Explanation of Listings

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This section briefly describes the events since early 1999 that have affected or will affect the information in the rest of the article. The most recent events are usually listed first.

Country overview:

This section of each country article provides information about the country, rather than its subdivisions. It starts with a short table giving the country's short-form English name, ISO and FIPS country codes, language(s), majority time zone if there is one, and capital. Following that is a paragraph or two describing the major geopolitical changes the country has undergone since 1900, if any.

ISO is the symbol of the International Organization for Standardization. (It was not chosen as an acronym; rather, iso- is the Greek prefix for "equal".) ISO 3166-1 is an international standard entitled, "Code for the representation of names of countries." It provides a list of countries, a two-letter code for each country, and other things of less significance. It was first issued in 1974, and is widely used. I have provided a description of all the changes to ISO country codes since 1974, and some advice for software designers about using the codes.

FIPS stands for Federal Information Processing Standards, which are issued by the United States Government. There are numerous FIPS standards. FIPS PUB 10-4 is titled, "Countries, dependencies, areas of special sovereignty, and their principal administrative divisions." It provides two-letter codes for the countries of the world, and four-character codes for primary administrative divisions. It is the latest version of a line of standards going back to 1970. I have written a history of changes to this standard.

Languages listed are usually the official language(s) of the country, with preference given to the languages in which I am reporting subdivision names. If the language has a two-letter code according to ISO standard 639-2 , it is shown in parentheses. (The symbol "" represents a link to a different website.)

Time zones are shown as offsets from UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) in hours or hours and minutes (hh:mm). Positive offsets represent places east of Greenwich where the time is later than UTC, and negative offsets, west. The symbol tilde (~) is used to indicate places where daylight saving time is observed. In countries with more than one time zone, there are usually more details in the Primary subdivisions table. For more information about time zones in general, see the Basic Time Zone Concepts page.

Our primary education may lead us to believe that the question "What is the capital of X?" always has a single right answer. As with so many other fields of knowledge, deeper study reveals a more complex situation. There are various issues that occasionally need to be dealt with in determining the capital of a geographical administrative unit.

1. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines capital, in the relevant sense, as "a city serving as a seat of government". You would therefore expect to look for the physical location of the country's governing bodies, and find them in the capital. But the constitution of the Netherlands says that Amsterdam is the capital, although all of the national executive, legislative, and judicial functions are headquartered in The Hague.

2. Given the definition of capital, you might ask, "What if the organs of government are located in several separate places?" This is notably the case with South Africa, whose legislative branch is in Cape Town, executive in Pretoria (Tshwane), and judicial in Bloemfontein.

3. When you fill out a typical order form, you are asked for a "City", implying that everyone can give an unequivocal answer to "What is the name of the city you live in?" There is no logical necessity for this to be true. Some people live in the wilderness. Some people live in the vague area between two neighboring unincorporated places. Most national capitals are in incorporated places. But there is still a problem. The incorporated place may not be a city. The premise of the Statoids website is that almost all countries are completely subdivided into legally defined named geographic areas of various sorts, many of these subdivisions are further subdivided, and so on. In some cases, one of the levels of subdivision is the city or some near-equivalent (commune, municipality). But it is logically possible that a country's government bodies are located in a tertiary subdivision, which is in a larger secondary division, which is in a still larger primary division, and none of them are called "city". Which level, then, should be designated the capital? Or, for that matter, what if the capital buildings are all concentrated in a small section of the administrative subdivision that has its own place name? American Samoa, Nauru, Northern Mariana Islands, and South Africa's executive capital present problems of this nature.

4. There is also the issue of disputed names, as with almost any kind of toponym. My policy in all such cases is to choose the name that I think is most widely accepted at the present moment. I add notes where appropriate to acknowledge the controversy. Lexicographers have the same problem, and in modern times typically adopt the same solution. Their slogan is "descriptive, not prescriptive".

