There is an old name of a country and its description:

Persia: The land and people in southwestern Asia from the ancient Sassanian empire to the modern nation state of Iran, prior to 1935.

I found the description wrong grammatically because the name only refers to the land not people who are Persians/Iranians not Persia.

Is it correct to use the name of a country for the land and its people both in standard English?

P.S: It is the link: https://history.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/416/some-mistakes-in-persias-tag-information and here: https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/persia but according to the link which has been sent by coleoptrist as a comment under this topic they have added something to the tag Persia recently so the content has changed!

  • I think you might need to re-word the question as it doesn't reflect the details you have provided (may be the reason for the down votes), as it is a valid question. In answer to your question I think that one is meant to guess that the people are Persian. – camden_kid Mar 12 '13 at 13:26
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    What about nomadic nation-peoples, like the Lapps? – Robusto Mar 12 '13 at 13:42
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    In your stated case, it is simply an error. – coleopterist Mar 12 '13 at 13:46
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    The name of a country represents not just the geographical boundary but it's citizens to. If one wants to refer solely to the people than one would say Persians. – SmokerAtStadium Mar 12 '13 at 13:47
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    You're right, if you remove 'the land' you get "Persia: the people in ..." which is terribly wrong. – Mitch Mar 12 '13 at 16:54

I think the confusion stems from the fact that a "nation" is a rather amorphous thing. I recall a Middle School geography lesson on Alexander the Great in which I asked what was meant when it was said that "He conquered the land from ... to ..." Though my classmates laughed at me, I still think it is a valid question. To be a part of a "nation" or a "country" or a "state" is not nearly as clear cut as it seems it should be; just ask the people of Alsace-Lorraine, Southern Morocco, Isreal-Palestine, or any number of other areas in conflict.

If you ask an Orthodox Jewish settler to define "Israel" you will get a very different answer than if you ask the same of a member of the Al Aqsa Brigades. The same is true of the word "Persia."

Ultimately, however, terms like this don't mean anything if it isn't for the people. While they are typically tied to a specific geographic area, when the people who live there no longer identify with that term, the "country" effectively ceases to exist. We still use the term Persia because people who live there call themselves Persians. We do not, however, use the term Harappan any longer because even though there are still people who live in Northern India, they no longer use that term to describe their land, people, and culture.


Metonymy is the use of a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept.

For instance, "Hollywood" is used as a metonym (an instance of metonymy) for the US cinema industry, because of the fame and cultural identity of Hollywood, a district of the city of Los Angeles, California, as the historical center of film studios and film stars. A building which houses the seat of government or the national capital is often used to represent the government of a country, such as "Westminster" (Parliament of the United Kingdom) or "Washington" (United States Government).

[More from Wikipedia]

Thus this could be an example of metonymy: using "Persia" to refer to the people of the country. However, such a use would be clumsy; it appears that the quotation is from a dictionary definition which has been truncated for reasons of space and where Persian would normally be used to describe the nation itself.

  • I checked dictionaries and didn't find such a thing (it appears that the quotation is from a dictionary definition...) if not I didn't ask it. – Persian Cat Mar 12 '13 at 14:05
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    I think it is akin to the Red Sox Nation. The collective fans of the Red Sox make up this nation; it goes beyond geographic boundaries. – Kit Z. Fox Mar 12 '13 at 14:07
  • Now I have to go and search what Red Sox is! :") – Persian Cat Mar 12 '13 at 14:10

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