Eli5: Why do some nations use an Internet address suffix derived from their English name and others use the native nation name?



IE, why does Japan use .jp and not .ni? While Germany uses .de and not .ge?

In: Technology

Probably because of already other existing TLD’s that would conflict with the choice.

.ni = Nicaragua
.ge = Georgia

As for why English name? IANA (the organization that maintains these lists) is owned by ICANN, which is headquartered in California.

Most of the top level country domains, (such as .de or .tw) were (mostly) directly taken from earlier assigned two-letter country codes used in other international things, such as banking, and were defined and agreed upon international standards. Generally, these two letter codes were derived from the English names, but there are lots exceptions.

You can look at all the top level domains [here](https://www.worldstandards.eu/other/tlds/) and see its a pretty jumbled bag between english language names and not as there are plenty of english and plenty of ones that are in local languages or other changes. Only a few countries had “issues” with their codes, notably, the UK’s assigned two-letter codes in previous international standards is generally gb, but for the country domain, they decided to use .uk

Basically, domain names like .ru, .jp, .ca are all individually controlled by their respective governments. You cannot, for example, be based in the US and get a .mx domain.

In the early days of the internet, domain names would tell you something about the nature of the website; .com was a commercial site, .edu was a school, etc.

Countries use these specific domain names to differentiate a website that is specific to their country. This can help if a business, for example, has different operations in different countries, or simply just to specify that a website is unique to a country.

It should be noted though that any country can use .com, .net, etc.

ICANN has typically, with a few notable extensions, worked with the ISO 3166-1 country codes for each country. The most notable exception being the UK using .uk instead of .gb as it would have been if consistent with the ISO 3166-1 code (The ISO typically doesn’t use self descriptors like Kingdom or Democratic when deciding country codes)

So it ultimately comes down to how ISO felt the day it was all decided and how much soft power a country has. The Euro countries typically had a lot of soft power in these organizations so they got their country codes in native languages or using traditional names for their countries. For example, Spain is es not sp because the native name for it is España. Switzerland is ch not sw because of its name of Confoederatio Helvetia in Latin which the French, German, Italian, and Romansh speakers could all agree on as a neutral name.

You also need to keep in mind that a lot of countries have conflicting sets of possible short codes. So for instance ni is the ISO country code for Nicaragua. Nicaragua is also the name of the country in the native language so there’s not exactly a good second to boot them over to. On the np side we have Nepal which is its name both in its native language and English so that’s out too. Japan is widely known as Japan in English so it ended up getting jp so Nicaragua could have ni and Nepal get np.

It’s not perfect and not even internally consistent at times (for example ISO allocated East Germany dd even though it typically didn’t do self-descriptors like “Democratic” in picking country codes but did with East Germany who were the DDR) but it ended up being workable for all involved.

The country codes were directly pulled from the ISO 3166 list of country codes.


This list was first published in 1974, predating most ideas of computers being commonplace and needing a common language and alphabet for most functions. Since it was a Latin Alphabet representation, countries that didn’t use the Latin Alphabet weren’t necessarily treated the same as those that did. Since Germany used the Latin alphabet, they would be more insistent on having their own country name represented. Since Japan didn’t use the Latin alphabet, they may have accepted that the country code should represent how countries that *do* use the Latin alphabet see them.

The internet suffixes come from an older list of country abbreviations that has been around since the 70s.


Using this existing list allowed the people who did DNS to avoid any trouble of having to deal with the politics of what does and does not count as a country or territory.

They let the UN do that.

The codes on that list are mostly derived from the names of the country in their own languages or sometimes in English, especially if their native language isn’t commonly written in the Latin alphabet. Since transliteration of one script into another can vary a bit, the short form may be different from how the countries named is commonly spelled today.

Some exceptions include Switzerland which has three different major language groups and their country code is from neither of the languages spoken there nor English, but from Latin (CH from Confoederatio Helvetica).

Sometimes the most obvious code for a country is already taken by another one that was earlier or simply bigger and more important and a slightly less obvious has been chosen.