England, Great Britain, and the UK: What's the Difference?
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!
Project Britain Mandy Barrow (UK Picture taken from source as well)