We are using https://github.com/umpirsky/country-list to populate our list of countries in our product. According to some comments I could find (https://github.com/umpirsky/country-list/issues/82), it's basically giving an easily accessible version of the country list database curated and maintained by http://site.icu-project.org/

Unfortunately, some of our users aren't familiar with the correct country names. For instance, one user complained that we don't have England or Great Britain as a country - because those aren't countries and the correct name is United Kingdom. Another user complained that we are missing America - unfortunately there the name is just United States (not United States of America, otherwise they would have found it in our autocomplete box).

While it would be possible to add sort of synonyms to the input fields, like it's suggested in What do you put in a country list for countries with more than one common name?, so that users can find the United Kingdom also as England, I'm very opposed to that idea for 3 reasons:

  1. It's clearly wrong, we'll store the information only as UK and not as England / Scotland / Wales
  2. On other screens we just display the country, so the user would get even more confused. First they choose England, and then if suddenly switched to United Kingdom.
  3. It seems like a lot of work to get it right. Same issue applies for Netherlands and Holland - especially in some German speaking regions those are used as synonyms, and other translations might have, depending on dialects / regions, other confusing synonyms, which we can't know about, unless some user would complain that that language is missing for them.

What is best practice to deal with it, without wasting too many hours on it?

Clearly, educating the users about geography isn't too nice.


I forgot an important part. The software in question is for the travel industry, and when you have customers / guests you need to register their citizenship / current address where they live. This is the part of the software, where users have trouble with the country list. We use it also in different places, to select the current address of the company or similarly, but there it's fine and there we could improve the usability by checking for IP addresses and similar.

So yes, a person from Netherlands, or even UK probably won't have a problem picking the correct name from the list, but a person from Germany and other countries, which is using the software to register the customer, might internally translate it to England for instance and look for England in their own language.

  • 1
    The cynic in me says wait a few years, and the UK names will come into line with expectations ;)
    – Franchesca
    Nov 6, 2018 at 8:27
  • I don't think any person from the Netherlands will be looking for a Holland as a country synonym ;-). That's a mistake people from abroad would make. The England/UK thing and America being a country seem more valid issues, as this is how people talk about it in daily life. You'll want to avoid sounding too patronising or conflict with existing notions ("I live in England, why is it turning into UK"). Offering suggestions, 'did you mean ...?' is both informative and a great recovery move on the users part (they have an action to follow, rather than them having to retype). Nov 6, 2018 at 8:36
  • @Wanda you are right, and the people from abroad are the problem, I've updated the question to show explain who is going to use it
    – peter
    Nov 6, 2018 at 8:45

2 Answers 2


Giving the user the possibility to search for countries with the unofficial name the only solution is to let the user search for the synonyms. Since the synonyms are not the official names of these countries you could implement it like this:

User types "Holland" the search result will be "no results - did you mean Netherlands (NL)". This way the user has to choose the official country which is displayed on other screens --> no confusion for the user.

The problem of not getting all the synonyms at once still exists. But if you have implemented the synonyms functionality it should be easy to apply further synonyms on user request.

About translations: Synonyms are not the same as translations. In terms of language there are two possibilities: display the country name in the language of the user interface (probably this is what the user expects) or use the official country name of the country which can be more then one in countries with multiple languages (e.g. Switzerland's official names = "Schweiz" "Suisse" "Svizzera" or Belgium's = "België" "Belgique" "Belgien").

  • 1
    I may be quite time consuming to come up with a comprehensive list of these kinds of synonyms. Can you suggest any resources for this kind of information?
    – Franchesca
    Nov 6, 2018 at 8:36

In addition to the list, you could present a little map (with pan and zoom), with pins in it for each of the options. Clicking on the country will select the correct item in the dropdown list, and selecting from the list will highlight the correct country.

This of course assumes that users who are unsure of the correct country would be able to find the correct area on the map.

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