The Demonyms of the United Kingdom

June 07, 2009 Tagged with: trivia

I kept hearing about Susan Boyle being “Scottish.” Then I was reading the Wikipedia page on Bonnie Tyler and she was described as “Welsh.” I was confused. Weren’t these people British?

I consulted my buddy Chris for assistance.

Britain comprises three major geopolitical areas: England, Wales, and Scotland. So, you can be English, Welsh, or Scottish...and still be British.

My friend Chris is from England, so he’s English. He’s also British. But he’s not Scottish. And calling Susan Boyle “English” (or “Welsh”) would be all sorts of wrong.

So, to recap:

It gets a little more confusing when you toss Northern Ireland into the mix. They are Irish, of course, but not British. Northern Ireland and Britain together form the United Kingdom. Wikipedia claims that the United Kingdom and Britain are the same thing, and that someone in Northern Ireland can be called “British.” Chris disagrees.

Incidentally, this concept of naming someone after their country (an “American,” a “New Zealander,” etc.) is called a demonym.


Corey V. says:

And that “demonym” is a real word just made my day.

cmadler says:

Well, both islands (as well as various smaller surrounding islands) are the British Isles, and any inhabitant of any of the British Isles could be said to be British. The larger island, with England, Wales, and Scotland, is “Great Britain”, but there was also a nation called the “Kingdom of Great Britain” from 1707 to 1800, a nation called “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” from 1801 to 1927, and “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” since 1928.

This is the problem with multiple overlapping places with the same or similar names. Consider:

American (North and South America)-American (US)–New Yorker (state)—New Yorker (city)-American (native)-Argentine–American (city in Buenos Aires province)European-Dutch–American (city in Limburg province)

Even though Ireland is technically part of the “British Isles”, because of the history of conflict between Great Britain and Ireland, I’d expect someone from Ireland to be pretty upset if you referred to them as “British.”

See, for example:

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