Kingdoms and republics

Writing about kingdoms and empires in my last post prompted me to complete this post, which I’ve been thinking about for some time and had actually done a lot of research towards: the division of current-day countries into kingdoms and republics. 

Firstly, a few words about empires. Many of the entities we refer to as an empire were never officially called that: the British Empire was headed by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and Queen Victoria and the few kings following her were only ever Empress/Emperor of India.

As far as I can find, the last counties to be officially called empire were:
the Empire of Japan (大日本帝國 Dai Nippon Teikoku or Dai Nihon Teikoku) (1868–1947) (note that the head of state is still called emperor)
the Ethiopian Empire (መንግሥተ ኢትዮጵያ, Mängəstä Ityop’p’ya) (1270-1974), but apparently the literal translation is ‘Government of Ethiopia’
(arguably) the Imperial State of Persia/Iran (کشور شاهنشاهی ایران Kešvar-e Šâhanšâhi-ye Irân) (1925/1935-11 February 1979) 
the Central African Empire (Empire centrafricain) (1976- 21 September 1979).
(Obviously, the scope of an empire varies over time.)

Of the 193 current-day UN member states, 23 are called kingdom or something similar, 128 are called republic or variations of it, 20 are called variations of nation or state(s) or something similar, and 22 have no further designation than the name of the country. 

Kingdoms range from Bahrain to Tonga, with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan adding extra designations. To these can be added the Principalities of Andorra, Liechtenstein and Monaco, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the Sultanate of Oman and the United Arab Emirates. 

Names of republics come in three categories: the Republic of X, the X Republic and the Y Republic of X. The Republic of Xs range from Albania to Zimbabwe, to which can be added the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. In most cases, these are also called X, but note the distinction between Korea and Ireland (possibly the whole peninsula and island respectively) and the Republics of Korea and Ireland (the government of (currently) part of the peninsula and island). The X Republics range from the Argentine Republic to the Togolese Republic, to which can be added the Syrian Arab Republic and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Most of these have and alternative, familiar name from Argentina to Togo and Syria to Laos. The exceptions are the Central African Republic and the Dominican Republic, which are always referred to in full, probably to distinguish them from the wider central African region (compare the country of South Africa and the wider southern Africa region) and the Commonwealth of Dominica respectively, and the Czech Republic, for which Czechia hasn’t quite caught on (yet) (compare Chechnya). 

The Y Republic of Xs are worth listing in full, in sub-groups:
the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania and Pakistan
the Democratic Republics of the Congo, Timor-Leste and São Tomé and Príncipe
the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and China, the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
the Federal Republics of Germany, Nigeria and Somalia, the Federal Democratic Republics of Ethiopia and Nepal and the Federative Republic of Brazil
the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, the United Republic of Tanzania, the Oriental Republic of Uruguay and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

The nation/state(s) etc are:
the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace
the States of Eritrea, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Libya and Qatar, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Independent States of Papua New Guinea and Samoa, the United Mexican States, the United States of America and the Plurinational State of Bolivia
the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, the Russian Federation and the Swiss Confederation
the Commonwealths of Australia, the Bahamas, Dominica
the Union of the Comoros

Countries without an official designation range from Antigua and Barbuda to Ukraine. 

Note that a significant number of these are officially named in languages other than English, and that that name that language might be significantly different. Japan is 日本 (Nippon or Nihon, Sun-origin) (compare ‘The land of the rising sun’) and China is 中华 (Zhōnghuá, Central-state) (compare ‘The middle kingdom’). 대한민국 and 조선민주주의인민공화국 use different words for republic (민국 and 공화국) and for Korea (대한, from the Great Han confederacy of the Three Kingdoms period c 1st century BCE to c 900 CE, and 조선, from the Joseon kingdom 1392-1897). (Note that the DPRK invokes the Hanseong (Seoul)-based Joseon and not the Gaeseong-based Goryeo 918-1392 (from which ‘Korea’ is derived).) (Compare endonyms and exonyms.)

