B, the second letter in the English alphabet, is a popular candidate for starting a country name, worldwide. A grand total of 17 countries on Earth have a name that starts with ‘B’, from the Caribbean, to Europe, Africa, and beyond.
Countries that start with the letter B:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Burkina Faso
Countries That Start With The Letter B
The origins of the word “Bahamas” is disputed. Some say the country gets its name from the South American Arawakan Indigenous language group. Specifically, "Bahamas" is said to be a word that comes from the Lucayan Taíno people who lived on these islands before Europeans arrived. The word is said to mean “big upper middle land” in Taino.
Other sources say that "Bahamas" is a Spanish word that has morphed from "baja mar," meaning "shallow sea." Other words that come from the Taíno languages include barbecue, hammock, hurricane, canoe, and tobacco.
The Bahamas is a former British colony that gained its independence in 1973, and remains part of the Commonwealth. Its colonization is a particularly dark chapter in the history of European colonial rule: Christopher Columbus and his men first made landfall here, and within thirty years the Indigenous population had dwindled from a mix of disease and killings at the hands of the settlers. It was later populated by a group of Bermudans in 1666 in the name of the British empire. Bahamian culture has been profoundly shaped by the Europeans as well as by African traditions through the slave trade. Today, the Bahamas is dominated by the tourism sector.
The word “Bahrain” is Arabic in origin, coming from the term Al-Bahrayn which means “two seas.” This likely refers to the fact that Bahrain is an island sitting in waters between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, surrounded to the north by the Persian Gulf, and the south by the Gulf of Bahrain.
Occupied since prehistoric times and an important trading centre between the Indus and the Sumerians, this island was controlled by the Arabs, Persians and the Portuguese before becoming a British protectorate in the 19th century. When Britain decided to withdraw all its troops from this region in 1968, Bahrain used the opportunity to declare independence in 1971. Today, Bahrain's economy is driven by tourism as well as refining crude oil produced in neighbouring countries.
Unlike some names on this list, the origin of Bangladesh's name is pretty straightforward. The suffix "Desh" derives from the Sanskrit word Desha, meaning "land." Bangla is the Bengali word for what we call Bengal in English. So, Bangladesh translates to "Land of Bengal."
Bengal refers to the region Bangladesh occupies, and it also can refer to a language and an ethnic group, and its origin is the Kingdom of Banga that existed here in the first millennium BCE. This area was part of Britain's colony in India, and upon independence, Bangladesh split and became its own country at the same time as India.
This Caribbean country is said to get its name from the Portugues sea captain Pedro a Campus. Campus is said to have called the island “the bearded one” after the tall fig trees covering the country with long, hanging root systems, dangling like wispy beards.
Another former British colony in the Caribbean, the history of Barbados is interlinked with the significance of the sugar trade, of which it was a producer. Sugar cultivation in Barbados created significant racial divides between the whites who owned the land and the enslaved Blacks who worked it. Though slavery became illegal in the 19th century, the dense population meant cheap labour was still easy to find, resulting in the labour revolt of the 1930s. This pushed the British to begin social and economic reforms in the colony, and prepare them for autonomous rule. Barbados became independent in 1966, and it is a member of the Commonwealth.
A bit blunt but true, the name "Belarus" literally means "white Russia." Belarus comes from the term Belaya Rus which means "White Rus." While the term "White Rus" can be found as far back as Latin and Greek medieval literature, the term is met with distaste from some people in modern times. Belarus declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and being described as part of Russia is not always something Belarussians seek.
Belarus was originally under early Ukrainian, Polish and Lithuanian rule until it became part of Russia in the 18th century. 1917 brought the Russian Revolution and with it the creation of the Soviet Union, of which Belarus was a part until its dissolution in 1991. Now-independent Belarus has been under the rule of President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, who has maintained pro-Russian policies and maintained the country's isolation from the rest of Europe. Public dissatisfaction with Lukashenko is growing, and he is often referred to as "Europe's last dictator."
Belgium is a small country, yet one that is stubborn and mighty. The nation is named for the Belgae tribe, whose people lived in the northern part of the country, Gaul, during the 3rd century BCE. “Belg” in proto-Celtic means "to swell with anger," and some say the country’s name reflects the fact that the Belgae tribesmen and women living in Gaul were very hard for Julius Caesar to conquer. In fact, it took him a total of four years to do so, something the Belgae tribes later revolted against.
