Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Word Wednesday - The United Kingdom

As a matter of fact ...

Tomorrow, Scotland decides if it wants to leave the UK after 300 years of union with England. Big stuff. Emotions and the stakes are high. Regardless of the result, there is a feeling that things are changing in the UK. I could talk in more detail but this is neither the time or place! So as it's Word Wednesday, I thought I'd take a look at where the names for the UK country's came from.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Four nations joined in political union, at least for a couple more days. Great countries and great stories behind their names. As it's Scotland's big day tomorrow, let's start with them ...


The people who inhabited Scotland from the Iron Age to Medieval times were called the Picts by the Romans. This came from the Latin and Greek for 'painted'; in reference to their woad painted images they covered their skin with. This is also the root of the English word 'picture'.

Later, the Romans referred to the inhabitants as the 'Scoti' from the Greek 'skotos' meaning dark and gloomy. So, essentially, Scotland means gloomy-land. Ouch! Although, you can see from the picture above it is anything but that!


The Angles were a tribe from what is now Germany who settled in England some 1500 years ago. Over time, the term Angle-land became England.

Along with their Germanic neighbors the Saxons and the Jutes, the Angles helped found the kingdom of England and their name lives on in its title. 


The name Wales comes from the name 'Walh' which was passed down through the Roman and Germanic word for the Celtic tribes of Britain.

Interestingly, the prefix of 'Wal' came to be used for anything that the Germanic people of Britain saw as foreign. This even extended to the humble 'walnut'. That's cool.

Ireland (northern)

Ireland is called 'Éire' in Irish. This comes from the old Irish for the Gaelic goddess 'Ériu' which in turn can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European word for 'full' or 'abundant'. 

So Ireland technically means 'abundant land'. I've visited Ireland a lot over my life and I think it's a far better name origin than the Scots have!

Four nations, four names. All with their own history and languages but joined together under one political union; the United Kingdom. Well, at least for now anyway.

With the big vote tomorrow, it's Scotland's choice. As an Englishman, I really have no right to speak on the matter. All I will say is, after 300 years, it would be a shame to say goodbye to the Scots. I'm sure England would then become the real 'gloomy land'.

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