Wikipedia:Nationality of people from the United Kingdom

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Wikipedia's Manual of Style for biographies states that the opening paragraph of a biographical article should state the person's "nationality", which it suggests will in "most modern-day cases" refer to "the country of which the person is a citizen, national or permanent resident". However, there is no consensus on how this guideline should be applied to people from the United Kingdom.[1]

This essay provides a brief breakdown of the United Kingdom, giving examples of how the constituent nationalities or national identities have been described, and offers a guide on finding the best opening paragraph description for a UK citizen. This essay includes examples of nationalities and national identities of those from the UK's constituent states.

Constituent countries of the UK[edit]

The United Kingdom[edit]

Map of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom (in full, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is made up of four constituent countries or nations, also called the Home Nations:

Under British law, these four countries are an equal union, sharing a common British citizenship. The term "Britain" here means "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". A UK passport describes its holder as a "British citizen". According to British nationality law all citizens of the UK have British nationality.[2] This has been so since the Acts of Union 1707,[3] in which, after negotiations for a union treaty ended in July 1706, the acts were ratified by both the parliaments of England and Scotland.[4] "Great Britain" strictly speaking means the island comprising England, Scotland and Wales, and thus does not include Northern Ireland, so it is not the same as "Britain".

David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, commented as follows after the 2015 general election:

Governing with respect means recognising that the different nations of our United Kingdom have their own governments, as well as the United Kingdom government. Both are important, and indeed with our plans, the governments of these nations will become more powerful, with wider responsibilities.[5]

Northern Ireland: dual citizenship[edit]

People born in Northern Ireland are generally entitled to Irish citizenship by right (Irish citizenship being a fundamental "entitlement" that extends to almost all born on the island). This automatically allows for dual British and Irish citizenship.

The Crown dependencies[edit]

Map showing the Crown dependencies

There are three Crown dependencies that are part of the British Isles but are not part of the United Kingdom. As they are possessions of the British Crown they are not sovereign nations in their own right, but they are governed by their own legislative assemblies. The Crown dependencies and the United Kingdom are collectively known as the "British Islands".

The Crown dependencies are:

Citizens of the Crown dependencies are officially classed as British citizens, but as with citizens of the Home Nations, the accuracy of the appellation regarding each person should be verified.

Celtic identity within Britain and Ireland[edit]

The islands first collectively identified as the Prettanic or Brettanic Islands (Βρεττανικαὶ νῆσοι) or as αἱ Βρεττανιαι (literally "the Britains") were peopled by tribes the ancient Greeks called the Πρεττανοί, later Bρεττανοί. These islands included Ierne (Ireland) inhabited by the "Hiberni", and the larger insula Albionum, "island of the Albions", which was later named Great Britain after the Roman province of Britannia.[6]

Much of Britain used Common Brittonic or related languages, then invasions in medieval times introduced the Germanic Anglo-Frisian languages which developed into modern Scots and English.

In 1707 Welsh scholar Edward Lhuyd identified relationships between the earlier languages and those of the Celts of continental Europe, and grouped them together in what he called Celtic languages though the term Celt had not previously been used with reference to inhabitants of Britain and Ireland.

A modern Celtic identity then developed in the course of Celtic Revival movements, and concepts of ethnic nationalism led to the Celtic nations being identified as territories in Northern and Western Europe where Celtic languages or cultural traits were still evident to some extent.

Branch Area Name of Celtic people Language Celtic culture Example of use
Gaelic Northern Ireland Irish, Ulster Scots Irish, Ulster Scots Irish is taught in Northern Ireland (where 10% "have some knowledge"). Ulster Scots language officially recognised as culturally significant. Seamus Heaney (Irish), James Fenton (Ulster Scots)
Scotland Scottish Scottish Gaelic Around 60,000 Scottish people speak Scottish Gaelic (1%). Today, these are largely confined to the Hebridean Islands. Sorley MacLean (Gaelic), Robert Burns (Scots)
Isle of Man Manx Manx The Isle of Man is a self-governing Crown dependency in the Irish Sea, situated between northern England and Northern Ireland. Although the Manx language is no longer commonly spoken, a hybrid form of Manx English is widely used—which contains many original Manx words. Thomas Edward Brown
Brythonic Wales Welsh Welsh Welsh is spoken by 600,000 people (20% of the population), and Wales is bilingually sign-posted. Alan Llwyd
Cornwall Cornish Cornish The county of Cornwall is the south-western peninsula-tip of the United Kingdom. The Cornish language and culture has undergone a renaissance in recent years. It is spoken by 3,500 people. Richard Trevithick

Historically, Brittany, the Celtic subnational part of France in the Armorica peninsula, was at one point a unified kingdom with Cornwall in southeast Britain. In earlier times, various other Celtic peoples and nations have existed within the present Celtic ethic homelands, and outside them. It is generally unhelpful, and sometimes outright incorrect, to identify them with modern national or subnational terms. For example, the Iceni were not an English Celtic tribe, or a Celtic tribe in England; they were a Celtic tribe in pre-Roman and Roman Britain, and were located in what today is Norfolk, England.

