When people actually use the word ‘England’, they often mean ‘Great Britain’ or ‘The United Kingdom’. When used this way, the word never actually means ‘England.’
The history of the British Isles is a long and typically confused one. The United Kingdom is made up of England (capital: London), Wales (capital: Cardiff) and Scotland (capital: Edinburgh).
England is the largest part of an island called ‘Great Britain’ which is also the biggest island in Europe. Great Britain is the name given to the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, and the Principality of Wales.
The diverse history mentioned above has given rise to some very different and particular customs and traditions in each of the three countries.
As recently shown by some comments on this site, getting any aspect of the unique ‘cultures’ incorrect can cause offence, and not only to members of one but usually all three.
When using the word ‘England’ you should take care that you are not causing offence to people from other parts of the UK.
England used to be called Engla land meaning literally ‘Land of the Angles’ (no, not angels!). The Angles were a people from continental Germany who invaded Britain in the 5th Century, flanked by the famous Saxons and Jute.
The name Britain was the term used by the Romans to mean ‘the whole island’ and comes from the Latin (Roman language) word Britannia.
The term Great Britain was only first used by a King known as James I.
He was the King of England and Scotland (known as the 6th James in Scotland) in 1603 and needed a way to refer correctly to two separate Kingdoms that shared one same mass of land rules over by the same Monarch. However both Kingdoms did not share the same Parliament at that time.
Later, in 1707, the Act of Union dictated that a single Kingdom be created that shared a single Parliament.
Scotland retained its Legal System and still does to this day. The Act stated that this union be referred to as the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain’.
1801 saw Ireland joined to Great Britain in another such Act of law, and the name changed again to ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’. However since 1921 only Northern Ireland has been part of the United Kingdom and so the name changed again.