Other names of country:

In this section, I try to give the short-form country name in each of twelve languages: Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish (English is given in the Country overview section). When convenient, I show the name in other languages used in or near the country (transliterated, if necessary, into the Roman alphabet). Also listed are some versions of the formal, or long-form, name; outdated or obsolete names; accepted variant names; and nicknames, all with an identifying tag in parentheses. Norwegian has two standard printed versions, Bokmål and Nynorsk; where they differ, both names are given, along with tags. For French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, I also try to provide the gender and number of nouns. These are the italicized letters immediately following the noun. The table below is a key to these labels.



Since commas are used to separate names, when a comma is part of a name, the entire name is enclosed in quotes.

For languages other than those listed here, two other resources are Werner Fröhlich's  and Celvin Ruisdael's  websites.

The vernacular names of places - names expressed in the native language of the place - are often written in non-Roman scripts. To be used in English text, they must be rendered in the Roman alphabet, possibly with the aid of diacritical marks. (Scholarly papers may intermingle different character sets, but that would be extremely rare in a newspaper or general-circulation magazine.) The rendering may be done by translation, transcription, or transliteration.

Translation converts according to meaning. For example, Egypt has a governorate named Al Bahr al Ahmar, which is Arabic for "Red Sea". The term for a translated placename is 'exonym'. Exonyms don't have to be based on meaning. The vernacular (Italian) name of Venice is Venezia. Its exonyms include Venise (French), Venedig (German), Veneza (Portuguese), and Venecia (Spanish).

Transcription converts according to sound. "Paree" could be a transcription of Paris into English, because it represents an English speaker's best approximation to the sound of the French name.

Transliteration is a conversion from one script to another following a fixed set of rules. Transliteration systems aim for a phonetic equivalent, as with transcription. For example, the Greek letter theta might always be converted to the Roman letters 't'-'h'. Mu would be converted to 'm', and pi to 'p'. But the Greek letters mu and pi, when found consecutively at the beginning of a word, might be converted to 'b' (since that combination is pronounced like 'b' in Greek). That is, the rules of conversion may not be one-to-one, but context-dependent. The context may even be grammatical (for example, a rule might apply only to adjectival endings), in which case conversion requires a knowledge of the source language.

Since both transcription and transliteration aim at a phonetic rendition, they depend not just on the target script, but on the target language. This is why the Germans prefer to call the Russian emperor 'czar', while English speakers use 'tsar'. 'Khrouchtchev' is the French spelling of Khrushchev. For conversion from Cyrillic to Roman letters, there are several different standard transliteration schemes, according to the rules of pronunciation in the target language. But even for a single source language and a single target language, there have often been a succession of transliteration systems in vogue over the years.

Most people throughout the ages have not known more than a few hundred placenames outside of their own country. As a result, most languages have fewer than a thousand exonyms. The exonyms listed on this website are mainly for identification. Translators should use them with caution. The United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names recommends that exonyms be phased out. The local name should be used if it's in the right script; otherwise, a transliteration. However, no one expects Misr to replace Egypt anytime soon.

Origin of name:

Placename etymologies are often controversial. I have consulted reliable reference works for the etymologies provided, but many details and alternate hypotheses have been omitted. The value of the name origins is that they provide mental hooks to help in the retention of information; also, in some cases, they hint at geographical relationships. However, if completeness and accuracy are essential, you should consult the technical literature.

Primary subdivisions:

This section is the meat of the site. It always presents a table with one row for each primary administrative subdivision of the country. For a few small countries, where no administrative divisions exist or meet my criteria for inclusion, the table will only have one row representing the country as a whole. The subdivisions listed should be exclusive and exhaustive: they don't overlap, but among them they cover the entire territory.

The columns of the table vary from country to country, depending on what information is applicable. The first column always shows the English names of the subdivisions. It is followed by columns with codes or abbreviations for the subdivisions, their populations, their areas in square kilometers and square miles, their capitals, and other data as appropriate. In some countries the capital always has the same name as its subdivision; in those cases, the capital column is omitted, and a note appears in the captions field (gray background).

When there are widely-used, spontaneously-occurring abbreviations for a country's subdivisions, they are usually shown in a column headed "Conv" (for conventional). Most of the subdivision codes I show, however, were created by some agency for data processing purposes. These include HASC codes, ISO codes, FIPS codes, NUTS codes in Europe, NUTE codes in the Andean countries, and codes created by the country's census authority. Postal codes, telephone area codes, and license plate region codes might also fall in this category.

