The Barrier of a Common Language: What’s in a Name?

I haven’t written one of these for a while, with all the excitement of Christmas and New Years’. For anyone reading one of my notes for the first time, hello. I sometimes write about the differences between the way people speak and write in Canada (and the USA) to how they speak and write in The UK.

For those of you who have read these before, since the last post I wrote, at work  I have been accused of being Australian on half a dozen occasions, a New Zealander twice and a Cockney twice.

What’s In A Name?

A lot of people over here have difficulty understanding what the difference is between The United Kingdom and Great Britain, not to mention the constituant countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  It’s a fairly simple concept, though I’m sure I will make it more confusing than it needs to be.

The United Kingdom is actually a shortened way of saying the proper name for the country:  The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Once you grasp this, the rest comes easily… because by definition, the difference between The UK and Great Britain is that The UK includes Northern Ireland and Great Britain does not.

Therefore: Great Britain is England, Wales and Scotland.

The UK is England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The nationality of people from these countries is “British” (many will claim to be “English”, “Scottish” or “Welsh” but they are officially British as their passports will confirm).  This is, of course, a particularly contentious issue in Northern Ireland – citizens there may elect to also hold Irish citizenship. People’s country of residence will be “The United Kingdom of Great Britian and Northern Ireland’ (which is also written on the front of their passports). On official forms, it is normal to put “UK” or “United Kingdom”.

As far as International Politics is concerned, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are not countries. They have no seat in The UN, etc…  They are represented by The UK.

Sport is a different matter.  There is, of course, an English football team as well as a Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish team. The same applies in Rugby.  This is because, historically, all of these teams played against each other and rivalries and identities grew.  Each country has its own football league (although many Welsh teams play in the English Premier League). These “home countries” do not wish to form a British or UK team. They have been around for a lot longer than The World Cup has been around.  Therefore, they are allowed to compete separately.

The Olympics is more confusing. “Great Britain and Northen Ireland” is the name of the competing team, often shortened to “Team GB”. Citizens in Northern Ireland may also hold Irish citizenship, allowing them to compete with either Team GB or Ireland. There is no British flag, so Team GB uses the Union Jack (The flag of The UK).

Here is an image from Wikipedia to make things even more confusing:

The United States of America is usually shortened to “America” by British speakers. Americans are more likely to refer to their country as “The US” or “The USA”.  To Americans, “America” can sometimes mean the entire landmass of The Western Hemisphere. Or what British People would call “The Americas”.  Both North and South America, in other words.

Of course British people often forget about poor old inoffensive Canada and can sometimes forget that it, too, is part of North America. This, despite Canada being the bigger of the two countries. It’s the inoffensive part that does it, I suppose.

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