Belgian nationality as it can be recognized today dates back to the end of its union with the Kingdom of Netherlands in 1830. The centuries before then were marked by foreign rule, and little opportunity to establish a distinct Belgian state especially during its association with Holland. A new monarchy was created in the new independent Belgium, and the banking system created in Brussels was mirrored by other states across Europe. Belgium continued to lead by example in Europe, becoming an unofficial capital of the European Union.
There are two theories as to where Belize gets its name. The first states that it comes from the surname of Captain Peter Wallace. Wallace was a Scottish buccaneer who is credited with being the first European to discover what would later be named the Belize River. Wallace started a settlement in this area of Belize in 1638. So the story goes, he named the river and the region after himself, but the Spaniards who came later could not pronounce it properly and turned the “W” into a “V” or “B” sound. The name thus became “Ballace” which transformed into “Balise” or “Belize”.
The second theory says the country is named after the Mayan word Belix, which means “muddy water.” Belize could also come from the Mayan word Belikin which means "land facing the sea."
Belize was known as British Honduras until 1973, as it was a British colony. The Mayans lived here in the years preceding European contact, and the Spaniards were the first to colonize the area. The British were granted rights to exploit the logwood in the area, but their presence gradually grew until they were numerous enough to overthrow Spanish control of the area in 1798, becoming a formal British colony in 1862. It became self-governing in 1964, and gained independence in 1981.
The country of Benin was originally called "Dahomey," named after an ancient kingdom in the country. In 1975 this was changed to Benin to better support the diversity of cultures within the nation. Benin gets its name from the Bight of Benin, a body of water that borders the country to the south, as part of the Atlantic Ocean. The name Benin comes from the 17th century and was the name of an African kingdom located along the Gulf of Guinea at that time.
Before the Europeans came, the area Benin occupies was a collection of different independent states, with their own languages and cultures. The Portuguese were the first colonists to arrive, and later the English, French and Dutch, and prior to the 19th century, they all shared the same interest in this area: exporting slaves. That many slaves originated from what is today called Benin is exemplified in the significance of Voodoo in Haiti and other places of the Caribbean, which draws from deities of the Ewe-speaking peoples who lived here. French colonization of what was then called Dahomey began in 1872, and it became a British Overseas Territory in 1946 before gaining independence in 1960.
According to linguists, it is possible that Bhutan’s name comes from the Sanskrit word Bhu-Uttan, meaning "High Land." Others say that it comes from Bhots-ant, of the same origin, meaning "end of Tibet." Many people living in Bhutan do not call the country by this name, however, and rather refer to it as "Druk Yul" which enchantingly means "Land of the Thunder Dragon."
Throughout history, Bhutan has had many names including: Lho Tsendenjong, Southern Land of the Sandalwood; Lho Mon, Southern Land of Darkness; Lho Men Jong, Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs; and Lhomen Khazhi, Southern Land of Four Approaches.
Bhutan's emergence in history is not well documented. It likely came into existence as a distinct political entity around 400-500 years ago, and it had a succession of rulers who were believed to have spiritual authority until the last one died at the beginning of the 20th century and no reincarnation was found. The British intervened in Bhutan's affairs more than once, and for much of recent history, Britain governed Bhutan's external affairs and a monarch its internal affairs, until India became independent and the responsibility of the British passed on to them. Bhutan ended its political isolation when it became a member of the United Nations in 1971.
Bolivia traces its name back to Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan soldier and statesman who led revolutions in South America in the early 1800s. These wars led to the liberation of several South American countries from Spanish rule. Congressional leaders in the country named it Bolivia after Bolivar in 1825.
Like other South American countries, Bolivia was colonized by the Spanish, but their Indigenous traditions remain a significant part of their culture as the Indigenous population totals 20% and mestizos, people with mixed Spanish and Indigenous ancestry, make up 70%. Support for independence grew in the beginning of the 19th century, leading to a wave of Independence proclamations from various South American colonies assisted by Bolívar, including Bolivia in 1825.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
While the exact meaning of the word "Bosnia" remains somewhat unknown, many scholars say it could denote "running water." The Bosna river is therefore thought to be the origin of the country’s name. Linguists describe how the Indo-European root word Bos means "running water," as does the Illyrian word Bosona. Others theorize that Bosnia comes from the Latin word Bosina, which means "boundary."
