Why do country/state names that start with "A" end with "A"?

With very few exceptions, every continent, country and U.S. state that starts with the letter “A” ends with the letter “A”, at least in English. Even the one U.S. state that doesn’t fit this standard is pronounced as if it does, Arkansas. What linguistic custom or convention is responsible for this. It can’t be a coincidence.

Why not? A quick search of Countries of the World only showed about a dozen countries that start with A. Of the other countries, a goodly number of them end with A as well. I don’t think this is such a representative sample of How Places are Named. Have you looked at lists of cities as well?

As far as countries go, -ia is a very common ending. I assume it means “land” or somesuch in Greek or Latin. There are lots of countries that end in -ia that don’t start with A, too, so there’s not necessarily a link. Romania, Serbia, Mongolia, Namibia, etc. So what you’re seeing there may just be a coincidence.

Sure it can. Lots of country and state names end in “a”.

Out of the 50 US states, 21 end in the letter “a”. That’s almost half. So it’s hardly a huge coincidence that out of the four that start with “a”, three end with “a”.

Similarly with countries: I haven’t counted them up, but “-ia” is a pretty common suffix for country names (Bolivia, Nigeria, Romania, Russia, and so on and so on). So again it’s no surprise that most of the countries that start with “a” also end with “a”. (Nine out of 11, with the exceptions being Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.)

Only two “A” countries don’t end in “A”, and they’re both Muslim. Considering all other nations, all continents and all U.S. states fit the mold, there must be some convention. The starting and ending letter for nations and states run the gamut, but those that start with “A” almost invariably end with “A”.

Somebody lost a game on a long car trip, eh? (Psst - Azerbaijan.)

But they don’t. As mentioned above, of the 50 US states, 21 end in the letter A.


Also, you’re looking at the English spelling of countries. Translate into the native language and you might not see the same results.

Austria = Oesterreich for example.

even better, the Republic of Albania becomes Republika e Shqipërisë (it’s pronounced liked it’s spelled) :wink:

Come on, folks. I addressed most of your replies in my OP.

Arkansas - Yes, as I said, it ends in an “s” but is still pronounced like an “a”, actually lends credence to my point.

Azerbaijan - I referenced in my second post, along with Afghanistan.

I acknowledged that the names are the English versions.

Yes, many states and countries end in “a”, but virtually ALL of them that start with “a” also end in “a”, certainly not the case with any other starting letters.

For example: There’s Montana, but there’s also Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi and Missouri. There’s Bolivia, but there’s also Bhutan, Belgium, Britain, Belarus, Barbados, Brazil, etc.

A simple look at the numbers and you’ll see that fully 90% of states/countries/continents that start with A end with A (the two exceptions being geographically and ethnically similar to each other.) It’s not even close to that for any other starting letter. So, is it just a giant coincidence? Or is there an etyomological reason for it?



Well, to me it sounds like it ends with a W.

No, it doesn’t. We’re talking about spelling, not pronunciation. Be consistent.

There are only 50 states, 21 of which end in the letter A, or 42%. There are 4 states that start with A and 3 of them end with A, or 75%. With a sample size of 50 states that’s not very unlikely simply by chance. **Every **state that starts with F, G, L, P, S, and V ends in the letter A. Coincidence? **Every **state/country/province that starts with Y ends in N.

As stated above, a lot of English names for countries end in “-ia”. For states, I think your sample size is too small to be meaningful. In general, lots of names end in vowels.

BTW, you left out Alberta.

Must be a silent A in Vermont. :wink:

There is a partial pattern. Take a look at the derivations from etymonline.com.

The Latinization of words probably does favors endings in “a” because that is the first nominative declension. Those nouns are usually feminine, and the names of countries are often feminized. Germans are unusual for thinking of the Fatherland rather than the Motherland or equivalent. America is also known as Columbia, and is personified by a female image. France also has one, known as Marianne. Liberty is also personified as female, as in Statue of. Therefore the -a ending shows up frequently in Latinized names, but more because it’s a subset of the female naming convention than anything else.

Arkansas and Kansas both follow this, since the “s” indicates a plural, of Kansa.

Most other such names also go back to Latin or Greek.

The route is not as direct in other names, so it may be that the tradition in Latin-derived languages of forcing an ending in -a influenced them, or it may be a coincidence to make them sound mellifluous. Alaska, Alabama, and Arizona are all from Indian names. Several other states end in a vowel (or vowel sound), or an “s” that is probably a plural and not pronounced: Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Hawaii, Kentucky, Utah, Illinois. Texas is also probably a plural that kept the ending sound.

So now we are over 30 states that have a vowel sound for an ending. That makes the -a sounds something less amazing. I wouldn’t go any farther than saying that there is a partial pattern but too many exceptions and unknowns to read anything more into it.

Okay, since it’s not obvious enough, we’ll run the numbers: Below are the percentages of starting letters that end in A, counting states, countries and continents:

A: 90%
B: 22%
C: 48%
D: 25%
E: 37%
F: 25%
G: 50%
H: 0%
I: 36%
J: 33%
K: 25%
L: 50%
M: 33%
N: 30%
O: 50%
P: 25%
Q: 0% (only Qatar)
R: 75% (only 4 examples)
S: 27%
T: 16%
U: 40%
V: 33%
W: 0% (only 3 examples)

Obviously, some letters are more numerously represented than others. But, however you want to slice it, the pattern is clear.

What is the pattern? You have one outlier, which isn’t particularly unusual.

Exapno Mapcase,

I appreciate your post. I started my pedantic statistical breakout before your post appeared. It seems fair to assume that since we’re already predisposed to end names in “a”, when we start with “a” it’s that much more aesthetically pleasing to end that way.