A county is a land area of local government within a country. A county may have cities and towns within its area.
Originally, in continental Europe, a county (comté, condado, Grafschaft) was the land under the jurisdiction of a count (comte, conde, Graf).
Counts are called earls in post-Celtic Britain,Ireland and France—the term is from Old Norse jarl and was introduced by the Vikings—but there is no correlation between counties and earldoms. Rather, county, from French comté, was simply used by the Normans after 1066 to replace the native English term scir ()—Modern English shire, as the Anglo-Saxon system of Shires was unique and thus hard for the Norman invaders to comprehend so they resorted to calling them counties. A shire was an administrative division of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom (Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, etc.), usually named after its administrative centre: for example, Gloucester, in Gloucestershire; Worcester, in Worcestershire; etc. or originate from these forms of names (e.g. Wiltshire derived from 'Wiltonshire' with Wilton as its old county town).
Thus, whereas the word comté denoted a sovereign jurisdiction in the original French, the English county denotes a subdivision of a sovereign jurisdiction.
|English and French
|Eng.: county/Fr.: comté
|Eng.: counties/Fr.: comtés
|县 or 縣 (Hanyu Pinyin: xiàn)
|same as singular
|13 (at time of abolition)
|established 1662, abolished 2006
|Finnish and Swedish
|Fin.: lääni/Sw.: län
|Fin.: läänit/Sw.: län
|for numbers: see main article
|Irish and English
|Ir.: contae/Eng.: county
|Ir.: contaethe/Eng.: counties
|same as singular
|군 (gun, 郡)
|same as singular
|314 (+ 65 "city counties")
|Urdu, Sindhi and English
|rayon (район) or okrug (округ)
|rayony (районы) or okruga (округа)
|Serbia and Montenegro
|English and Welsh
|Eng.: county, shire/W.: sir
|Eng.: counties, shires/W.: siroedd
* The 32 refers to the counties of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland combined. For more information, see the sections on Ireland and United Kingdom below.
Each Austrian state (in German Bundesland, plural Bundesländer) is divided in a number of counties (in German Bezirk, plural Bezirke). Sometimes, the word "Bezirk" is translated by "district" instead of county.
Each county is subdivided in towns or villages. Some larger towns do not form part of a county and are governed by a unitary administration instead which counts both for city administration as well as county governance.
The federal capital Vienna is considered as a state as well. The capital government of Vienna is responsible for state, county and town governance. Vienna is subdivided in boroughs which are called "Bezirk" in German as well, but have a different function than the counties in the other federal states.
see also: Districts of Austria
The eastern Australian states, and parts of the western states were divided into counties, mostly in the nineteenth century. These were further subdivided into parishes in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland; and hundreds in South Australia. The counties currently have no political function, and became dead letters for most purposes other than the registration of land ownership, and are unknown by most of the population today. Local Government Areas including shires, municipalities and others are instead used in Australia as the second-level subdivision.
Four of Canada's ten provinces are divided into counties.
In Ontario and Nova Scotia, these are local government units, whereas in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island they are now only geographical divisions. Most counties consist of several municipalities, however there are a few that consist of a single large city. In sparsely populated northern Ontario, these units are called districts not counties, and in densely populated areas of south-central Ontario new regional municipalities are used for local government instead of counties.
- List of New Brunswick counties
- List of Nova Scotia counties
- Counties of Prince Edward Island
- List of Ontario counties
Divisions of the other provinces:
- In Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador, instead of counties, divisions are used.
- Alberta has several types of municipalities with varying degrees of local autonomy. While some rural municipalities are known as "counties", this no longer has any substantive meaning; Alberta counties were once rural municipalities which combined the local government and school board in one body.
- In British Columbia, regional districts are used. (see List of British Columbia Regional Districts) British Columbia is also divided into 8 counties, but these serve only as judicial districts. (see Supreme Court of British Columbia).
