When designing a data entry form for entering information about a person or an organization (e.g. customer info, international business partners, etc.), there arises a question about the best way to list nationalities/citizenships in a select box or typeahead.

Consider a form containing both an address section, including a "country" field, and separately a "nationality" field (since one does not necessarily imply the other).

The country field should clearly be backed by a simple list of country names. But I have had arguments over what should be listed in the nationality field. One approach is to just list country names there as well; the other is to use adjectives (e.g. "German" instead of "Germany"). On one hand, nationality and citizenship are probably more naturally expressed with adjectives. On the other hand, certain countries have adjectival forms such that it may be confusing to select that country in the address field, then try and find it in the adjective list, as it may show up in a totally different spot alphabetically.

This is not an issue for most countries, e.g. "Germany" → "German", "Japan" → "Japanese", etc. but there are several exceptions, which can be basically split into two cases:

  1. Countries with wordy prefixes, like "United States of America" or "People's Republic of China". "People's Republic" would appear in the "P" section for country, but "Chinese" would appear in the "C" section for nationality. This case isn't as problematic, since most or all cases can be solved by moving prefixes to the end, separated by a comma ("America, United States of", "China, People's Republic of").

  2. Countries whose adjectival form is significantly different from the country name, specifically those with a different first letter, e.g. "Netherlands" → "Dutch", "Côte d'Ivoire" → "Ivorian", "El Salvador" → "Salvadoran". This is the bigger point of contention.

The second case is really the one where the conversation gets hung up. It may be that if I'm not aware that "Dutch" is the correct adjective for people from the Netherlands, I probably will be confused if I enter "Netherlands" in the country field, then head to the nationality field and can't find "Netherlandian" or "Netherlandish" or anything else that looks right in the "N" section. "El Salvador" vs. "Salvadoran" is perhaps even more confusing, since a user would be almost correct in assuming they should look for something like "El Salvadoran", not realizing that the "El" is removed, but they will be a hundred items away from the correct adjective.

But with that said, this is certainly a minority case for most countries, and it may be that in the majority of these edge cases, the user is familiar enough to make the leap, or will be able to find out quickly enough.

So I'm unsure where I stand. Should a Nationality list use country names, or adjectives? Which will provide the better user experience overall?


I think this may be a labeling problem, rather than adjective problem. It seems like you're trying to capture country of residence vs. country of citizenship. My suggestion would be to label each appropriately so that you're only selecting from a list of countries, rather than disparate lists of countries for one entry and nationalities in the other. This will help with consistency and help reduce mental cost and fatigue for the user as they complete the form.


It should use country names to avoid confusion. A list with different names for the same country is really bad when it comes to scanning, especially if you don't add flags (which i wouldn't).

The biggest problem with adjectives is that there are no rules that determine how an adjective gets formed by its country name, this raises confusion and makes it harder for users when it comes to countries where it isn't clear (as you mentioned for example Netherlands / Dutch).

Since you want to provide information about the citizenship and not about the adjective linked to the country i say you should use the country name for both cases.

  • You say "a list with different names for the same country"; just to be clear, the "country" field is completely separate from the "nationality" field. I only mentioned "country" for comparison, and for the sake of the examples of possible confusion I mentioned when a user interacts with "country" and then interacts with "nationality" soon after; am I making sense? Maybe I should reword the question a bit. Separately, I don't really understand the question you pose in your last paragraph; could you rephrase it? – Ken Bellows Aug 1 '17 at 15:44
  • I edited my answer and removed the question, i think it makes more sense now. If a user interacts with "nationality" and "country" he should read the same, there is absolutely no reason to use the adjective, its unnecessary confusion and i cant see which values it would add. – Pectoralis Major Aug 1 '17 at 15:52

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