What are the different connotations of motherland and fatherland? NOAD defines both as "a person's native country," though it adds "esp. when referred to in patriotic terms" for fatherland. The words, though, are not one. How are they different? Do they convey different meanings? Are they affected by other languages which use gendered equivalents--as in, is fatherland influenced by Spanish patria, etc?

Before you start yelling duplicate! I am aware of the previous question "Homeland" vs. "motherland" vs. "fatherland". The answers there, though, only differentiate motherland and fatherland from homeland; they make no distinction between the gendered terms.


I am wrestling with this question at the moment in writing about Portugal: it seems to be a matter of semantics. In the English language, one generally refers "motherland," coupling it with the female "she" in reference. Ex: "Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering ..." (Cecil Spring Rice, Urbs Dei, 1908) and also Britannia herself. In Portugal it seems "fatherland" is preferred when talking of one's homeland in general terms, but "a minha terra" - feminine - when placing oneself within the country. The difference may seem slight, but it is curious that "fatherland" tends to denote pride and a even a hint of militarism, whereas "motherland" as used in English invokes the concept of a mother's comforting love.

I am currently trying to explore this in a little more detail with academic colleagues in Portugal.

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WP seems to be quite clear and sure of the distinction between fatherland and motherland:

Fatherland is the nation of one's "fathers", "forefathers" or "patriarchs". It can be viewed as a nationalist concept, insofar as it relates to nations. (Compare to motherland and homeland.)

… the term was used throughout Germanic language countries without negative connotations (e.g. in Hermann Broch's novel The Sleepwalkers), or often to refer to their homelands much as the word "motherland" does. For example, "Wien Neêrlands Bloed", national anthem of the Netherlands between 1815 and 1932, makes extensive and conspicuous use of the parallel Dutch word. In most European countries it is still the norm to use the term "fatherland" …

The article also explains the connotations of the expression fatherland and why it is no longer "used often in post-World War II English".

And goes on to list, on the same page, the groups that refer to their native country as a "fatherland" (or rather, the most corresponding term to the English word in their languages), or, arguably, associate it primarily with paternal concepts.

Compare: motherland (=homeland)

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    Can you give those connotations? I see no difference here except mother and father, and that doesn't add anything. – Mitch Dec 21 '13 at 14:47
  • @Mitch There's plenty. Click on the second link. – Kris Dec 22 '13 at 6:30
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    Since this is an SE site, it's best not to leave actual content in links but repeat the salient points here. – Mitch Dec 22 '13 at 19:40
  • @Mitch & 1-more: Edited, including what is considered relevant to the question. I have excluded references that I personally considered better left at the source, even if relevant from the 'history of language' perspective. – Kris Dec 23 '13 at 6:30
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    I know you worked really hard on getting this question right, but I still don't see anything at all in your answer that helps to differentiate between motherland and fatherland other than noting trivially that one involves mother and the other father. The question is all about -why-, the content of a a male-centered word rather than a female one. What are the differences? Both are nationalistic. Is fatherland more militaristic? Is motherland more about tilling the soil? What is it beyond repeating male vs female? – Mitch Dec 23 '13 at 20:04

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