Herzegovina's origin can be more precisely located. In the Middle Ages this area was known as Hum, and in the 1440s it was ruled by one Stjepan Vukčić Kosača. In his correspondence he called himself "Herzog of Saint Sava, lord of Hum and Primorje, great duke of the Bosnian kingdom," leading to the land being called "Herzog's Land" or Herzegovina.
Bosnia and Herzegovina passed under Ottoman rule, followed by Austro-Hungarian rule, and finally it became part of the Yugoslav Kingdom, paving the way for Communist Yugoslavia. With the decline of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina voted to separate and become independent in 1992. The country formally applied for membership in the European Union in 2016.
Botswana is named for its people. Those who inhabit the country are largely of Tswana origin, and collectively this group is referred to as "Batswana." The Tswana people can trace their recorded history in the area back to the 1300s and are considered to be descendants of King Mogale of South Africa.
The area today known as Botswana became a British protectorate at the end of the 19th century. Britain did not have long-term plans for the land it called Bechuanaland, claiming it mostly for the construction of a railway to better access their more favoured colonies such as Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) and later British South Africa. Because of this, development in the area was kept to a minimum. However, they still held it as a protectorate in the 1950s, and they began a process of preparing the area for independence, which it achieved in 1966.
Rather uniquely, Brazil is said to be the only country on Earth named after a tree. During the 1500s, the Portuguese began harvesting what became known as Brazilwood from the area, which was then called Vera Cruz. The wood had a reddish color that was used to create a dye shipped and sold in Europe. The wood is called pau-brasil which means "ember-colored wood" in Portuguese. So much of the material was cut down and sold that the Portuguese began calling the country Brazil.
It was colonized by the Portuguese, sparsely at first, but by 1533 they were working to establish a functioning government there. The colony of Brazil was based on agriculture, mining and logging, and it developed quite separately from the neighbouring Spanish colonies, causing it to develop a unique culture derived from Portuguese customs. The first Brazillian rebellion for independence was in 1789, and though it was unsuccessful, it sowed the seeds for a desire for self-governance, which it achieved in 1822.
According to the local legends, Brunei gets its name from the first words uttered by the leader of a group of settlers arriving in the area in the early 1400s: "Baru nah!" which is loosely translated as "That's it!" He became the first sultan of Brunei. It was subsequently named "Barunai" which may have been influenced by the Sanskrit word for "seafarers," Varun.
Brunei became a British protectorate in 1888, and the sultanate rose to significance in 1929 with the production of petroleum. After being briefly occupied by the Japanese in World War II, the British returned after the war and began talks for the protectorate's independence, which it achieved in 1984.
One of the oldest states in Europe, it was founded in the 7th century by the Bulgars. They were a tribe with Turkic origins and became the namesake of this country.
Bulgaria was caught under Ottoman rule for centuries, but it regained its independent statehood in the 19th century. After World War II, it became an ally of the Soviet Union, which had profound impacts on the country's economy, customs, and ideologies. With the fall of the Soviets, Bulgaria then turned West towards the European Union and NATO.
Burkina Faso means, loosely translated, "land of honest people." Interestingly, this name is pulled from two different languages spoken in the country. Burkina is from the Mossi language, spoken by the ethnic Mossi who make up half the population, and it means "upright," signifying integrity when used to talk about people. Faso is from Dioula, and literally means "father's house," but is also used to denote "fatherland." People from Burkina Faso are called Burkinabé.
The country was renamed Burkina Faso in 1984. Before then, it had retained its name from when it was a French colony, Upper Volta, which referred to its location along the Volta River. This land was colonized by France at the end of the 19th century, and it 1947 it became a French Overseas Territory. They gained their independence in 1960.
In the lands today known as the country of Burundi, a kingdom once reigned. The Kingdom of Burundi existed in the 16th century, and today, the country bears its name. "Burundi" likely originally came from the Ha people who lived there, as their place of origin was called Buha.
Burundi became part of the German Protectorate of East Africa in 1890, but it was awarded to Belgium after World War I when Germany's colonies were divvied up as a price to pay for their loss in the war. Desire for independence grew following the Second World War, which they achieved in 1962.