Despite the countless television shows, newspaper reports, and discussions in pubs around the world about Brexit, almost no one knows the difference between England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, Wales, etc. Here’s an explanation, from indeed not so simple differences:
The United Kingdom (UK)
UK is short for “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” This is not a short country name. The country itself consists of four different states – England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Great Britain is not a country. It is a landmass. It is known as “Great” as it is the largest landmass of the “British Isles” and consists of the countries England, Scotland, and Wales.
The name Britain comes from Latin “Britannia.” The “Great” came when King James I wanted to make it clear that he was not only the king of Roman Britain (which included only England and a little bit of Wales) but the whole Island. To make matters worse, Roman Britain also included the small French neighbor Brittany.
To add a little complexity: some islands are added to the Great Britain landmass – such as Isle of Wight to England and Isle of Skye to Scotland. So political Great Britain is a little bit bigger than geographic Great Britain.
“The British Isles” is the name of a geographic group of islands. These include Great Britain, Ireland, The Isle of Man, The Isles of Scilly, The Channel Islands (including Guernsey, Jersey, Sark, and Alderney) and about 6,000 smaller islands.
Like Wales and Scotland, England is seen as a separate country. But these are not sovereign states. England is the largest country in the United Kingdom in population and landmass. It is therefore not surprising that England is often (even if incorrectly) used to describe the UK.
Ireland – also known as Eire – is the second largest British Isle and is divided into the UK’s associated Northern Ireland and the independent Republic of Ireland. It is not uncommon to abbreviate the Republic of Ireland with Ireland, but this means Ireland without Northern Ireland associated with the UK.
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