Lying off the north-west coast of Europe, there are two large islands and hundreds of much smaller ones. The largest island is called Great Britain. The other large one is called Ireland. There is no agreement about what to call all of them together.
In this geographical area are two states. One of these governs most of the island of Ireland. This state is called the Republic of Ireland. It is also called ‘Eire’ (its Irish language name).Informally it is referred to as just ‘Ireland’ or the ‘Republic’.
The other state has authority over the rest of the area (the whole of Great Britain, the north-eastern area of Ireland and most of the smaller islands. Its official name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is usually known by a shorter name, for instance, it is referred to as ‘the United Kingdom’. In everyday speech, this is often shortened to ‘the UK’ and in internet and email addresses it is ‘.uk’. In other contexts, it is referred to as ‘Great Britain’ or ‘Britain’.
· The adjective ‘great’ in the name Great Britain was first used to distinguish it from the smaller area in France which is called ‘Brittany’ in modern English.
· During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the islands were generally called ‘The British Isles’. But most people in Ireland and some people in Britain regard this name as outdated because it calls to mind the time when Ireland was politically dominated by Britain. The most common tern at present is ‘Great Britain and Ireland’.
· Albion is a word used by poets and songwriters to refer to England or Great Britain as a whole. It comes from a Celtic word and was an early Greek and Roman name for Great Britain. The Romans associated Great Britain with Latin word ‘albus’, meaning white. The white chalk cliffs around Dover on the English south coast are the first land formations one sights when crossing the sea from the European mainland. In Britain, Albion is associated with English aspirations and high sentiment.
· Britannia is the name that the Romans gave to their southern British province (which covered, approximately, the area of present-day England and Wales). It is also the name given to the embodiment of Britain, always shown wearing a helmet and holding a trident (the symbol of power over the sea). The figure of Britannia has been on the reverse side of many British coins for more than 300 years. The song ‘Rule Britannia’ became a focus for patriotism when sung annually at the Last Night of the Proms summer concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
When Britain first, at heaven’s command,
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sung this strain:
‘Rule Britannia, rule the waves;
Britons never will be slaves’.
· Briton is a word used in official contexts and in writing to describe a citizen of the United Kingdom.. ‘Ancient Britons’ is the name given to the people who lived in southern Britain before and during the Roman occupation (AD 43-410).
· Caledonia, Cambria and Hibernia were the Roman names for Scotland, Wales and Ireland respectively.