Timeline (with historical examples)[edit]

Union did not always come peacefully for the countries involved. It happened first in the 16th century between England and Wales, during the Welsh-descended Tudor dynasty. In the 18th century, a century after a Tudor-connected Scottish Stuart King also became King of England, the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed. Political union happened with Ireland in 1801, several centuries after it was conquered by England: this led to the United Kingdom comprising Great Britain and the island of Ireland. The current United Kingdom comprises Great Britain and Northern Ireland, after Ireland achieved independence.

Year Event Event-related nationality Example of use
43–300 Roman invasion of Britannia. Britain, or Great Britain is often used for Britannia. The terms Ancient Briton or "Brythons" can be used for its people, who have been grouped linguistically with European Celtic tribes. Britons, British Boudica
300–900 Scotland north of the Forth–Clyde line. People from Fortriu can be called Picts; people from Dál Riata Gaels. It is acceptable to call people from Dál Riata Scots before 900, but this must be piped to either Scoti or Gaels, not Scottish people. Pictish people before c. 900 should not be called "Scots". Pictish[a] Nechtan Morbet
Gaelic[a] Áedán mac Gabráin
300–1200 Scotland south of Forth before the 1200s (excluding Galloway c.900–1230s). Originally entirely British, English culture spread from the south-east. People from this region can be called British (or Cumbrian, etc.) or English (or Anglo-Saxon, etc.) depending on their ethnicity. They should not be called Scottish in this period. Note also that in the period 1000–1200s Gaelic Scots, Norse-Gaels, Normans (or Anglo-Normans, etc.) and Flemings come into the region and are born there, without having any obvious standard ethnic identification. British Run of Alt Clut, Owen the Bald
English Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Heathored
Norman Richard de Morville, William de Brus
Gaelic Gillemachoi
c.900–c.1230s Galloway & Carrick in the High Middle Ages. People from this region should not be called Scottish in this period. Galwegian, Gallovidian, etc.[b] Gille Aldan, Gille Ruadh, Uhtred of Galloway
500–1707 Consolidation of England. English is often used for the Heptarchy of Anglo Saxon kingdoms that came to be known as "England" sometime in the 10C. English Alfred the Great
Early Middle Ages Dumnonia a.k.a. West Wales. Before the 8th century Dumnonia was a separate Celtic state but was conquered by Wessex during the expansion of Anglo Saxon England; subsequently it has formed England's West Country. Brythons Erbin of Dumnonia
antiquity to present Cornwall. Before the 10th century Cornwall was a separate entity and not part of England; because of a Celtic tradition and kinship that has endured in the county, a Cornish person may well not consider themselves English. Cornish or Cornovii (pre-Roman) Tristan
500–1283 Consolidation of Wales. Welsh is generally used; British and Briton used in contexts into the Later Middle Ages. 1283 sees the conquest of Wales by Edward I Welsh (or British, Briton, per above) Hywel Dda
c.900–1200s High Medieval Scotland. Both Scottish, and Scots, should only be used for people north of the Forth–Clyde line, as the area to the south was not thought of as Scotland until the later 13th century. Scottish, Scots Dub mac Maíl Coluim, Crínán of Dunkeld, Óengus of Moray, Edgar of Scotland, Máel Ísu I
1200s–1707 Consolidation of Scotland. Both Scottish, and Scots (though as with England from 1066, avoid calling first or second generation Norman incomers Scottish) Scottish, Scots Robert the Bruce, John of Islay, Earl of Ross, John Barbour, David Leslie
1066 Norman conquest of England. The Norman conquest of England significantly changed the course of English history. The Normans gradually became naturalised, as did Normandy itself with France. Norman Gerald of Wales, Strongbow
1169 Norman invasion of Ireland. Following the invasion, a series of unexpected events causes central authority in Ireland to fall into union with the English Crown. However, despite Gaelic Ireland losing central authority, the English Crown was unable to consolidate authority effectively, leading to a centuries-long power struggle. Anglo-Irish
1536 Integration of England and Wales. Welsh Law is abolished and Wales is integrated through the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542. English Shakespeare
Welsh Robert Recorde
1540 – mid-1600s Tudor conquest of Ireland, Plantation of Ulster. The Gaelic order in Ireland collapses following protracted war with England and central English authority is consolidated in Ireland. A hundred thousand English and Scottish settlers are "planted" in Ulster to quash resistance in the province, sowing communal differences that underlie the modern conflict in Northern Ireland. English
Scots Irish
1707 Union between England and Scotland. The Kingdom of Great Britain was created. The term "British" came into common usage. British Charles Dickens
Scottish Walter Scott
1801 Union between Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was created. British Benjamin Disraeli
Irish Oscar Wilde, James Joyce
1921–22 Creation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland). The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was created. (See § Northern Ireland: dual citizenship above.) Northern Irish George Best
Ulstermen/women Ian Paisley
present-day United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. All uses for present-day citizens. British (See § Present-day UK nationality (examples of use) below.)
Northern Irish
^a People such as Eóganan mac Óengusa, Nechtan mac Der-Ilei, and Kenneth MacAlpin may be referred to as either "Pictish" or "Gaelic".
^b The region was not part of Scotland in this period, so it would be anachronistic to refer to its inhabitants as "Scottish".

