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Some ministerial departments of the UK government use 'of' in their name whilst others use 'for'. What decides whether to use 'of' or 'for' in the department name?

Examples of 'of':

  • Department of Health & Social Care
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government

Examples of 'for':

  • Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
  • Department for Education
  • Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs
  • Department for Transport

As the brief discussion under this previously asked question (examples from Canada and US) shows this questions was never really answered, so I thought I might ask again to try to get some logical answers - if such thing exists.

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    This question is still a duplicate of Use "of" or "for" with Institute, Department, Office...? The fact that there isn't an answer there that made it clear doesn't mean it's not a duplicate. I think the fact that there is no clear answer is a kind of answer in its own right. Prepositions like this are not precise, and there won't be any clear "rule" as to their use. Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 10:28
  • It is a duplicate, with no single answer. There are various issues involved: the slightly different senses of "of" and "for" in specific contexts ("Ministry for War" seems more warlike; "Department of Veterans" sounds like it's staffed by veterans). Plus euphony and visuals. And abbreviations spelling out embarrassing things, or the desire for a pronounceable acronym. Desire for change to indicate you are going to do something this time, changing "of" to "for" or vice versa.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 19 at 10:12

2 Answers 2

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I don't think there is a clear answer to this, but my feeling is that "for" is used when the department supports that thing.

For example: "The Department of Education" sounds like something that does the educating (and actually sounds like an Orwellian euphemism for somewhere troublemakers are sent, to return only as broken people), but they actually support (or at least are supposed to support) the process of education, which is actually done in schools, largely. So, "The Department for Education" makes more sense.

This is the list of UK government departments: there are 8 "Department for", and only one "Department of", the Department of Health and Social Care.

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations

That last example actually gives lie to my own theory, since the relationship of the department to the issues of health and social care is presumably analogous to the relationship between the Department For Education and the issue of education itself.

It may simply be the case that "Department Of" is the older version, and over the years the departments have changed their name to the more supportive-sounding "Department For", and the Department Of Health And Social Care is simply the straggler in this process. As with any change, there may be people who resist the change, seeing it as pointless, and so maybe someone at the DOHSC resisted a proposed name change. Or it might just be an accident of history.

Looking at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Department_for_Education, it appears to have changed its name, and was the "Department of Education and Science" at one point, so I think my "slow migration from 'of' to 'for'" theory has some merit.

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    You theory may have some merit, but it seems that the change from of to for came after a restructure, and I reckon it was simply a way of the name indicating the all-new shiny thing rather than the battered old clapped-out thing it replaced. Even if the new thing occupied the same offices and employed the same people (often under the same minister) as before. Perhaps the all-new shiny thing was supposed to be supportive rather than dictatorial. Who knows? (But Department for sounds far more dictatorial to me than Department of)
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 12:06
  • This would suggest that the Government does not support Health and Social Care. You may be on to something :-)
    – Owain
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 18:42
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    @AndrewLeach — I don’t know. Remember it was the Ministry of Truth.
    – David
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 19:22
  • @AndrewLeach you're right I think that the name change coincided with the restructure. I just wonder if they have a conversation like "While we're doing the restructure, we might as well change the name, and "for" is a bit nicer than "of" these days, shall we do that?" Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 10:08
  • I think it's just corporate-speak's tendency to lengthen words, increase syllables, and ultimately lose touch with any normal way of speaking.
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 12:30
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For = for the purpose of

OED

IV. Of purpose or destination.

8.a. With a view to; with the object or purpose of:

1849 T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. I. 615 A considerable number of prisoners were immediately selected for execution.

1887 ‘L. Carroll’ Game of Logic ii. §6. 50 I have been out for a walk.

Of = associated [in some way dictated by the context] with

OED

  1. Following a noun, as the head of a postmodifying noun phrase.Sometimes called the subjective genitive.

a. Expressing the relation of agent (doer or maker).

1609 Bp. W. Barlow Eagle & Body sig. C1 By the traditions of antiquity and the definitions of Councels.

1754 Bp. T. Sherlock Disc. (1755) I. viii. 247 The Evidence of the Spirit is not any secret Inspiration.

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