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I'm from England, which means in drop-down lists I have to search for United Kingdom, then England, then Great Britain... it's generally the UK, but it does vary from site to site. What is the best practice for cases like this where there are multiple ways to refer to a country?

Edit: I should clarify what the problem is, here. When presented with a big list, I have to go hunting. The problem isn't that I'm confused about which to pick out of say, England and UK, the problem is being presented with a long list I have to search and have no idea which one to look for. It's very frustrating when a list doesn't have whichever one I look for first... or second... so I have to look in three different places to find my country.

I'm sure there are other examples out there of similar situations, this isn't specific to the UK I'm sure.

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You can remove Great Britain from your list (it's not a country) and replace it by Britain instead. – Knu Aug 1 '11 at 11:52
@Knu - hence the confusion! Even natives of England / United Kingdom are confused with the terminology so the most obvious option should be used - i.e. UK (or United Kingdom). Also, Britain isn't a country. Great Britain is a land mass, British is a nationality but neither a countries. – JonW Aug 1 '11 at 13:31
@jon AFAIK Britain has 2 meanings: England+Wales or UK. In the first case you are right it's not a country. – Knu Aug 1 '11 at 21:29
@Knu. I've never seen the word Britain used in a way which excludes Scotland. – TRiG Aug 2 '11 at 12:08
I have no answer but a good example of what not to do : 1) do not rely on the site main language lexical order 2) do not use "scotland" and "united kingdom / england" (respectively sorted as "écosse" and "royaume uni") 3) if you choosed to use british countries, do not place Belfast in Ireland.... (see…) – FabienAndre Aug 9 '11 at 9:08
up vote 7 down vote accepted

For the hunting down the list you can check out the answers from Adding USA at the top of dropdown list of countries. OK practice or not?. For example:

  • automatically copy popular countries to the top of the list
  • detect the user's location and select that or add it to the top
  • allow for plain text typing and auto complete countries that match

Also, if you have more space on the page, have a look at the answers from Choose Your Country: Best Usability approach. Depending on your usage you can display a big list with flag icons, grouped by continent, or use a map.

Further you can include a little note below some countries in the list, like this:

enter image description here

(where the note is inside the option, so when selecting, you select both the name and the note.)

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I like this approach. I think the best possible option would be a best guess from geoip, an auto-complete that recognises most common variants (and native names as well as English, e.g. Deutschland as well as Germany), and a drop-down just in case the user likes drop-downs (or doesn't have Javascript enabled). – ZoFreX Aug 9 '11 at 10:09

Isn't this also a question about granularity? Choose the highest common factor that adds or differentiates value in your service.

For example - does a service actually differentiate between users from Scotland and users from England. If yes, include both. If no, stick to the United Kingdom as in Katie's linked list.

If there is no differentiation between users in the UK and any other countries in the EU, then consider sticking to Europe - and similarly for other continental or cross-nation regional divisions.

[edit] If it's not part of a service but part of an actual postal address, then use United Kingdom - as it's the internationally recognized country name (unlike Scotland,Wales,England,Northern Ireland).

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Interesting answer, I was leaning towards including all the variations to minimise the time it takes to find one. – ZoFreX Aug 1 '11 at 12:36
Yep, I agree with Roger that you should find out first why you need to know where your users are from to find out what granularity is required. Other questions are: do you need to know where they usually live or where they currently are, or where their postage address or billing address is? – Geert Aug 2 '11 at 10:50
I haven't accepted this answer as it doesn't tackle the actual problem as well as the answer I picked, but I just wanted to say thank you, because granularity is a really important consideration that I hadn't thought of. – ZoFreX Aug 9 '11 at 10:08

Choose a standard and stick by it.

Here is a link to the International Standards Organisation country names and codes.

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Just to add to the confusion even the ISO names and codes don't match! United Kingdom with a code of GB. – JonW Aug 1 '11 at 14:08
@Jon: UK is about the only country-code top-level domain which is not equal to the 3166 code. – Paŭlo Ebermann Aug 1 '11 at 20:20

For simplicity, I always recommend 'United Kingdom'. But a well-constructed list will quickly let me figure out that United Kingdom is the option to select. And truth be told, I can't recall any site I've seen recently that had any other options. As others have mentioned, 'Great Britain' is not a country.

The only downside of putting 'United Kingdom' is that it's then not entirely accurate for the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands, as they aren't really part of the United Kingdom.

To go off on a slight tangent, for what it worth, I have less of a problem with countries, but rather difficulties when locating the Pound Sterling on a currency menu. I've seen it as: - GBP - British Pounds - Pound Sterling

I tend to scroll up and down the list, or start typing until I find one of the above options.

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England is not a country. Neither is Great Britain. At least not today. So there can in fact not be any confusion about this: United Kingdom is the only correct entry to add to your list.

Adding multiple names to the list will actually make things more complicated for the user, don't do it. I can already see users wondering if they need to pick "England" or "United Kingdom".

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England is a country. – Knu Aug 1 '11 at 11:51
England is a country inside the United Kingdom, which is a country; see, for example, and – Chris Morgan Aug 1 '11 at 12:12
I am not a native english speaker so I don't know the exact definitions of the terms "country", "state", "nation", etc. However, when 10 years old we learn in school about every "country" in the world. England is not on that list. When you look at the members of the United Nations, England is not part of that club. So I don't know which statute that England has, but it is in fact irrelevant. From an international point of view there is no "country" named England. There is only the United Kingdom. – Bart Gijssens Aug 1 '11 at 13:23
England is one of the nations that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (to give the UK it's proper name). Unless your application was UK specific it wouldn't be sensible to include "England" on a list of countries. It would be like including Bavaria or Saxony, or Alaska. – ChrisF Aug 1 '11 at 18:01
So what is it then? A country or a nation? Or is that the same thing in English? – Bart Gijssens Aug 3 '11 at 13:06

Since you are from the UK, how do people in the different parts of UK like to identify themselves.

Also research the most popular e-commerce sites that cater to your region. What what they use? This will help with the "convention" aspect.

If your it infrastructural allows you to determine country based on IP or network, i would suggest that you pre-fill that option. A drop down with 200+ options can be frustrating to navigate.

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