Motherland or Fatherland?

Why do the inhabitants of some nations refer to the country as Motherland, and some Fatherland? The answer is a little complicated, unsurprisingly.

The use of both terms became most common in works of propaganda during World War II. This is particularly evident in the cases of The Soviet Union and Germany. Many Soviet propaganda posters of the time feature the phrase za rodinu! (For the Motherland!). Rodina, the Russian word for homeland, is a feminine noun, and many related words with the stem rod are associated with motherhood, fertility and procreation, so it perhaps makes sense that Russians would conceive of Mother Russia.

On the other side of things, German wartime propaganda often referred to the Vaterland. Interestingly though, German also contains the words Mutterland (motherland) and Heimatland (native land), so it seems like the use of Vaterland was a deliberate choice to convey a sense of strength and power.

Things can get confusing with Romance languages, which use words with roots associated with fatherhood (la patrie in French, la patria in Italian and Spanish), yet are also feminine nouns, so they can be equally translated as motherland or fatherland.

The fact that it’s so complex, and many languages allow one to use fatherland or motherland, probably speaks to our complex relationships with our homelands (isn’t it just so much easier to use that word!). We think of as stereotypically maternal: as providing for us, and caring for us. And yet, particularly in times of war or when conflict threatens, we want to see them as stereotypically paternal: strong and willing to defend us and attack anyone who threatens us.

So whichever you choose to use is up to you, depending on how you feel about your homeland (definitely less complicated!) at a particular moment.

7 thoughts on “Motherland or Fatherland?

  1. In addition to the words homeland, motherland and fatherland, what do you think of the word heartland? When I traveled to the city of Guanajuato in Mexico many years ago, it was described in travel books as being found in the heartland of Mexico, there are places in the U.S. that lay claim to this word as well. Your posts sure leave one thinking!

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    • That’s a very interesting word actually. It’s a word that gets used quite often but without any specific meaning. I’ve definitely seen it used a lot in reference to parts of the U.S, but without really explaining or analysing what it exactly means. It’s like it refers to a place that really defines that country, but in a way that can’t be expressed clearly. I think that vagueness is appropriate though, just as matters of the heart can be hard to define exactly :).

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  2. Hey, thank you for that article that I found personally very interesting. Being Russian I just would like to add some information concerning the word Motherhood and Fatherhood. In russian language you have the both “Rodina” – which is a feminine word and “Otetchestvo” – which is a masculine word.
    I believe that in the time of the Second World Word the world “Rodina” was more employed because the soviet union soldiers were being fighting for the piece of their households – their women, mothers, sisters, daughters, the land is also a feminine world. So the slogan of the time “Za Rodinu” – For the Motherland – means go ahead and protect what you are responsible for, what you care for. You also used a lot a word “propaganda” which means the information that is not objective and wrong, I am not fully agree on that. Since from my point of view the main objective of these slogans was to encourage the soldiers, to make appeal to their dignity and not to bring the confusion and the misleading information, though I’m pretty sure there were other slogans which were way more politically oriented.
    Thank you one more time for that post and for sharing your point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing, that’s some really interesting background! The word ‘propaganda’ is an interesting one, as it does have negative connotations, but it’s also something that’s often quite necessary, politically.


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