I was torn between posting this here or on finance SE. I feel it's more likely to get useful answers here, if you disagree please comment.

It is common for the UK pound (£) to be referred to as GBP, which I feel safe in assuming stands for "Great Brit(ain|ish) Pound"

But Great Britain does not include Northern Ireland, indeed the full name of the United Kingdom is "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" which makes that pretty clear.

Since NI uses the same pound surely it would make sense to refer to the currency as UKP rather than GBP.

My assumption would be that the term GBP was coined before NI became a member of the UK in 1922 but I cannot find any evidence to support this.

Can anyone confirm if this is the case? If so, why was it never changed? It's been nearly 100 years now...

If my assumption was wrong, what other reasons are there that we do not refer to it as UKP?

  • 1
    I’m voting to close this question because the question does not concern the English language but three letters designated as a code by the ISO who are international.
    – Greybeard
    Feb 12, 2021 at 22:02
  • @Greybeard I don't get it. You answered the question, but then also voted to close so that nobody (else?) can answer the question?
    – Mitch
    Feb 13, 2021 at 3:22

3 Answers 3


"GBP" is a written convention used in exchange markets and a few other places. We don't "say" GBP.

GBP does not stand for "Great Britain pounds" or "Great British pounds", and neither of those phrases is correct or idiomatic. The currency is referred to as "the pound", "the British pound", or "the pound sterling".

Wikipedia says:

The ISO 4217 currency code is GBP, formed from "GB", the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 code for the United Kingdom, and the first letter of "pound". It does not stand for "Great Britain Pound" or "Great British Pound". Occasionally, the abbreviation "UKP" is used but this is non-standard because the ISO 3166 country code for the United Kingdom is GB


"UK" is normally the abbreviation for "United Kingdom", but as Wikipedia observes, "GB" is the ISO code for the United Kingdom. It is also used as the international vehicle registration code. It is actually the UK's country domain (.uk) that is the odd one out in terms of international codes, although:

.gb is a reserved Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for the United Kingdom.

UK / Britain / Great Britain

You write:

My assumption would be that the term GBP was coined before NI became a member of the UK in 1922

I don't know when it was coined, but before 1922 the inaccuracy would have been even greater, since the country was then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, i.e. the whole of Ireland was part of the UK.

Of course, many writers over the centuries have treated "UK", "Britain" and "Great Britain" as synonyms (the same is traditionally true of "England" to a large extent - George Orwell regularly used "England" to mean the UK, and Shakespeare referred to England as an "isle"; this usage of "England" is no longer considered acceptable in the UK, but remains widespread fairly outside the UK). Today, the term "British" is still widely used to mean "of the UK" (including by the UK government, e.g. https://www.gov.uk/world/embassies ; https://www.gov.uk/becoming-a-british-citizen ), and "Britain" is often used to refer to the whole UK ( http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabinetpapers/themes/korea-entry-britain-war.htm ). These usages of "Britain" and "British" are generally considered acceptable. "Great Britain" is more likely to be reserved for geographically accurate usage, although not always (especially in older works).

  • 1
    "We don't "say" GBP": many people do, actually, at least in contexts where one normally uses ISO codes. "British citizen" is the statutory name of citizenship of the UK, so it's not so much a choice of the government (in the sense of the particular set of ministers in place at any given time) as of parliament.
    – phoog
    Dec 19, 2020 at 23:09
  • Right, people actually say (reporters): the pound sterling when referring to the British pound.
    – Lambie
    Feb 12, 2021 at 22:17
  • 1
    The part you quote about GBP not standing for "Great Britain/ish Pound" was later removed as arguable and unsourced. The ISO code is derived from "Great Britain" and the "P" is for "pound", which I'm sure is where the "arguable" comes in, even though you'd never actually refer to it that way. Oct 1, 2022 at 3:42
  • Feel the need to reinforce what RobinHood70 said, you can't say it doesn't stand for Great Britain, then say it refers to the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 code "GB", because the country code "GB" is derived from Great Britain. If you look at all the country codes they all reflect the country's name. Maybe technically it doesn't "stand for" it, but is at least the explanation for it. Maybe we should change the country code and the currency abbreviation to UK, or maybe we just say it's a historic things not worth changing. But either way, that appears to be its origin. Oct 19, 2022 at 18:47
  • GB stands for "Great Britain", but "GBP" doesn't stand for "Great Britain pounds". There is no such expression as "Great Britain pounds". The currency code is formed from the combination of the country code and a P for pounds, but the currency code is not intended to be expanded or to be expansible in the way that the questioner suggested.
    – rjpond
    Oct 20, 2022 at 4:48

This has nothing to do with the English language: GBP is an international code: ISO 4217

In 1973, the ISO Technical Committee 68 decided to develop codes for the representation of currencies and funds for use in any application of trade, commerce or banking. At the 17th session (February 1978), the related UN/ECE Group of Experts agreed that the three-letter alphabetic codes for International Standard ISO 4217, "Codes for the representation of currencies and funds", would be suitable for use in international trade.

ISO 4217 is a standard published by International Organization for Standardization that defines alpha codes and numeric codes for the representation of currencies and provides information about the relationships between individual currencies and their minor units.

The ISO just wanted some simple codes - I doubt that there was much argument about any of them.


from the Wiki...

Currency code The ISO 4217 currency code is GBP, formed from "GB", the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 code for the United Kingdom, and the first letter of "pound". Occasionally, the abbreviation "UKP" is used but this is non-standard because the ISO 3166 country code for the United Kingdom is GB (see Terminology of the British Isles). The Crown dependencies use their own (non-ISO) codes: GGP (Guernsey pound), JEP (Jersey pound) and IMP (Isle of Man pound). Stock prices are often quoted in pence, so traders may refer to pence sterling, GBX (sometimes GBp), when listing stock prices.

  • 1
    Which Wiki? In my world there are many Wikis!!!!! Please see How to reference material written by others in our help center for our citation requirements here.
    – tchrist
    Feb 12, 2021 at 18:23
  • New answers to old questions are welcome here, but before posting such an answer, one is expected to carefully read everything that already appears on the page, and proceed with posting one's own answer only of it differs significantly from the existing answers, or adds something important to them. This answer doesn't do that.
    – jsw29
    Feb 12, 2021 at 21:40

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.