- In Quebec the de-facto county equivalent is the regional county municipality, which in most cases is also the same as the census division. In Quebec there also exists an intermediary level of government, the 17 Administrative regions of Quebec, that could be considered county equivalents.
- List of Quebec county regional municipalities
- Historical list of Quebec counties
- List of regions of Quebec
- The Yukon Territory is one district in itself
- The Northwest Territories and Nunavut are divided into districts.
- Census division statistics of Canada
The word "county" is used to translate the Chinese term xiàn (县 or 縣). On Mainland China under the People's Republic of China, counties are the third level of local government, coming under both the province level and the prefecture level.
The number of counties in China proper numbers about 2,000, and has remained more or less constant since the Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220). The county remains one of the oldest levels of government in China and significantly predates the establishment of provinces in the Yuan Dynasty (1279 - 1368). The county government was particularly important in imperial China because this was the lowest layer at which the imperial government functioned. The head of a county during imperial times was the magistrate.
In older context, "prefecture" and "district" are alternative terms to refer to xiàn before the establishment of the Republic of China. The English nomenclature "county" was adopted following the establishment of the ROC.
See also: Political divisions of China
Denmark was divided into counties (amter) from 1662 to 2006. On January 1, 2007, the counties were replaced by five Regions. At the same time, the number of municipalities was slashed from 271 to 98.
The counties were first introduced in 1662, replacing the 49 fiefs (len) in Denmark-Norway with the same number of counties. This number does not include the subdivisions of the Duchy of Schleswig, which was only under partial Danish control. The number of counties in Denmark (excluding Norway) had dropped to c. 20 by 1793. Following the reunification of South Jutland with Denmark in 1920, four counties replaced the Prussian Kreise. Aabenraa and Sønderborg County merged in 1932 and Skanderborg and Aarhus were separated in 1942. From 1942 to 1970, the number stayed at 22. The number was further decreased by the 1970 Danish municipal reform, leaving 14 counties plus two cities unconnected to the county structure; Copenhagen and Frederiksberg.
In 2003, Bornholm County merged with the local four municipalities, forming the Bornholm Regional Municipality. The remaining 13 counties were abolished on effective January 1, 2007 where they were replaced by five new regions. In the same reform, the number of municipalities was slashed from 270 to 98 and all municipalities now belong to a region.
The administrative unit of Hungary is called megye, (historically, they were also called comitatus in Latin), which can be translated with the word county. It is the highest level of the administrative subdivisions of the country, although counties are grouped into seven statistical regions. Counties are subdivided to kistérségs, which literally means "little area", though translating this as a commune is more proper. Communes have statistical and organizational functions only, whilst they have their own "capital cities". Presently Hungary is subdivided into 19 "proper" counties, 22 urban counties (cities with the same rights as a whole county) and 1 capital, Budapest. (See the list of counties of Hungary).
The comitatus was also the historic administrative unit in the Kingdom of Hungary, which included areas of present-day neighbouring countries of Hungary. (See the list of historic counties of Hungary).
Although the Latin name (comitatus) is the equivalent of the French comté, historical Hungarian counties have never been sovereign jurisdictions. They were subdivisions of the royal administration and as such, should really be translated as shire. Even the word megye is a shortened form of the original vármegye, where the element vár means castle, thus denoting an area supervised and governed from a royal castle, much like an Anglo-Saxon shire indeed.
The administrative unit in India immediately next to the state is called a Zila in Hindi, or Mavattam in Tamil, or Jille in Kannada or Jilla in Malayalam, or district (never County) in English. (Please note that India has many languages.)
Iran The provinces of Iran are further subdivided into counties called shahrestan (), an area inside an ostan, and consisting of a city centre, a few bakhsh (), and many villages around them. There are usually a few cities () and rural agglomerations () in each county. Rural agglomerations are a collection of a number of villages. One of the cities of the county is appointed as the capital of the county.
Each Shahrestan has a governmental office known as Farmandari which coordinates different events and governmental offices. The Farmandar, or the head of Farmandari, is the governor of the Shahrestan which is the highest governmental authority in the division.
