Q. Dear Sir/Madam, Is the article of the country Gambia capitalized or not? Is it “The Gambia” or “the Gambia”? The information regarding this question is conflicting. Thank you!
A. CMOS usually treats an initial the before the name of a country or other such entity as part of the surrounding text (see CMOS 8.45). Some countries get an article but others do not, usually as a matter of common usage (e.g., the United States of America, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, but Costa Rica, Estonia, and China).
It’s rare, on the other hand, for an initial “the” to be considered a formal part of a geographic name. Among cities, there’s The Hague (in the Netherlands) and The Dalles (in Oregon) and names like Los Angeles and Las Vegas that include a Spanish definite article. Among the world’s countries as they are known in English, there are only three with an initial “the”: El Salvador, The Bahamas, and The Gambia (see this list from Britannica).
The article in a name like El Salvador (Spanish for “the savior”), like the articles in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, generally remains capitalized in an English-language context. (If The Hague retains its capital T, that’s almost certainly because the name is translated from the Dutch Den Haag.) As for The Gambia and The Bahamas, the capital T in those two names apparently reflects the usage in the respective constitutions of those two countries (see the Comparative Constitutions Project). And that’s how Britannica styles those names (see the entries for “The Bahamas” and “The Gambia”).
Meanwhile, the entries in Merriam-Webster list “Gambia or the Gambia” and “Bahamas or the Bahamas or The Bahamas”—suggesting not only that usage varies but that a lowercase t may be more common when the article is used with either name. And though an editor applying Chicago style would ordinarily defer to Merriam-Webster (and choose lowercase), you can cite Britannica if your preference is for The Gambia. Just be sure to switch to lowercase when the article belongs to the surrounding text, as in “the Gambia River” or “the Gambian coast.”