United Kingdom - Etymology and Terminology

Etymology and Terminology

See also: Britain (placename), Terminology of Great Britain, and Terminology of the British Isles

The name "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" was introduced in 1927 by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act. It reflected the reality that the de facto independence of the Irish Free State, created by the partitioning of Ireland in 1922, left Northern Ireland as the only part of the island of Ireland still within the UK. Prior to this, the Acts of Union 1800, that united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland in 1801, had given the new state the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Great Britain before 1801 is occasionally referred to as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain". However, Section 1 of both of the 1707 Acts of Union declare that England and Scotland are "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain". The term united kingdom is found in informal use during the 18th century to describe the new state but only became official with the union with Ireland in 1801.

Although the United Kingdom, as a sovereign state, is a country, England, Scotland, Wales and (more controversially) Northern Ireland are also referred to as countries, although they are not sovereign states and only Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved self-government. The British Prime Minister's website has used the phrase "countries within a country" to describe the United Kingdom. With regard to Northern Ireland, the descriptive name used "can be controversial, with the choice often revealing one's political preferences." Other terms used for Northern Ireland include "region" and "province".

The United Kingdom is often referred to as Britain. British government sources frequently use the term as a short form for the United Kingdom, whilst media style guides generally allow its use but point out that the longer term Great Britain refers only to the main island which includes England, Scotland and Wales. However, some foreign usage, particularly in the United States, uses Great Britain as a loose synonym for the United Kingdom. Also, the United Kingdom's Olympic team competes under the name "Great Britain" or "Team GB". GB and GBR are the standard country codes for the United Kingdom (see ISO 3166-2 and ISO 3166-1 alpha-3) and are consequently commonly used by international organisations to refer to the United Kingdom.

In 2006, a new design of British passport entered into use. Its first page shows the long form name of the state in English, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic. In Welsh, the long form name of the state is "Teyrnas Unedig Prydain Fawr a Gogledd Iwerddon" with "Teyrnas Unedig" being used as a short form name on government websites. In Scottish Gaelic, the long form is "Rìoghachd Aonaichte na Breatainne Mòire is Èireann a Tuath" and the short form "Rìoghachd Aonaichte".

The adjective British is commonly used to refer to matters relating to the United Kingdom. The term has no definite legal connotation, however, it is used in law to refer to UK citizenship and matters to do with nationality. British people use a number of different terms to describe their national identity and may identify themselves as being British; or as being English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, or Irish; or as being both.

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