Among provinces of Iran, Fars has the highest number of Shahrestans, with 23, while Semnan and South Khorasan have only 4 Shahrestans each; Qom uniquely has one, being coextensive with its namesake county. Iran had 324 Shahrestans in 2005.
The island of Ireland was historically divided into 32 counties, of which 26 later formed the Republic of Ireland and 6 made up Northern Ireland.
These counties are traditionally grouped into 4 provinces - Leinster (12), Munster (6) Connacht (5) and Ulster (9). Historically, the counties of Meath, Westmeath and small parts of surrounding counties constituted the province of Mide, which was one of the "Five Fifths" of Ireland (in the Irish language the word for province, Cuige, from Cuig, five means "a fifth"); however, these have long since become the three northernmost counties of Leinster province. In the Republic each county is administered by an elected "county council", and the old provincial divisions are merely traditional names with no political significance.
The number and boundaries of administrative counties in the Republic of Ireland were reformed in the 1990s. For example County Dublin was broken into three: Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, and South Dublin - the City of Dublin had existed for centuries before. In addition "County Tipperary" is actually two administrative counties, called North Tipperary and South Tipperary while the major urban centres Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford have been separated from the town and rural areas of their counties. Thus, the Republic of Ireland now has thirty-four 'county-level' authorities, although the borders of the original twenty-six counties are still officially in place .
In Northern Ireland, the six county councils and the smaller town councils were abolished in 1973 and replaced by a single tier of local government. However, in the north as well as in the south, the traditional 32 counties and 4 provinces remain in common usage for many sporting, cultural and other purposes. County identity is heavily reinforced in the local culture by allegiances to county teams in Hurling and Gaelic football. Each GAA county has its own flag/colours (and often a nickname too), and county allegiances are taken quite seriously. See the counties of Ireland and the Gaelic Athletic Association.
"County" is one of the translations of gun (郡), which is a subdivision of prefecture. It is also translated as rural district, rural area or district. The translation "district" is not preferred, because it comes into conflict with the usual translation of "district", chome. In this encyclopedia, district is used for gun. See Japanese translation note.
Currently, "counties" have no political power or administrative function. The division is mainly significant in postal services.
See: Districts of Japan
In Korea (both North and South), county (). Gun (군) can be the same concept of county in English. County in South Korea is the substructure of province (Do) and should have more than 50,000 population. But actually, in case of South Korea, a gun consists of one town (eup) and five to ten myeon. It means eup and myeon is sub-feature of counties.
Liberia has 15 counties, each of which elects two senators to the Liberian Senate.
Apskritis (pl. apskritys) is the Lithuanian word for county. Since 1994 Lithuania has 10 counties; before 1950 it had 20. The only purpose with the county is an office of a state governor who shall conduct law and order in the county. See counties of Lithuania.
After New Zealand abolished its provinces in 1876, a system of counties similar to other countries' systems was instituted, lasting until 1989.
They had chairmen, not mayors as boroughs and cities had; many legislative provisions (such as burial and land subdivision control) were different for the counties.
During the second half of the 20th century, many counties received overflow population from nearby cities. The result was often a merger of the two into a "district" (eg Rotorua) or a change of name to "district' (eg Waimairi) or "city" (eg Manukau).
The Local Government Act 1974 began the process of bringing urban, mixed, and rural councils into the same legislative framework. Substantial reorganisations under that Act resulted in the 1989 shake-up, which covered the country in (non-overlapping) cities and districts and abolished all the counties except for the Chatham Islands County, which survived under that name for a further 6 years but then became a "Territory" under the "Chatham Islands Council".
Norway is divided into 19 counties (sing. fylke, plur. fylke/fylker) since 1972. Up to that year Bergen was a separate county, but is today a municipality in the county of Hordaland. All counties form administrative entities called county municipalities (sing. fylkeskommune, plur. fylkeskommunar/fylkeskommuner), further subdivided into municipalities, (sing. kommune, plur. kommunar/kommuner). One county, Oslo, is not divided into municipalities, rather it is equivalent to the municipality of Oslo.
