a province in the Netherlands.
We’ve heard of New York, New England, New Mexico, New Jersey and many more. All of these were named after pre-existing locations, most of them in Europe. But until today, I had never heard of Zealand.
You may already know that Captain James Cook is commonly attributed as the discoverer of Australia and New Zealand for Britain. But he was not the first European to visit down under, nor was he the first to give them names.
It was actually an explorer with the Dutch East India Company, Abel Tasman in the 1640s. (Yes, he was also the namesake of both Tasmania and the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia.)
After Tasman got lost and arrived in New Zealand after mistaking the island nation for Staten Landt, a small Dutch colony at the Southern tip of South America, Dutch cartographers named it Nieuw Zeeland, after Zeeland (meaning sea land), the smallest province of the Netherlands.
And while Captain Cook didn’t create the name of New Zealand, he was responsible for anglicizing it.
Englishman James Cook made three voyages to Nieuw Zeeland in the 1770s. The purpose of his original trip was to chart the path of Venus from the South Pacific, but Cook and his crew got lost and ended up in Nieuw Zeeland, which was relatively unexplored by Westerners since Tasman’s original voyage. Cook charted most of the area’s coastline, and he is responsible for anglicizing the name to “New Zealand.”
While researching this, I realized that the Netherlands colonized much more than I previously thought. In addition to Australia (formerly named New Holland) and New Zealand, former Dutch colonies include Brazil, Guyana, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and several current U.S. states.
Dutch explorers and colonial officials were responsible for New Netherland (now New York), New Amsterdam (now New York City), and New Haarlem (now just Harlem).
I was also surprised to learn that both Staten Island, NY and the aforementioned Staten Landt were both named after the Dutch parliament, Staten-Generaal.
In conclusion, the main things I learned while researching were: 1) Most proper names for locations have more interesting origins than you might realize; and 2) Never underestimate the Dutch.