Let's imagine there are two countries Molandia and Rolandia.

Both speaking the same language, but as they are nationalist countries, that language is named respectively molandese in Molandia and rolandese in Rolandia.

Both countries try to impose their variant of the language name on the international community.

  • Is there a (international?) law mechanism that would require Rolandia or Moldandia to apply within their respective countries, the other country's language name?

  • Is there a (international?) law mechanism that would restrict one of the countries to use its own name in international groups/forums like the UN, NATO or EU?

  • 1
    This is really a political question more than a legal one.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 7, 2020 at 18:08
  • I ask about the legal part, not the political one
    – serge
    Feb 13, 2020 at 9:38

1 Answer 1


There is no internationally-enforceable mechanism regarding how other people call something, or what alphabet can be uses to write a word. I can legally call that country between Bangladesh and Thailand "Burma" or "Myanmar", I can call Україна Ukraine, The Ukraine, or Ukrainia (the latter seems to be old-fashioned, but it's still legal). As a diplomatic matter, the US government seems to have settled on certain designations so that it uses the version "Myanmar" for official purposes although it includes "(Burma)" in popular communications (State Department travel advisories). If it wanted to, the US could call The Republic of North Macedonia by the name "Macedonia", though there would be political protests.

The EU, NATO, UN etc. can likewise set its own rules regarding names of countries. There are many additional complications in the case of countries that are not universally / widely recognized, such as Trasnistria and the Republic of Somaliland. If the president of the Republic of Somaliland sought to address the UN, his problem would not be what people would call his country, it is that the Republic of Somaliland is not "recognized" by the UN (it has no official status), or anyone else.

The question of "sameness" of language is a prominent feature of nationalist movements. Claims are made that Flemish and Dutch are "the same" or "different", likewise Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian, Montenegrin; Dari, Farsi and Tajik. Thus there is no real chance of litigating the matter of whether Moldovan and Romanian are the "same language" and which name should be used. But if the EU parliament wants to, it could rule that the language of Moldova is to be called "Romanian", or "Moldovan".

  • The question is rather not about the country name, because is to the country to decide their own name, but of the language one, that can be shared between countries, so, be a matter of diplomatic disputes hard to settle in the international law...
    – serge
    Feb 7, 2020 at 10:13
  • Flemish is about Flanders, that is not a subject of international law. However, if the Austria would impose the language name of "Austrian" there would be a conflict between Viena and Berlin, hard to settle...
    – serge
    Feb 7, 2020 at 10:17
  • About Moldovan and Romanian, there are the really same language, but witch of them is to apply, and has Romania any rights to impose to Moldovans one name to another? As well as is about if Moldova has a right to ask Romania to call the language "moldovan"?!
    – serge
    Feb 7, 2020 at 10:20
  • 5
    @Serge The point is that there is no need to "settle" the question one way for all purposes. No country can impose its laws on another country or on an international body except via political and diplomatic means. Each country and international body can do what it wants to do.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 7, 2020 at 18:11
  • @Serge That Flanders is not a sovereign state does not remove the question of what to call its language from the province of international law. In any event, the official name in Belgium of the language we're speaking of is "Dutch," not "Flemish"; the situation is similar to that of the German-speaking community in Europe which seeks to form a workable transnational identity for the language. The situation in the former Yugoslavia may be more relevant to Moldova.
    – phoog
    Feb 7, 2020 at 19:42

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