Somalia was created in 1960 by joining two regions: British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland.

References in Wikipedia keep toggling between British Somaliland and Italian Somalia, note the use of Somalia for one and Somaliland for the other.

I found a text from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, from 1961, where they mention:

(...) And it's not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It's wherever you go. (...)

This makes me wonder what was the canonical naming to the region: when was Somalia first used? Would people use Somaliland alone to call British Somaliland?

Also, was Somaliland also the name for the geographical region, independently of the political borders?

  • I notice I got a downvote. Please indicate what may be wrong in the question so I can improve it. Being a regular user in other SE sites I cannot see what this question might be lacking to get such downvote.
    – fedorqui
    Mar 29, 2017 at 9:12
  • Regarding of the name: The geographic name of the big region is Horn of Africa (including Ethiopia and Eritrea). Then the next region is Somalia (not the country, but the region), which includes Somalia and Djibouti (formely know as French Somalia). Hence the name Somaliland covers a bigger area than the country, because you might include there Djibouti as well.
    – Santiago
    Mar 29, 2017 at 13:28
  • @Santiago yes, I knew about the Horn of Africa concept. The name Somaliland to cover all the former Somalian FR/UK/IT colonies sounds quite reasonable. As I said in the question, I am also wondering what the common term was back in the 60s, either Somalia or Somaliland. Since you seem to be Spanish speaker, you may want to see where all of this comes from, since we wonder if both names can be used interchangeably.
    – fedorqui
    Mar 29, 2017 at 13:36

2 Answers 2


Originally English tended to use Somaliland for the region and Italian used Somalia.

The two protectorates or territories were usually called British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland in English, and Somalia Britannica and Somalia Italiana in Italian.

After independence and unification in 1960, the new country called itself the Somali Republic which was commonly shortened to Somalia, and had an irredentist claim to Dijbouti and parts of Ethiopia and Kenya as Greater Somalia.

After the northern part declared independence in 1991, it adopted the name Somaliland in order to identify with the former British territory with the aim of adding historical legitimacy to its claim to be separate.

  • Excellent! This clarifies a lot.
    – fedorqui
    Apr 13, 2017 at 8:02

The earliest relevant usage in any English language source that I could confirm via Google Books was Somaliland in 1783. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term Somalia dates to 1814 and is of "unknown origin".

So Somaliland appears to be the "original" English name, but was rarely used until later on. The terms British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland appear together in Parliamentary records published as early as 1851:

On the north side of the Red Sea was British Somaliland, and on the east and south was Italian Somaliland, and to the north - west of British Somaliland was Abyssinia...

A Google Books Ngram of English-language sources covering 1840-1890 suggests that use of "Somalia" and "Somaliland" may have alternated at different points during that period. Note that many of the earlier appearances of "Somalia" on that graph are not actually relevant hits, but many of the later ones are.

It is very easy to find relevant usage of "Somalia" in the 1890s. But another Ngram covering 1890-1970 shows that in that period, "Somaliland" was clearly preferred in the first half of the twentieth century, with its popularity gradually declining after independence.

"Somaliland" is still used today in reference to the wider region where Somali people live, including parts of neighboring countries, while "Somalia" refers specifically to the nation-state.

  • 2
    And funnily enough, Somaliland is currently also a autonomous region of Somalia. It looks like a Mathematical problem, with sets, subsets and supersets that keep colliding :)
    – fedorqui
    Mar 31, 2017 at 6:51

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