Each county has its own county council (fylkesting) whose representatives are elected every four years together with representatives to the municipal councils. The counties handle matters as high schools and local roads, and until 1 January 2002 hospitals as well. This responsibility was transferred to the state-run health authorities and health trusts, and there is a debate on the future of the county municipality as an administrative entity. Some people, and parties, such as the Conservative and Progress Party, call for the abolishment of the county municipalities once and for all, while others, including the Labour Party, merely want to merge some of them into larger regions.
The administrative unit in Pakistan immediately next to the state or province is called a "Dhila'ah (ضلعه)" in Urdu and Sindhi while in English it is referred as "District", it is equivalent to the county. Districts form the top tier of a three-tier system of local government, there are 120 Districts with the two lower tiers composed of approximately 400 tehsils and more than six thousand union councils.
In the Philippines during the Spanish colonial times, when the descendants of the pre-conquest nobles were utilized by Spain to indirectly rule the natives, the equivalent of a county was the town or pueblo, and also municipality. The pueblos were composed of Barangays. Each pueblo was ruled by the Gobernadorcillo who was elected by the Principalía of the pueblo. In turn, each barangay (equivalent to a barony) was ruled by a Cabeza de Barangay (a hereditary office and title previously referred before the Spanish conquest as datu).
A second-level administrative division in Poland is called a powiat. (This is a subdivision of a voivodeship and is further subdivided into gminas.) The term is often translated into English as county (or sometimes district). For more details see powiat and List of counties in Poland.
The administrative subdivisions of Romania are called judeţ (plural: judeţe), name derived from jude, a mayor and judge of a city (akin to English judge; both are derived from Latin) Presently Romania is subdivided into 41 counties and the capital, Bucharest having a separate status. See the list of counties of Romania.
Rayon, Okrug and Ulus may be translated into English as county or district.
Subdivisions of Serbia (okrug) are sometimes translated as counties, though more often as districts. See District#Serbia
The Swedish division into counties was established in 1634, and was based on an earlier division into Provinces. Sweden is today divided into 21 counties, and each county is further divided into municipalities. At the county level there is a county administrative board led by a governor appointed by the central government of Sweden, as well as an elected county council that handles a separate set of issues, notably hospitals and public transportation.
The Swedish term used is län, which literally means "fief."
The United Kingdom is divided into a number of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. There are also ceremonial counties which group small non-metropolitan counties into geographic areas broadly based on the historic counties of England. The metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties had replaced in 1974 a system of administrative counties and county boroughs which were introduced in 1889.
Most non-metropolitan counties in England are run by county councils and divided into districts, each with its own council. Local authorities in the UK are usually responsible for running education, emergency services, planning, transport, social services, and a number of other functions.
In England, in the Anglo-Saxon period, Shires were established as areas used for the raising of taxes, and usually had a fortified town at their centre. These became known as the shire town or later the county town. In most cases, the shires were named after their shire town (for example Bedfordshire) however there are several exceptions to this exist, such as Cumberland, Norfolk and Suffolk. In several other cases, such as Buckinghamshire, the town which came to be accepted as the county town is different from that after which the shire is named. (See Etymological list of counties of the United Kingdom.)
The name 'county' was introduced by the Normans, and was derived from a Norman term for an area administered by a Count (lord). These Norman 'counties' were simply the Saxon shires, and kept their Saxon names. Several traditional counties, including Essex, Sussex and Kent, predate the unification of England by Alfred the Great, and originally existed as independent kingdoms.
In Northern Ireland, the six county councils, if not their counties, were abolished in 1973 and replaced by 26 local government districts. The traditional six counties remain in common everyday use for many cultural and other purposes.
The thirteen historic counties of Wales were fixed by Statute in 1539 (although counties such as Pembrokeshire date from 1138) and most of the shires of Scotland are of at least this age.