Present-day UK nationality (examples of use)[edit]

Editors have strongly opposing ideas on the relative importance of the appellations "British", "English", "Northern Irish", "Scottish" and "Welsh".

Various different methods of referring to a UK citizen's nationality have been adopted, including:

Name and title Nationality Note
Jane Smith is a British chef... who happens to be English.
John Brown is an English lyricist... who writes about English life.
Liam O'Connor was a Belfast-born footballer... who is an "expatriate" from Northern Ireland, perhaps.
Muira McClair is a British politician from Scotland... who is part of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.
Dafydd Gruffudd was a Welsh author... who happened to write in English, rather than Welsh.
David Tanner (born on 13 June 1955 in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland) is a football pundit... who has only his birth country mentioned.
Tommy Arrow is a UK comedian... Occurs occasionally, but is considered by many to be a lazy option.

No variation is particular to any one nationality. Individuals may identify more closely with being "British" or with being "English", "Irish, "Northern Irish", "Scottish" or "Welsh", for example (see British people § Classification).

Some indicators of acceptance of English/Scottish/Welsh/Northern Irish nationality[edit]

There is much debate about the meaning of 'nationality'. Some claim that it has only the narrow meaning of being a citizen of a sovereign state. However, the dictionary definition states "the status of belonging to a particular nation". This raises the question of whether England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are nations. Confirmation that they are has been provided by a number of prominent Unionist leaders. Prior to the 2014 Independence Referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron said: "The United Kingdom is not one nation. We are four nations in a single country. That can be difficult, but it is wonderful. Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, different nations, with individual identities competing with each other even at times enraging each other while still being so much stronger together. We are a family of nations.".[7] Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said "The vote tomorrow is not about whether Scotland is a nation; we are, yesterday, today, and tomorrow."[8] A May 2015 quote from David Cameron has been mentioned above.

Another indication of official acceptance of the concept of Scottish nationality can be found on the website of the Court of the Lord Lyon (a part of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service[9] with both criminal and civil jurisdiction). This states, when referring to the Saltire or Scottish flag: "this is the correct flag for all Scots or Scottish corporate bodies to fly to demonstrate their loyalty and their Scottish nationality".[10] (The same statement is to be found, attributed to the Scottish Parliament Public Information Service in 2002, recorded on a commercial website which was archived in May 2006.[11] Both dates precede May 2007 when the Scottish National Party first formed the Scottish administration.)

The word "national" is often applied to institutions within the nations of England, Scotland and Wales, some of these are 'official' institutions, others are non-government related organisations but with accepted national status. Some examples of such institutions are:

England English National Ballet, English National Opera, National Coal Mining Museum for England,

Scotland Scottish National Gallery, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish National War Memorial, National Trust for Scotland, Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, National Museum of Scotland, National Records of Scotland, National Theatre of Scotland

Wales Welsh National Opera, National Assembly for Wales, The National Eisteddfod of Wales, National Museum Wales, National Botanic Garden of Wales, National Theatre Wales, National Library of Wales ,

Such usage may be considered as both official and popular recognition that each of the constituent countries has the status of a nation.

