Why is France . . . called France?
What’s in a name? It turns out, in the case of France, quite a lot.
It comes from the Latin Francia which means ‘realm of the Franks’ and referred to a tribe who lived in what is now France during the Roman period. It is still known as Francia in Italian and Spanish, while Frankreich in German, Frankrijk in Dutch and Frankrike in Swedish all mean “Land/realm of the Franks”.
It is thought that ‘Franks’ comes from the Medieval Latin francus, which means free, exempt from service.
Informally, France is sometimes called l’Hexagone (the hexagon) in reference to the rough shape of metropolitan France – the country most people think of when they hear the name.
But it also has several overseas territories informally – and inaccurately these days – referred to as DOM-TOMs.
Collectively, all of France’s inhabited territories overseas – former colonies – are colloquially referred to as DROM-COM. They are home to 2.7 million people, around four percent of the French population.
Five former French colonies are officially overseas regions or departments – fully part of France and subject to French laws.
These include the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the eastern Caribbean, French Guiana, a small country on the northeastern coast of South America and the tropical islands of La Réunion and Mayotte which are found in the Indian ocean.
In fact, the flight from Paris to Réunion is, technically, the longest domestic flight in the world. It’s also true to say that the sun never sets on France, and also offers a pub question along the lines of ‘Which European country has a border with Brazil?’.
Other French territories, known as Collectivité d’outre-mer (COM), are more autonomous and can pass their own laws, although some areas like defence are run from Paris. They include French Polynesia (which includes Tahiti), Wallis and Futuna, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy.
Each of these places has varying degrees of autonomy from Paris, but they remain heavily reliant on French subsidies.
The collectivité outre-mer sui generis status of New Caledonia gives residents of the island the possibility to have both Caledonian and French citizenship. It also has its own armed forces. Residents recently narrowly rejected the idea of independence from France in a referendum.
In the past, the COM territories listed above were known as TOM territories.
The only French overseas territory still referred to under the TOM label are the uninhabited islands that make up the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. The only visitors are researchers working in scientific stations.