Having things in common certainly helps to form bridges. When it comes to friendships, partnerships, business deals, you name it, if two people really like California rolls—or maybe simply California, itself—a conversation can more easily be sparked, and possibly something more. But what about when it comes to countries? Some cultures are as different as night and day. If those in the table below met at a cocktail party, if little else, they could at least compare the first letter in their name. Hey, you have to start somewhere!
Here are the ten countries that start with the letter P, to help you win at your next game of trivia.
Located in South Asia, Pakistan borders on Iran, Afghanistan, China, India, and the Arabian Sea. The vast majority of people in the country are Muslims belonging to the Sunni sect, which is the major branch of Islam, and some are also Shīʿite Muslims. Where does this country’s name come from? The label is actually an acronym that a Muslim propagandists named Chaudhary Rahmat Ali came up with in the 1930s. P stands for Punjab, A for Afghania, K for Kashmir, and IS Indus-Sind. Stan means "country" or "place of" in Persian. The country got its independence from Britain at the same time as India in 1947, and became a separate country as opposed to an extension of its neighbor to the East because of its high prevalence of Muslims, whereas India is home to Hindus predominantly.
The Philippines is known for its beaches and succulent fruit. What is perhaps not so widely shared is the fact that the country was named after King Philip II of Spain in 1521, when the area was claimed by Ferdinand Magellan. Magellan was a Portuguese explorer hired by Spain to travel the world and conquer it. Prior to this event, the archipelago of islands did not have a collective name, yet it did support a complex and diverse political structure with city-states forming allegiances with one another depending on language and ethnicity.
The Philippines remained under Spanish rule until the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, when Spain ceded the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the US for $20 million. Prior to this, a wave of pro-sovereignty ideology had already swept through the Philippines, so the residents of the colony did not appreciate switching over to American rule. The Philippine War for independence then started soon after in 1899, lasting for two years and causing thousands of deaths, at the end of which they remained under American control. In 1935, the colony became an autonomous commonwealth, with a plan to become an independent country within the ensuing decades. The Philippines was briefly invaded by Japan during World War II, but they were fought off by the US with Filipino help, and the Philippines was granted independence after the war in 1946.
Throughout history, the area known as Poland has gone by many names. These have included Rzeczpospolita, Sarmatia, Scythia, Polska, Polonia, Lehistan, Lenkija, and Lengyelorgszag, to name a few. The name "Poland" refers to the fact that the Polans, a West Slavic tribe, lived in the area now known as Western Poland around the 9th century. This was in the Warta River basin, today in western Poland. The word "pole" is a Proto-Slavic term meaning "open area" or "plains," indicating that the first Poles were so-called "people of the fields."
The nation of Poland has endured through history's hardships, and Polish culture is a strong and defined one. Its small agricultural villages were often invaded throughout the Middle Ages, from the Germanic tribes to the Mongols, but in the 1500s it became a large state with a certain degree of power. The 1800s saw it at the whims of large, powerful nations like Russia and Prussia, only briefly regaining its independence before two World Wars severely damaged the country. WWII was particularly catastrophic as it brought the near annihilation of Poland's Jewish population by the Nazis, as well as millions of its non-Jewish peoples. In the aftermath of that war, they remained under the totalitarian rule of the Soviet Union for decades. Workers led the struggle against the Communist government until it finally fell in 1989, paving the way for democracy in the country. It is today a member of both NATO and the EU and has fostered strong ties with Western Europe.
Located on the borders of Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile in South America, Peru gets its name from a Quechua Indigenous word. This term means “land of abundance,” referring to the riches of the Inca people who ruled this area for hundreds of years, possibly beginning in the 1200s and lasting until colonization by the Spanish in 1535. The Indigenous peoples of Peru remained under Spain's rule as the surrounding colonies began to rally for their independence at the beginning of the 19th century until the South American revolutionary Simón Bolívar led the colony to freedom in 1824, but the struggles did not end there.
Peru's passage from a colony to an independent state was riddled with difficulty. Bolívar's departure in 1826 left a seat at the top of the state many were eager to fill. Peru passed through the short-lived reign of different military leaders, and in the latter half of the 19th century the country was in a rather difficult war with Chile that had lasting damages on Peru's financial state. The turn of the century finally saw favourable conditions for the country's social improvement: a desire to better its reputation on the world stage, the beginnings of a reputable political scene and increased mineral production leading to economic gain are some of these. Today, tourism, as well as natural mineral resources and agriculture serve the country’s economy.
As part of Europe and the Iberian Peninsula, the state of Portugal has a strong history going back almost 1,000 years. The name Portugal loosely means “beautiful port.” This nation is said to be named after its second largest city, Porto, called Portus Cale in Latin. "Portus" can be translated into English as “port,” and “Cale” has varying definitions. Some say it meant "warm" in Latin, others say it meant “tranquil,” and others still say the word refers to the Castro people, also known as “Callaeci” or “Gallaeci.” Given Portugal's temperate weather however, it can be easy to see how the words likely refer to a warm, pleasant, tranquil sea port.
