England, Great Britain, and the UK: What's the Difference?
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England, Great Britain, and the UK: What's the Difference?

A break down of the Countries and land areas that comprise the United Kingdom.

Let’s face it, we Americans are a little conceited. When it comes to being aware and informed of other nation’s politics, economy, and history we are not as educated as we probably should be. However, even the simplest of concepts is often overlooked by us. How many times have you heard the names Great Britain, England, and the UK and wondered “hmm, I wonder if that’s the same thing.” You think about it for a minute and then go on about your merry American dreams. Recently, I came across a simple Youtube video making me aware that these three terms are not necessarily interchangeable. It needs to be noted that this author will not be discussing all of the UK’s land areas, as they are massive and are a great part of our whole planet.

To start with, we’re going to examine the word country. If you define a country as a sovereign state, then this can be very confusing because although there are different countries in the UK, they are not considered sovereign in our terms. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the official name of what is commonly referred to as the UK (Barrow). It was officially formed January 1, 1801. To break it down even further, the UK is a combination of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It should be mentioned that most of Ireland (correctly called the Republic of Ireland) is now independent of the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland.

If you’ve had to read the last paragraph a couple of times, don’t be discouraged. It gets even more confusing. Let’s put aside Northern Ireland for a minute and talk about Great Britain. Many of us believe Great Britain and England are just interchangeable names of the same country. That is not entirely correct. Great Britain is actually a geographical area that includes three specific land areas. These areas are known as England, Scotland, and Wales. Although it is correct to consider them countries, they do not have independent legislature like the United States does (Aitken). Queen Elizabeth II is considered the Head of State as well as the Head of Commonwealth (other countries/land areas not discussed here) although her role serves no constitutional purposes. Basically, she is not what we would think of as The President. If it helps, try to think of them more like states. Each has specific laws and culture but the ultimate jurisdiction lies within the UK. Their names are more for geographical purposes than political purposes. For instance, in Indiana it is illegal to sell alcohol in places other than restaurants that also serve food on Sunday. In Ohio, you can still buy alcohol in convenience and liquor stores on Sunday (although there are some “dry” counties).

So, the United Kingdom contains Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain contains England, Scotland, and Wales. Think of it like a pyramid. This information is actually fairly elementary in nature, but for those of us in America that fell asleep during World History, it’s brand new information!

Source Links:

Project Britain Mandy Barrow (UK Picture taken from source as well)

What is the UK? Don Aitken


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Comments (9)

You answered some of my questions well in your nicely presented article.Thank you . Promoted since I don't have a vote.

I read with interest your take on the names of each of the United Kingdom's countries, and yes they are all different countries with their own seperate cultures, languages, monetary systems, regional governments and identities, and their names are not just attributed to them simply as a ' geographical purpose' , as you put it. When you get the chance please change that one sentence, as I will feel for you every time an irate Englishman, Welshman, Irishman or Scotsman reads that. We may well be called the United Kingdom, but we do not stand united with the ideaology of it. Too much bad blood towards my English forebears I'm afraid.

This article was written to help Americans understand it better, so I spoke in terms Americans understand. I'm sorry if it offends you, but to help someone from my country understand it I used the term "geographical area" because in America we think in terms of country and state. I used that as a way to relate the actualities instead of what people prefer. I did note each country has their own culture and system so perhaps you did not catch that, . This is not a complete break down of European geography, think of it more as they way you learn things in grade school -- oversimplified. I noted that as well. It's like I have a democratic President; it is what it is, although I do not agree with his ideology as well. In America we are not all united in terms of politics, religion, or cutlure, but we share the same land. Please know I was referring to geography only, not politics and ideology.

Could you provide me with a source or a link to verify that those names do not serve any geographical purpose, because if this information is wrong, I will correct it and site it.?

This is an outstanding piece of information.

This is great information and confusing too. I wondered how that happened.

Good work Audra. I 'am a Brit living in the USA and this is a question that my American freinds often ask. It always interests me when some Americans refer to my country as 'Great Britain' as opposed to just, Britain. I prefer the former, it gives me a sence of pride.

HI Audra, as a Scot, this was not offensive but I would add that there is another name - the British Isles - which includes the Republic of Ireland (also called Eire). The only time I get annoyed is when someone refers to England when they mean the whole of the UK, which you have not done. This is a great explanation :D

great bit of geographical info that really helped me shed some light on how the United Kingdom in divided up. Very helpful, thanks.