Rhodesia (name)

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"Rhodesia", depicted in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, showing North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia—amalgamated that same year into Northern Rhodesia (Zambia since 1964)—and Southern Rhodesia (renamed Zimbabwe in 1980)

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, an area today which is 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.

Origin of the name[edit]

When whites settled what became "Southern Rhodesia" in 1890, and when the British South Africa Company was chartered to administer "North-Western Rhodesia" and "North-Eastern Rhodesia", it was not under those names, but the names of the parts—"Mashonaland", "Matabeleland", "Barotseland", and so on. The territories were initially collectively referred to as "Zambesia" (Cecil Rhodes' preferred name), "Charterland" (Leander Starr Jameson's proposal) or "the BSAC territories". "Rhodesia" was used informally by the settlers from the start of white settlement, and was common enough usage for newspapers to start using it in articles in 1891. In 1892 it was used for the name of the first newspaper in Salisbury, The Rhodesia Herald. The BSAC officially adopted the name "Rhodesia" in May 1895, and the British government followed in 1898. "It is not clear why the name should have been pronounced with the emphasis on the second rather than the first syllable," Robert Blake comments, "but this appears to have been the custom from the beginning and it never changed."[1]

The first official use of "Rhodesia" was actually for a boma on Lake Mweru, established in 1892 near the mouth of the Kalungwishi River under the authority of Alfred Sharpe, the British Commissioner of the British Central Africa protectorate in Nyasaland. After "Rhodesia" became the official name of the territories in 1895, the boma's name was changed to "Kalungwishi". It was closed some years later.[2]

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.

Evolution of use[edit]

Present-day Zambia[edit]

Present-day Zimbabwe[edit]


  1. ^ Blake, Robert (1977). A History of Rhodesia (First ed.). London: Eyre Methuen. p. 114. ISBN 9780413283504. 
  2. ^ 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