A monarchy ruled the country for hundreds of years until 1911, when a revolution led to the assassination of the last king, Manuel I, along with his son. Portugal then endured several authoritarian governments, most notably under the fascist Antonio Salazar, whose rule plunged Portugal deeper and deeper into ruin, causing deplorable conditions in the few colonies it still had at that point which brought revolt and deaths of thousands of Portuguese soldiers. 1974 saw a political coup and a revolution that overthrew the ruling class and made space for Socialist and Marxist parties to enter the scene and fill the voids. What followed was a period of decolonization, persistent struggles against corrupt leadership in politics and workers unions, and finally stabilization in the 21st century.
Papua New Guinea
The name "Papua New Guinea" has a slightly simple origin. The country got its present name in the 1500s when the Portuguese explorer Jorge de Meneses first came upon it. De Meneses referred to one of the islands as the "Ilhas dos Papuas" which translates somewhat disrespectfully to the "land of fuzzy-haired people." A few decades after this, another explorer, this time from Spain, came to the islands and called it New Guinea, as he found the people, who were of Melanesian ancestry, to resemble those he had seen in Guinea, Africa. Hence, we now have “Papua New Guinea.”
The country of Papua New Guinea occupies one half of the island called New Guinea, along with smaller islands near it. The other half of New Guinea, on the West side, is comprised of the Indonesian provinces Papua and West Papua. The island was occupied as early as 50,000 years ago, and there is evidence of extensive agriculture dating back 7,000 years. The Indigenous peoples of the islands now comprising Papua New Guinea lived as isolated tribes, briefly observed by some like De Meneses, until the Dutch claimed the western part of New Guinea island as their colony in 1828, beginning the colonization process of the island and those surrounding. The southeastern part of the island was claimed by the British later on in the 19th century, and the German New Guinea Company began administrating the remaining section of the island in 1884. Interestingly, it was a battleground in both World Wars, and as a result Australia took over the German portion of the island.
After WWII, the Australians underwent a process of preparing the people of their portion of New Guinea for a process of decolonization, a long transition involving education, improving medical and social services, and developing political structures. The territory achieved self-governance in 1973, and full independence in 1973. Since then, the country has struggled to assert itself on the world stage and modernize the population, the majority of whom still live in rural conditions.
Paraguay is a landlocked country in South America located between Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina. Its name is said to originate from the Guaraní language of its people. In it, "para" means "water," and "guay" means "birth." The country is said to be named after its principal waterway, the Paraguay River, which is the birthplace of a lot of the country’s water, a mainstay for life.
The Guaraní people lived in the forest of modern-day Paraguay for thousands of years, cultivating corn, hunting and fishing and living in semi-nomadic tribes. Spanish settlers searching for gold settled somewhat peacefully among the Guaraní of the region in the mid-1500s. The two ethnicities mixed considerably, becoming what is now the rural population of Paraguay which still identifies strongly with its Guaraní culture. Jesuits missions arriving in the 1600s were a significant force in bringing the Guaraní into Christianity and European ways of living and dominated for many years until their influence in the region was defeated in 1776. The Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata was born, with Buenos Aires as its capital, and Paraguay was part of this Spanish state.
Paraguayans resented the constraint of the new state, and when they were called on to defend Buenos Aires from the Portuguese from Brazil, they led a coup and declared their independence in 1811. As with many other countries on this list, independence did not bring smooth sailing for the rest of history. The country remained under the dictatorship of the Francia regime for the first 29 years of its existence, after whose death the political class, who had not had the opportunity to flex their ruler muscles under the authoritarian, attempted to modernize the country. After several wars, another authoritarian government, and finally a 1989 coup, democracy slowly infiltrated the country. Today, soybean production is a significant driver of their economy, along with forestry and fishing.
Palestine was officially recognized as a state by the United Nations in 1988, and since this time, many other organizations and countries have followed suit. Occupying a small piece of land in the Middle East, its name is believed to come from the word “Philistia.” This label refers to the Philistines who lived in this area in the 12th century B.C.
The area Palestine is situated in is highly contested and has been the location of violent land seizures. Surrounding Israel claims the territory is rightfully theirs due to its significance in Judaism, but the area is also important in both Christianity and Islam. Much of the land is globally recognized as Israel, which the Arab population of Palestine and its allies resist. Only time will tell how the decades-long conflict will be resolved, if at all.
Yes, Panama is one of those small slices of land that form Central America, connecting North and South America. The Panama Canal, a man-made waterway, allows ships to pass from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Caribbean Sea without having to go all the way down and around South America and back up.
The name "Panama" is said to come from an Indigenous word meaning “abundance of fish”, originating from the country’s first inhabitants. This former Spanish colony has had significant US influence throughout its existence, and it is now a melting pot of Indigenous, Spanish and American/English language, culture and traditions.
A country that consists of hundreds of coral and volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, Palau is a tiny piece of tropical paradise. Agriculture, along with fishing and tourism make this country run, and the US dollar is its official currency. This territory shows evidence of a vibrant community before contact with westerners. Those first contacts in the 1800s were occasional and small, but whalers and traders brought disease and left firearms, two things that contributed to a number of deaths on the islands. After administration by the American Navy, it became part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947, still under US administration. It became internally self-governing in 1981, the same year it adopted its own constitution, and in 1994 it became an independent state in free association with the US.
As with any family history, some facts regarding the origins of a country’s name are easy to uncover. In contrast, some others may still be disputed or could lie lost to the sunsets of yesterday, never really to be known. What is known is that every country, small or large, rich or poor, has something interesting about how it was developed, even if it starts with the letter P.