The county boundaries of England have changed little over time. In the mediæval period, a number of important cities were granted the status of counties in their own right, such as London, Bristol and Coventry, and numerous small exclaves such as Islandshire were created. The next major change occurred in 1844, when many of these exclaves were re-merged with their surrounding counties (for example Coventry was re-merged with Warwickshire).
In 1965 and 1974-1975 a major re-organisation of local government created in England and Wales several new administrative counties such as Hereford and Worcester and also created several new metropolitan counties which served large urban areas as a single administrative unit. In Scotland county-sized local government was replaced by larger regions, which lasted until 1996. Modern local government in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and a large part of England is based on the concept of smaller unitary authorities (a system similar to that which the Redcliffe-Maud Report proposed for most of Britain in the 1960s).
As with the shires of Anglo-Saxon England, counties in U.S. states are administrative divisions of the state in which their boundaries are drawn. Where they exist, they are the intermediate tier of unitary state government, between the statewide tier and the immediately local government tier. Counties are used in 48 of the 50 unitary states; the other two states have abolished their counties as functional entities, a third state is in the process of doing so. Of these remaining 48 states, 46 use the term "county" while Alaska and Louisiana use different terms for slightly different but nevertheless analogous jurisdictions.
Depending on the individual state, counties or their differently named equivalent may be administratively subdivided themselves into civil townships, e.g., Michigan, which has civil townships and charter townships (or townships are called "towns" in states where "township" means "a town" or "village", e.g. New York); or counties may contain no large municipal corporations, e.g. Virginia, where all cities are independent cities; or they may contain cities and unincorporated areas, e.g., California, which historically divided its counties into townships but has abolished the latter.
Louisiana has entities similar to counties but calls them parishes. Alaska is divided into boroughs, which typically provide fewer local services than do most U.S. counties, as the state government furnishes many services directly. Some of Alaska's boroughs have merged geographical boundaries and administrative functions with their principal (and sometimes only) cities; these are known as unified city-boroughs and result in some of Alaska's cities ranking among the geographically largest "cities" in the world. Nevertheless, Alaska considers such entities to be boroughs, not cities. Alaska is also unique in that more than half the geographic area of the state is in the "Unorganized Borough", a legal entity in which the state also functions as the local government.
New York has a unique system where 57 of its 62 counties are administrative divisions of the state, with normal county executive powers; while the remaining five are administrative divisions of the City of Greater New York. These five are each called borough in context of City government - Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island (formerly Richmond); but are still called "county" where state function is involved, e.g., "New York County Courthouse", not "Manhattan". The county names correlate to the borough names as New York County, Bronx County, Queens County, Kings County, and Richmond County.
In two states and parts of a third, county government as such has been abolished, and county refers to geographic regions or districts. In Connecticut, Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts counties exist only to designate boundaries for such state-level functions as park districts (Connecticut) or judicial offices (Connecticut and Massachusetts). In states where county government is weak or nonexistent (e.g., New Hampshire, Vermont), town government may provide some or all of the local government services.
Most counties have a county seat, usually a city, where its administrative functions are centered. Exceptions include the nation's smallest county, Arlington, Virginia, which contains no municipalities; the City and County of San Francisco, a metropolitan municipality in which city and county government have been merged into one jurisdiction, so the county seat is coextensive with the whole county; and, of course, New York City, which is coextensive with five counties that, thus, all have the same county seat - making the question superfluous. Some New England states use the term shire town to mean "county seat".
- Etymology of the word county.
- e-나라지표 http://www.index.go.kr/gams/default.jsp (Kor)
- Korea.net : http://www.korea.net/korea/kor_loca.asp?code=A0101
- National Association of Counties (U.S.A.): Connecticut Counties
- National Association of Counties (U.S.A.): Rhode Island Counties
- National Association of Counties (U.S.A.): Massachusetts Counties
- Massachusetts League of Women Voters: Massachusetts Government: County Government