The name "Rhodesia" first entered official use in 1895, when it was adopted by the British South Africa Company to refer to the land-locked country it controlled in southern Africa, equivalent to today's Zambia and Zimbabwe. It had already been in informal use among white settlers in the territory for about five years, who named their new home after Cecil Rhodes, the company's founder and managing director.
The land was bisected by a natural border, the Zambezi; the area to the north, officially designated "Northern Rhodesia" in 1911, has been Zambia since 1964, while the area to the south, dubbed "Southern Rhodesia" in 1901, became Zimbabwe in 1980. To confuse matters, self-governing Southern Rhodesia referred to itself simply as "Rhodesia" from 1964 to 1979, and in 1965 issued the Unilateral Declaration of Independence under that name. It then briefly renamed itself "Zimbabwe Rhodesia" in 1979.
During their existence, Northern and Southern Rhodesia were sometimes informally called "the Rhodesias". This usage fell from prominence after Northern Rhodesia became Zambia in 1964; until 1980, "Rhodesia" commonly referred to Southern Rhodesia alone. The name has not been in general use since 1980, aside from in a historical context.
In the two lists below, information is ordered roughly as follows:
- Name of entity,
- Nature of entity, and
- Years of existence.
- North-Western Rhodesia—British South Africa Company (BSA Co.) administered—1890;
- North-Western Rhodesia and North-Eastern Rhodesia—Protectorates—1893;
- North-Eastern Rhodesia—BSA Co. administered—1897;
- North-Western Rhodesia and North-Eastern Rhodesia—Amalgamated but administered separately—1899–1911;
- Northern Rhodesia—Protectorate under BSA Co.—1911–1924;
- Northern Rhodesia—British protectorate—1924–1953;
- Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland—Territory of Northern Rhodesia—1953–1964;
- Zambia—Independence granted—1964 onwards.
- Mashonaland and Matabeleland—BSA Co. protectorates—1888–1894;
- South Zambezia—Mashonaland and Matabeleland combined—1894–1895;
- Rhodesia—Protectorate combined with North Zambezia—1895–1901;
- Southern Rhodesia—South Zambezia separated from Northern Rhodesia—1901–1923;
- Southern Rhodesia—BSA Co. charter ends; British colony, with self-rule—1923–1953;
- Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland—Territory of Southern Rhodesia, retaining self-rule—1953–1963;
- Southern Rhodesia—Federation dissolved; British colony, retaining self-rule—1964–1965;
- Rhodesia—Unilateral Declaration of Independence, unrecognised state—1965–1979 (self-declared republic from 1970);
- Zimbabwe Rhodesia—Internal Settlement government, also unrecognised—1979;
- Southern Rhodesia—Lancaster House Agreement, temporary British colonial rule—1979–1980;
- Zimbabwe—recognised independence granted—1980 onwards.
Origin of the name 'Rhodesia'
The complexity of dates for the Rhodesian territories above is exacerbated by the fact that the name was not used at first. When settlers moved in to 'Southern Rhodesia' in 1890, and when the BSAC was chartered to administer 'North-Western Rhodesia' and 'North-Eastern Rhodesia', it was not under those names, but the names of the parts, e.g. Mashonaland, Matabeleland, Barotseland, and so on. Collectively the territories were referred to as Zambezia or the BSAC territories or Charterland. The BSAC and British government did not use the name Rhodesia officially until May 1895. However, Rhodesia started being used informally by the settlers, and became common enough usage for newspapers to start using it in articles in 1891. In 1892 it was used for the name of two newspapers, the Rhodesia Chronicle and The Rhodesia Herald.
Although 'Northern Rhodesia' was not an official name until 1911 when North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia were combined, the name was used informally from 1895 onwards when referring to those two territories collectively.
The first official use of Rhodesia was actually for a boma on Lake Mweru near the mouth of the Kalungwishi River in 1892 established under the authority of Alfred Sharpe, the British Commissioner of the British Central Africa Protectorate based in Nyasaland. After 'Rhodesia' became the official name of the territories in 1895, the boma's name was changed to 'Kalungwishi', and it was closed some years later.
- The Northern Rhodesia Journal online at NZRAM.org: "First Records-No 6. The Name Rhodesia", Vol II, No. 4 (1954) pp101-102.
- The Northern Rhodesia Journal online at NZRAM.org: J A Gray: "A Country in Search of a Name", Vol III, No. 1 (1956) pp75-78. See also the note on p82 about the Rhodesia Boma being located at Kalungwishi not Chiengi.
- General reference for names and dates of territories