Carol Bakker has a question:
is there a “rule” for using motherland and fatherland? Do northern countries tend to use fatherland more?
The Wikipedia article on fatherland lists close to 50 languages/countries that employ a term that’s the equivalent of “fatherland.” Location, north or south, doesn’t seem to have much to do with it.
It’s not surprising that fatherland would be the term for one’s native country in any language that has any historical association with the Romans; the Latin word for “fatherland” is patria.
In the OED the expression Mother country has an earlier documentation date than fatherland, but fatherland precedes motherland:
1587 Mother country: a country in relation to its colonies.
1595 Mother country: one’s native land
1623 fatherland: country of one’s birth
1711 motherland: a country as producer of anything; one’s native country
In the 1930s the expression “the Fatherland” was widely used to refer to Germany. For many English speakers the association remains. When the United States adopted the term “Homeland Security” after the attack on the World Trade Center, the expression bothered me no end. “Homeland” made me think “fatherland” and that made me think of Nazis. “Homeland security” no longer raises hackles, but the word fatherland still holds negative connotations for me.
A country closely associated with the word motherland is Russia. In fairy tales, and in Russian literature before 1917, one often encounters the expression “Mother Russia.” After the Revolution, the Soviets preferred the expression Rossiya-Matushka, which I’m told translates as “Mother Motherland.”
WARNING: Read the readers’ comments before repeating any of the remarks about Russia. Actual Russian speakers disagree. –Maeve
As to a “rule” for the use of fatherland vs motherland, I think the choice would depend upon the connotation sought by the author in a particular context. Fatherland suggests government and order. Motherland connotes birth and nurturing.