HASC stands for Hierarchical administrative subdivision codes. I created them for my work, because I was dissatisfied with the other code systems available. Unlike ISO 3166-2 codes, they are uniform in format. Unlike FIPS 10-4 codes, they are somewhat mnemonic: the subdivision codes are reminiscent of the subdivision name as far as possible. Unlike any other set of subdivision codes available, they extend down to secondary administrative subdivisions (e.g. counties in the United States). They are kept more current than ISO or FIPS codes, because I don't go through a bureaucracy before I make an update.

The ISO codes that represent primary subdivisions of countries come from the international standard ISO 3166-2. ISO realized that the two-letter ISO 3166-1 country codes (see above) could helpfully be extended. A preliminary draft of the standard for subdivisions, ISO/DIS 3166-2, was released in 1996. It had a few errors, like duplicate codes. The official standard came out in late 1998. In this standard, each subdivision has a code that starts out with the two-letter ISO code for the country, followed by a hyphen, followed by one to three letters or digits. The first two letters and the hyphen may be omitted if the context makes it clear what country is meant. Wherever possible, the subdivision codes were derived from pre-existing country-specific code sets. For example, in the United States, ISO 3166-2 uses the two-letter state abbreviations that were created in 1963 by the United States Post Office Department.

FIPS codes are four-character codes from Federal Information Processing Standard 10-4 (see above). The first two characters are the two-letter FIPS country code. The next two characters are usually digits, but letters may be used when the digits run out. FIPS gets its lists of subdivisions from the CIA World Factbook , or from the same source at least.

Eurostat, a statistics agency of the European Union, has defined a hierarchical subdivision of the countries of that Union. The code is called NUTS, for Nomenclature des Unités Territoriales Statistiques (Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics). Its purpose is to divide the EU into entities whith are statistically comparable to one another, despite the widely different sizes and structures of the individual countries. The highest-level subdivision is the country. Each country is defined by a two-letter code, the same as the ISO code (except for the United Kingdom). In most countries, an alphanumeric third character creates a NUTS 1 code, usually an unofficial grouping of subdivisions. Appending a fourth character makes a NUTS 2 code, which often represents an actual administrative subdivision of a country. The standard appends more characters to generate NUTS 3, NUTS 4, and NUTS 5 codes. These codes represent successively smaller geographical units, always based on the actual administrative divisions of the country. (In 2005, the NUTS 4 and NUTS 5 codes were redesignated LAU (Local Administrative Units) level 1 and 2 codes.)

NUTE is a similar scheme used by five countries in western South America. It stands for Nomenclatura de las Unidades Territoriales Estadísticas de la Comunidad Andina. NUTE codes have five hierarchical levels, all numeric. The first digit represents one of the five Andean countries. The first three digits represent a region of a country, generally a group of primary subdivisions. The first five digits represent a primary subdivision, the first eight digits a secondary subdivision, and all eleven digits represent a lowest-level division.

Populations are taken from the country's census reports, wherever possible. Sometimes I use preliminary figures (identified as such in the table captions) until the final figures are available. It is generally acknowledged that all censuses have an undercount, since it's very unlikely that the enumerators will track down every person in the country. Some countries attempt to compensate for the undercount by making a statistical adjustment. Other countries base their population statistics on registries. In principle, each commune keeps complete track of the births, deaths, immigrations, and emigrations that affect the number of people residing there. Another variable factor is whether the census attempts to measure de facto or de jure population. If you have a primary residence in state A, but you are visiting in state B on the census date, you are in the de facto population of state B but the de jure population of state A. Some day, if I have a lot of time to spare, I may try to identify how the population figures I give were measured.

Note that official population estimates, especially for less developed countries, are almost always inflated.

In most cases, to get area figures, I find the most precise areas I can (usually given in km.² in the source), convert them to mi.², and then round both of those quantities to the nearest whole number. If my source gives rounded numbers (say, hundreds of km.²), I round off the mi.² to a comparable degree of accuracy. Some sources give land area only, while others include water area, and most don't specify which it is. Given the choice, I usually prefer land area.

