khe12 (khe12) wrote in linguaphiles,

Definite article before proper nouns in English

There are several country names in English which are used with the definite article. I'd like to know the reason of this rule. I can understand why the definite article is used with "the Netherlands" and "the Hague", but I have no idea why it is (was?) necessary with "the Ukraine" and "the Sudan". Does anybody know the origin of this rule?
PS: I'm Russian myself and I know the etymology of the word "Ukraine" in Russian. Yes, if there were articles in the Russian language, this name would be used with the definite article. But why is (was?) it used in English in such a way? 
Thank you for your answers, and excuse me for my poor English. 

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