There are a number of names ascribed to the lands that comprise the countries of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, together with their outlying isles. So the answer to this question is: it depends.
Geographically, the lands are known as the British Isles.
Politically, they are known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. The southern part of Ireland is a republic, and so whilst the land mass is part of the British Isles, the Republic is not part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is, however, politically a part of the UK, a transition which gave rise to the ‘troubles’ in the twentieth century.
The land also has been known as Albion (from the latin albus which means white, after the white cliffs of Dover), and Britannia. The Great of Great Britain goes back to the time when Brittany in northern France was under British rule, and was known as Britannia minor (as opposed to Britannia major).
The principality of Wales was joined to England in 1536 forming the Kingdom of England and Wales. In 1707 Scotland and England were united to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1801 the Irish and British Parliaments were combined to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Very few British people seem to know the reasons for, and the difference in meaning between these various terms, so for the record, here they are:
The British Isles: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales.
Kingdom of Great Britain: The political union of Scotland, England and Wales from 1707.
United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland: The political union of Great Britain (above) and Ireland from 1801.
United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland: 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties separated from the UK in 1922, forming the Irish Free State (or the Republic of Ireland).
At the height of its influence, Great Britain was in possession of an Empire, which was composed of about one-fifth of the entire world’s population and covered about a quarter of the world’s total land mass. The British Empire held Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Western Samoa, India, Burma, Papa New Guinea, Malaya, Sarawak, Brunei, Oman, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Mauritius, the Maldives, South Africa, Swaziland, Nigeria, Gold Coast, and Sierra Leone, among other countries during its reign. It has also held a portion of the present-day United States and China. Technically, Great Britain is still in possession of an ‘Empire’, though it’s territories now number fourteen:
- British Antarctic Territory
- British Indian Ocean Territory
- British Virgin Islands
- Cayman Islands
- Falkland Islands
- St Helena & Dependencies
- Turks and Caicos Islands
- Pitcairn Islands
- South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands
- Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus.
The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have their own constitutional relationship with the UK, but are still under the sovereignty of tBritshsth Crown.
The irony, which most Brits will get, is in the weather.
Source: NewWorld Encyclopedia;Reference.com; B.Crystal; A.Russ