What's in a name? When it comes to some countries, a lot. Check out the three nations with the longest names in the world, and get ready to clear some extra space in your passport for a trip to Africa, the central Pacific, or just across the pond to our list's number one.
The Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Principe
With the third longest official country name in the world, the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Principe almost has more name than country. It is comprised of two main islands — São Tomé and Principe — along with a few tiny islets for a total of 386 square miles, landing it in the top 25 smallest countries.
The nation is located off the coast of central Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, where the Portuguese colonized the formerly uninhabited islands in the 15th century. "São Tomé" was named in honor of Saint Thomas, and "Principe," meaning "prince," was named for the king's son, the Prince of Portugal. The "Democratic Republic" part of the nation's name didn't come until centuries later, when the islands finally gained their independence in 1975.
Today, the country of São Tomé and Principe is known for its rainforests, beaches, and volcanic mountains, though there has been no volcanic activity anywhere on the islands for centuries. While the vast majority of the inhabitants live on São Tomé, Principe — with its mere 8,400 residents — is an especially popular destination for visitors seeking untouched nature.
The country also has a unique blend of Portuguese heritage and central African culture, the latter of which can still be seen in the capital city's architecture. Another significant piece of the nation's history can be seen in the plantations, or roças, that remain from the height of the islands' trade in coffee and cacao. Some of the roças were once more like villages than single farms. They even had their own hospitals and churches, which can still be viewed by tourists today.
In a nod to Portugal's remaining ties with the country, you can reach the islands on a direct flight from Lisbon, or you can fly from closer stops on the African coast in Gabon and Angola. However you get there, you'll be treated to some of the world's best coffee beans, culture, and classic island hospitality.
The Independent and Sovereign Republic of Kiribati
Next on our list is another small island nation — and a country you've likely never heard of — formally known as the Independent and Sovereign Republic of Kiribati. Typically called just Kiribati, the country has one more letter in its official name, and about 50 fewer square miles on its islands, than São Tomé and Principe. It is almost exactly on the opposite side of the world from the African nation.
Kiribati is comprised of 33 islands, all located somewhat centrally between Australia and the U.S. Hawaiian Islands. Only 20 of the nation's islands are inhabited, and the islands themselves are divided into three groups: the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands. The vast majority of the country's population lives on the Gilberts, and the word "Kiribati" — pronounced "Ki-ri-bas" — is, in fact, the local word for Gilberts.
The nation has been known by its official name, the Independent and Sovereign Republic of Kiribati, since it gained independence from Great Britain in 1979. Prior to that date, the islands were part of various groupings with other nearby islands. This has been true since the region's earliest settlement a few millenia ago by islanders from other parts of Micronesia and southeast Asia. Situated as it is along the equator and on the International Date Line, Kiribati has the unique distinction of having land in all four hemispheres.
The country of Kiribati is an outdoor lover's paradise, with everything from diving and snorkeling to bird watching and taking in the sunset — or sunrise — on white sand beaches. It is also a great destination for history buffs, as the islands were occupied by the Japanese just two days prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. Today, you can still see relics of the occupation and the various battles that were fought on the islands, especially on Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
It used to be said that, "The sun never sets on the British Empire." Though imperialism may be waning, the former empire's name is not. It's easy to assume that names like Britain, the UK, England, and Great Britain are all synonymous, but the truth of the British Isles' nomenclature is a bit more complicated than you might think.
The UK is short for the United Kingdom, which, as you likely have guessed, is short for the nation's official name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern England. The "Great Britain" in the name refers to the entire island on which the countries of England, Wales, and Scotland are located. Those three countries, along with Northern Ireland, are the four countries that make up the sovereign state of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland shares a neighboring island with the independent Republic of Ireland, which itself is not a part of the UK. The island is, however, a part of the archipelago known as the British Isles, of which Great Britain is by far the largest. It is easiest, then, to think of Great Britain and the British Isles as purely geographic names, while the UK and Ireland are the two sovereign political entities found there.
Adding further confusion to the mix is the fact that England is by far the most populous of the four countries in the United Kingdom, and its capital city of London is also the capital of the entire UK. This often causes England mistakenly to be considered its own sovereign nation. In fact, it is more akin to a state like New York within the sovereign United States.
Got all that? The good news is that whatever you call it, you're in for beautiful and bucolic countrysides, a cultural heritage ranging from a real-life Braveheart to the Beatles, and some truly outstanding cups of tea.