The United Nations currently recognizes 195 countries on Earth (193 U.N. members and two observer states) as well as dozens of territories and other not-quite-countries regions. Other organizations such as the FIFA World Cup, acknowledge even more. No matter which final tally you prefer, the countries of the world are undeniably numerous and diverse, which means they can be filtered, grouped, and organized any number of ways—including the number of letters in their names. As a rule, countries with shorter names are less common than countries with longer names. For example, out of the nearly 200 countries in the United Nations, only ten—arguably eleven—have names that are four letters in length:
Countries whose names are four letters long:
Note that these are the countries' more commonly used informal names, not their official formal names. For example, Iran's formal name is the Islamic Republic of Iran, Oman is officially the Sultanate of Oman, and Laos is formally known as the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Nearly every country has a longer formal name, but these names tend to be unwieldy and are are rarely used outside of official ceremonies, proper titles, and legal proceedings.
Are there ten four-letter countries or eleven?
Although ten of the above countries are indisputably qualified, the tiny island nation of Niue is a debatable inclusion. Although it has a four-letter name, Niue is technically classified by the United Nations as a territory of New Zealand rather than a fully independent country. However, Niue is not a highly dependent territory, but a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand, and is treated as an independent state with regard to international law. As such, Niue appears on many lists of four-letter countries. It is included here for the sake of comprehensiveness, but those seeking 100% technical accuracy may wish to exclude it.
Country profiles of four-letter countries
Located nearly exactly in the center of Africa, placing it in both the northern and eastern hemispheres. Also referred to as the Republic of Chad, this landlocked African nation is surrounded by (clockwise) Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger. Chad is the 20th-largest country in the world (21st if one counts Greenland as its own country) and the 5th-largest country in Africa.
Chad's geography is a mix of sandy deserts to the north and greener savannahs to the south. Exotic wildlife such as elephants, lions, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, and more all call the country home—however, the poaching of elephants (for their ivory tusks) is a significant problem in the country. Chad is an underdeveloped country and the 9th-poorest country in the world according to the United Nations' Human Development Index.
This Latin American island country is located in the Caribbean sea, just east of Mexico and south of the U.S. state of Florida and the Bahamas. Known for its music, food, culture, and lush natural beauty, Cuba is a popular tourist destination. In fact, tourism is by far the largest contributor to Cuba's economy, though exports of sugar, tobacco, coffee, and skilled labor are also significant. Despite its beauty, life in Cuba is hard for many. The country is ruled by an authoritative regime that holds single-party elections, outlaws political opposition, heavily censors media and the press, and scores poorly on most measures of personal or political freedom.
Situated in the South Pacific Ocean, the Republic of Fiji is part of both Oceania and Melanesia, a grouping that includes fellow island nations Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. With a total population of 917,983 people, Fiji is home to around 0.01% of the world's total population. Roughly half of Fiji's citizens reside in cities such as the capital city Siva, with the other 50% making their homes in towns, suburban areas, and even in the mountainous countryside. Fiji has a tropical climate and is a major hub of tourism for the entire South Pacific region.
Formerly known as Persia, this oil-rich desert nation was home to one of the world's oldest civilizations, which eventually became arguably the world's first superpower: the Achaemenid Empire, also known as the first Persian Empire. Iran is one of the largest countries in Asia,, and plays a major role in Middle Eastern politics. Iran's varied geography enables a wide range of climate types, from arid deserts to subtropical forests, and its wildlife includes bears, cheetahs, wild pigs, gazelles, wolves, and panthers. Iran is ruled by an oppressive regime with a history human rights violations.
Like its neighbor Iran, Iraq is a Middle Eastern country that gave birth to some of the world's earliest civilizations—people have lived in the region since at least 6,000 BCE, and began developing one of the first known forms of writing around 3500-3000 BCE. Iraq's climate is predominantly arid or subtropical and includes mountainous forests, salt marshes, deserts, and more.
Like Iran, Iraq's economy is largely based around oil, though tourism is also important—the country is home to a vast array of important archeological sites, such as the Ziggurat, the Ishtar Gate, and the ancient cities of Ur and Nineveh.