What a country is officially called and what it officially or in effect is aren’t necessarily the same thing. As well as the kingdoms listed above, some countries are monarchies without being (called) kingdoms (or perhaps queendoms). In addition to the UK, 15 other countries have Queen Elizabeth as their monarch, none of which has ‘Kingdom’ in its name. Wikipedia also lists as monarchies the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace (which has a sultan), Japan (an emperor), the States of Kuwait and Qatar (an emir) and Malaysia (a king). Wikipedia classifies these as absolute (Brunei, Eswatini, Oman and Saudi Arabia), mixed (Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE) or constitutional (the rest). Most of the constitutional monarch(ie)s have survived by surrendering most of their power. Note that these include some of the countries with the highest per capita incomes and human development indexes in the world, though the direction of cause and effect is debatable. (Coincidentally, I saw this article, about the increasing number of abdications in monarchies, especially the constitutional ones but even the mixed and absolute ones.)

On the other hand, the more words like democratic, people’s and republic in a country’s official name, the less likely it is to be any of democratic, the people’s or a republic; for example, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (which in theory has a dead man as its eternal president and in practice is an absolute monarchy) or the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria (which is still a republic, but how much the people’s and how democratic is arguable). (See the TV Tropes page on The People’s Republic of Tyranny for a fuller discussion.)

Some questions which I can ask but not answer are: are any or all of the USA, China, Russia or the EU “empires”, if so, by what definition, and if not, will an empire in the historical sense (and/or officially named empire”) ever rise again?


5 thoughts on “Kingdoms and republics

  1. That was a whole lot of research. 😉

    Always been troubled by the two countries named Congo Republic and Republic of the Congo. For a while one of them was named Zaire and that made things just fine, but then they changed back again. Now I’m not suggesting that we return to “Belgian Congo,” certainly. But can’t something be done about this? Remember the dispute between Greece and the new nation of Macedonia and the attempt to make FYROM (“Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”) the official name?

    Not to mention that the United States aren’t the only United States in the world, nor is America the only country in America.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Apparently now they are the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I remember a map which showed them as ‘Congo (Kinshassa)’ and ‘Congo (Brazzaville)’, which didn’t really help.
    As far as I know, Greece and North Macedonia came to an agreement on the name. China(s) has/have been in the news this week.
    The USA might not be the only united states in the world (I’m in Australia!) but they are the only sovereign states with ‘The United States of’ in their name.
    There are four countries whose names include a continent, being South Africa, the Central African Republic, the USA and Australia. By itself ‘Australia’ means the country – if anyone wants to talk about the continent of Australia (which includes the island of New Guinea), they have to say ‘the continent of Australia (which includes the island of New Guinea’). New Guineans don’t say ‘Hey, we’re ‘Australian’, too!’. I don’t know if Tierra del Fuegans say ‘Hey, we’re ‘American’, too!’.


  3. Actually, identifying the respective Congos by their capital cities is helpful. Kinshasa (formerly Leopoldville) and Brazzaville (interesting that they never replaced that colonial name with an African one) tag the two countries unambiguously.

    The China/Taiwan situation is more of a geopolitical one than a naming conflict.

    When is it ever vital to make the distinction between the nation of Australia and the continent of Australia? Come to think of it, is Tasmania part of both? And what continent does New Zealand belong to?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wikipedia gives names for Brazzaville in two local languages, so maybe they can’t decide which one they should change it to!
      I was slightly surprised to find that the official language of the DRC (former Belgian colony) is French, not Flemish/Dutch, but then I realised that the administrative language of the Belgian foreign service was probably French, because French speakers are more numerous in Belgium and elsewhere.
      Even if the Republic of China had officially called itself the Republic of Taiwan, the PRC would still be claiming it. I read an article a few days which included the fact the the PRC has never actually controlled Taiwan. Taiwan has only ever been controlled by the Chinese Empire and the ROC.
      There are some geological, zoological and botanical reasons for specifying the continent of Australia. And also mountain climbing – listing what the tallest peak in ‘Australia’ is. Tasmania is part of the Australian continent, and was joined up until the last major sea level rise. It often gets left off maps, most famously at the opening ceremony of the 1982 Commonwealth Games.
      “New Zealand is part of Zealandia, a microcontinent nearly half the size of Australia that broke away from the Gondwanan supercontinent about 83 million years ago.” ( NZ often gets left off maps, too. There’s a Facebook page or website devoted to this.


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