If the sum of the populations of all the statoids in a given country is different from the total given on the bottom line of the table, the total probably includes special cases (nomads, servicemen stationed abroad, primitive peoples, etc.) that aren't listed under any statoid. The figure on the bottom line should be considered a more accurate count of the entire country.

Postal codes:

Some postal code systems make no attempt to correlate codes with political boundaries. Even when the system is designed that way, there may be a few addresses that are served by post offices in an adjacent statoid, and therefore deviate from the pattern. Sometimes postal codes match statoids initially, but the administrative borders change and the postal codes don't. Therefore, any list of postal code ranges for a given statoid should be taken as an approximation.

Territorial extent:

This section contains information such as which islands belong to which subdivision (not always identifiable on a map), what points are on the boundaries of four or more subdivisions at once, and what subdivisions have enclaves.

When part of one country is disconnected from the rest, so that there is no way to travel from that part to the main part without passing through another country, the smaller part is called an exclave of the country to which it belongs. When a country, or part of a country, is completely surrounded by another country, it is called an enclave. Enclaves and exclaves are described under the country owning the territory, not the country that surrounds it. For example, to find Campione d'Italia, a small part of Italy which is surrounded by Swiss territory, look under Italy, not Switzerland.

The term "exclave" presupposes that you can tell which section is the "mainland" and which is the "island". Usually one section of the country is much larger, and the other one is considered the exclave. If the pieces are similar in size, it is simplest to call them all enclaves.

Change history:

I have tried to give complete histories of the changes in every country since 1900. Sometimes I haven't been able to find the required information, especially for former colonies during their colonial periods. On the other hand, I've been able to provide reliable information for a few countries going back as far as 1776.

All dates are written in the form yyyy-mm-dd (if known; alternatively, yyyy-mm or yyyy). There are several advantages to this format. It is logical: like ordinary decimal notation, it puts the most significant digits first. A column of dates in this format can easily be checked for chronological order. Also, this format conforms to the international standard ISO 8601. It avoids the ambiguity in a notation like 05-01-2005, which Europeans would interpret as January 5 while Americans would read May 1.

A date preceded by a tilde (e.g. ~1985-04) is approximate. That instance would probably mean April, 1985 plus or minus three months.

There may be several dates associated with a change in subdivisions. The law enacting the change may be passed on one date; it may be published in the official gazette a week later; it may have an effective date two months later; and the legislature of the new division may have its first meeting the following year. Reference books don't always clarify which of these events happened on a particular date. If I have the choice, I prefer to give the effective date of the law that makes the change.

The changes listed in the change history section are of several types. The official names of subdivisions may change. Two or more subdivisions may merge. (If the two old subdivisions were named A and B, and the single new subdivision is named A, I usually describe it as "B merged with A".) A subdivision may be split into several smaller ones. There may be a significant transfer of territory from one subdivision to its neighbor. (Minor transfers, of areas as small as a few hectares or perhaps a single commune, are very common and are usually not mentioned.) The country as a whole may gain or lose territory, or may reorganize itself in such a way that the new set of subdivisions has little or no relationship to the old set. The capital of a subdivision, or of the country, may move from one city to another, or change its name. The goal of the change history section is to list all changes of these types. Often the only information I can find about such changes is a pair of maps, one from before and the other from after the change. In that case, I give an approximate date about halfway between the dates of the two maps.

Other names of subdivisions:

The information here is similar to Other names of country, but the organization is different. Each entry begins with the name of a subdivision, as shown in the main table (Primary subdivisions section), followed by a colon (:). Next come one or more groups of alternate names, separated by semi-colons (;). Each group consists of one or more names, separated by commas, and one or more tags, in parentheses. The tags describe the usage of the names in that group.

If the name of a subdivision in a foreign language is the same as the name given in the primary subdivisions table, I don't list it under this heading. For example, the Netherlands province of Limburg is Limbourg in French, but Limburg in German. Its listing shows the French name, which is different from the "basic" form, but not the German, which is the same. On the other hand, the listing doesn't show the Icelandic name, either. This doesn't necessarily mean that the Icelandic name is also Limburg; it may be that I just haven't found the correct Icelandic name yet.

Back to main statoids page Last update: 2008-02-01
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