When our students arrive in this country they often want to know whether the correct name of the nation is the UK, Britain or England. What’s the difference between Britain & England? Are the people who live here called English or British? Is Wales a country? Is Scotland British? Is Ireland part of the United Kingdom?
The UK stands for the United Kingdom while GB stands for Great Britain. The national flag is called the Union Jack. There are four countries within the UK: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are all part of one nation which is a single state. The capital of the UK is London. English is the common language of the whole nation which is officially entitled “The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland” on citizens’ passports. If you are a citizen of this country you can call yourself British but you can also call yourself English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish depending on where you live.
The name Britain comes from the Latin word “Britannia” which was used by the Romans as their title for this island which they conquered in AD 43. However, because the Romans were unable to govern the whole of the island they divided Britannia between Albion (now England) and Caledonia (now Scotland) by building a barrier known as Hadrian’s Wall.
After the Romans were forced to leave Britannia by the beginning of the 5th century AD the island was taken over by Anglo-Saxon tribes from north-west Europe (which the Romans called Germania). According to the early medieval historian Bede the name “England” comes from the Old English words: “Engla land” which means “land of the angels”.
England and Scotland were separate kingdoms until the death of Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1603. The crowns were then united by James 1 who was already King of Scotland when he also became King of England. The nation of Great Britain was officially formed by the Union of England and Scotland in 1707.
The flag of the Union Jack united the national symbols of England (the red cross of St George) Scotland (the blue cross of St Andrew) and Ireland (the white cross of St Patrick) following the Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. Wales was already included in the Kingdom of England as it had been conquered in 1282. Although the island of Ireland was divided into two parts: Northern Ireland and The Irish Free State in 1922 the Irish flag remained within the Union Jack as Northern Ireland still continues to be part of the United Kingdom.