Nestled between China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. While it might lack a coastline, the country does have an abundance of rivers, which it harnesses to provide hydroelectric power that is then sold to neighboring countries. Electricity is the country's largest export, though mining and a quickly expanding tourism sector contribute as well, giving Laos one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
The Laotian climate is mostly tropical savannah, with a distinct monsoon season running from May to October. The country is also archeologically important: In 2009, a 46,000-year-old skull—the oldest human fossil yet discovered—was found in a cave in the mountains of northern Laos, and evidence exists that an agricultural society has existed there since at least 4000 BCE.
Located in West Africa, Mali's territory is dominated by the massive Sahara Desert in the north and both the Niger and Senegal rivers in the more temperate and populated Sudanean savannah to the south. Mali's economy revolves heavily around mining, with gold making up more than 90% of the country's exports. Additional mined exports include uranium, limestone, phosphates, and salt. Farming, particularly of cotton, is another important industry. Mali's savannah region is home to sparse populations of African bush elephants, giraffes, wild dogs, antelopes, African buffaloes, and big cats including cheetahs, lions, and leopards.
This tiny Polynesian island nation has an area of just 261 km² (101 mi²) and a population of less than 2,000 people. Although considered an independent country under most circumstances, Niue is actually territory in free association with New Zealand, a country with which Niue has many close ties. New Zealand often represents Niue politically, the majority of people of Niuean descent live in New Zealand, and a Niueans are citizens of New Zealand as well.
Fishing, agriculture, and tourism are the main pillars of Niue's economy. Taro is the country's largest crop, followed by noni and vanilla, then by (in no particular order) tapioca, bananas, yams, coconut meat, passionfruit, and limes. Tourists are lured to Niue for the tropical environment, beaches, whale-watching, and astronomy—Niue became the world's first dark sky country in 2020, which provides ideal conditions for stargazing.
Located on the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula and bordered on two sides by the Indian Ocean, Oman is the oldest continuously independent Arab state. As the center of the country is largely desert, most of Oman's roughly 3.7 million people live in and around two coastal mountain ranges: the Al Hagar chain that runs along the country's northeastern border and the Dhofar mountains on the southwestern border.
Oman's economy is heavily dependent upon oil exports, though tourism is quickly becoming one of the country's largest industries. Whale watching is particularly popular, as the waters around Oman are home to sperm whales, pygmy blue whales, and the Arabian humpback whale, the only non-migratory humpback population in the world.
South America's third-largest country, Peru runs up the western edge of the continent like a spine, stretching from the southern tip (not far from the Antarctic Circle) all the way up to nearly touch the equator in the north. This extreme range of latitudes gives Peru a vast assortment of climate types. The northern half of the country is dominated by the lush, humid Amazon rainforest, but hot, dry deserts line the Western coastline and the middle longitudes run the gamut from snow-covered mountains to warm temperate zones to dry polar tundra. Predictably, Peru is also a megadiverse country, with more than 21,000 recorded species of plants and animals.
Many ancient cultures made their home in Peru. The Huaca Prieta settlement was occupied by humans as far back as 12,500 BCE. The Norte Chico civilization, which began around 3500 BCE, is one of the earliest known societies in the Americas. Finally, the mighty Inca empire left behind archeological wonders such as Machu Picchu and Sacsahuamán.
Sandwiched between Ghana and Benin, the tiny West-African country of Togo is one of the smallest countries (57,000 km²/22,008 mi²), in Africa and one of the narrowest countries (115 km/71 mi wide) in the entire world. It has a tropical, sub-Saharan climate well-suited to crops including cocoa beans, coffee, peanuts, cotton (a major cash crop), cassava, maize, millet, and rice. Mining is also important thanks to the county's generous deposits of phosphate, limestone, marble, and salt.
Togo's population is growing rapidly, which is leading to challenges including deforestation and wildlife habitat loss. Several national parks have been established to provide havens for the native fauna, which includes giraffes, lions, hyenas, cape buffalo, cranes and storks, and a few remaining elephants.