The census held throughout the UK in 2011 recorded information on the chosen national identity of each respondent. A separate census was carried out for each of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The results clearly show that in no part of the UK do the majority of the population self-identify as British, but as English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish etc.

Guide to finding UK nationality[edit]

The following guide is designed to help find the right "opening paragraph" nationality for a UK citizen's biography.

  • When looking for available evidence (perhaps through biographies, encyclopedias and news articles), bear in mind that there is often no consensus across the UK, and many conflicting examples can exist for any one person. Often, however, a clear national preference can arise (e.g.: Sean Connery is widely referred to as a Scottish actor).
  • Bear in mind too that non-UK media can make simplistic (and erroneous) assumptions about UK citizens: some use only British or English to describe them.
  • Look specifically for evidence that the person has a preferred nationality. You may wish to refer to the evidence in a footnote. The writer Iris Murdoch considered herself to be Irish, though some feel she was perhaps wrong to do so:[12] the consensus on Wikipedia was once to call her "Dublin-born", but the first paragraph of her article now describes her as British.


For sportspeople, their nationality is usually described by the national team that they qualify to represent or, in individual sports, the national sports association or federation with which they are registered.

In the UK, there are generally three different ways of organising national teams:

  1. The United Kingdom competing as a whole
  2. Ireland competing as a whole island (e.g. Republic of Ireland + Northern Ireland) and a Great Britain team representing the rest of the United Kingdom
  3. Separate teams for each home nation. Ireland may compete as a whole island, or there may be separate teams for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

There may be variations and complications in following this rule – in cricket, for example, there is one team for England and Wales (usually called "England"), one for Scotland, and one for Ireland; however, as neither Scotland nor Ireland play test cricket, the best players from these nations often represent England. If in doubt, follow the standards for a particular sport.

Changing an existing UK nationality[edit]

It cannot be called "wrong" to change an existing nationality (e.g.: Welsh to British, or British to Irish) provided a sufficient connection exists.

Before making a change:

  1. Consider why the existing nationality was chosen.
  2. Examine the article for details that support the existing label.
  3. Look for existing consensus on the discussion page, and in any archives that may be present.
  4. Conduct research to be certain your choice is preferable (you can consult the guide above).

Sometimes no single "correct" choice exists. Is your change actually for the better? An editor may query you, or revert your choice—so be prepared to explain your decision.

Above all, be civil, assume good faith and respect other people's points of view. It is of course OK to "be bold" and apply your choice, but remember that strong feelings surround UK identity, and firm disagreement may arise!

Do not enforce uniformity[edit]

It is not possible to create a uniforming guideline, when such strong disagreement exists on the relative importance of the labels.

Re-labelling nationalities on grounds of consistency—making every UK citizen "British", or converting each of those labelled "British" into their constituent nationalities—is strongly discouraged. Such imposed uniformity cannot, in any case, be sustained.

Cannot decide?[edit]

If you are still uncertain how your UK citizen's nationality is best labelled, you may wish to follow this course of action:

  1. Look at what others have done in comparable articles.
  2. Post a message asking for advice or assistance on the talk page, and/or on relevant WikiProjects and notice boards.
  3. Consider simply leaving the matter to someone who has a better feeling for it.
  4. When an idea of nationality exists, consider deferring to that view.

Do not "edit war"![edit]

Be aware that "edit warring" with other editors by repeatedly changing the text of an article to suit your views is against Wikipedia policy, and may lead to action being taken against you by Wikipedia administrators.

WikiProjects and notice boards[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See the discussion that took place in 2007 and 2008 which is archived at Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (biographies)/2007-2008 archive: British nationality.
  2. ^ [1]]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ "Ratification". UK parliament website. 2007. Archived from the original on 19 June 2009. Retrieved 5 February 2013. 
  5. ^ Election 2015: Prime Minister's speech, 8 May 2015. Retrieved 20 May 2015
  6. ^ Donnchadh O Corrain (2001). Chapter 1: Prehistoric and Early Christian Ireland. The Oxford History of Ireland. R F Foster (editor). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280202-X. 
  7. ^ "Cameron urges Scots not to break up ‘family of nations’". Irish Times. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  8. ^ "Gordon Brown Scottish referendum speech". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  9. ^ "Other courts and tribunals". Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  10. ^ "The Saltire". The Court of the Lord Lyon. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  11. ^ "The Two? Flags of Scotland". Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  12. ^ Conradi, Peter J. (8 September 2001). "Iris Murdoch: A Life by Peter J Conradi". The Guardian. Iris Murdoch always claimed she was Irish. But was she mythologising herself?