What do you call the ethnic group of people who are of English ancestry? Do you call them Anglo-Saxons?

  • To be honest, I have no idea, even though I am one! There probably isn't any common term, although certainly it would be hard to mistake "British-American" as anything else. (Whether that would sound sensible and non-pretentious is another story entirely.) Jul 20, 2015 at 20:11
  • @Nathan Tuggy "British-American" can theoretically include the Irish.
    – Anixx
    Jul 20, 2015 at 21:29
  • Anglo-American might be better, although that often refers to the two countries themselves..
    – Oldcat
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:29
  • To add to the confusion, the Amish (a Mennonite sect that speaks a German dialect) refer to all non-Amish Americans as English. Jul 21, 2015 at 1:50
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    @Annix - British does not include Irish. It does include Scottish, English and Welsh though. I think it include Northern-Irish (because although it's the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I don't think someone from NI's passport would have anything other than "British" as their nationality).
    – AndyT
    Jul 21, 2015 at 8:47

3 Answers 3


Amusingly, at least to those non-Americans who have the pleasure of talking about this subject with Americans, the customary term in conversation is: "English".

Similarly, those of German ancestry are called "German", Korean ancestry "Korean", and Zimbabwean ancestry "Zimbabwean". As a culture of immigrants, we more or less wear our ancestry proudly and directly. It doesn't matter how many generations back it goes. Note that this is specifically for use in the US: if you are in Ireland, for example, it would be inappropriate (and potentially rude) to call yourself Irish. This is a fairly common faux pas of Americans abroad.

If you are referring to a context in which one would be expected to understand that these individuals are not, in fact, English immigrants but simply Americans of English descent or heritage, you are left with explicit constructions to that effect:

Americans of English descent/heritage are concentrated largely in the East, while those of East Asian descent/heritage are in the West

Anglo-Saxon tends to stand in for all white Americans in popular usage. At this point I would recommend being quite explicit that you mean the truly Anglo-Saxon ethnic group if you want to use that term, but it has historical meaning only and is in no sense cultural. I assume that this usage is a result of the popularity of the term "WASPs" (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), but I don't have any hard data on that.

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    @Anixx No. it only stands for people who fit all four categories... because of how much people mix and change religions, someone can be of English descent and be neither white nor Protestant...
    – Catija
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:19
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    @Oldcat are there Catholics in England?
    – Anixx
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:20
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    @Anixx There's no law against them any more... there are plenty of people in England of a wide variety of religions... and non-religions.
    – Catija
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:25
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    I don't know that it was ever quite illegal to be Catholic in England. You were barred from government offices, though. A rich one might find some charges trumped up - or not so trumped up as some did try and get a regime change going.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:28
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    It should be noted that people who actually are of the relevant nationality can find this mildly offensive. An American with some Irish ancestry three generations back is not in fact Irish. I would recommend "Some of my ancestors came from Ireland", and not "I'm Irish" or even "I'm Irish-American".
    – Mike Scott
    Jul 21, 2015 at 7:05

In the US, we have lots of ways to discuss this depending on what we're talking about:

One option is to use the term "heritage" to discuss our origin.

I'm of "Italian heritage".

We can also enumerate where we come from. The US is the "Great Melting-pot", so most people are a mix...

I'm half Italian, part British, and a little French... and there's some other random stuff in there, too.

This means that my parents are from families that came from Italy, Britain, France and a few other places.

We often use fractions if we know about what part of our family came from a particular place, and terms like "part" and "a little" if we don't know how much.

So, if someone wanted to say that they're English, they could say:

I'm of English heritage.
I'm 100% English.
My family is from England.

They could also say British, as that's generally taken to be synonymous. In some circles they might say "Anglo-Saxon"... but I don't think most people know what the term means any more, so it's easier to say the country name.

  • If one says he is "English" would not it imply that his ancestors or himself came to the US recently? I am asking about those who are "native" Americans having distant Anglo-Saxon origin (actually not knowing their ancestors who moved to the US).
    – Anixx
    Jul 20, 2015 at 21:32
  • @Anixx I have no clue when my ancestors came to the US but I know that they're Italian, so I say to people "I'm Italian"... If you don't have a funny accent, we assume a person means they're of that country's heritage/ancestry, not that they're a citizen... So if a person with an American accent said (usually in the context of a discussion of heritage) "I'm English", it would be assumed that they mean their ancestors are from England.
    – Catija
    Jul 20, 2015 at 21:33
  • @Anixx - I describe myself as English, Irish, Swedish, and German. The German immigrated in the 1850s, and the others about that time or a little later. If you are recent, you might say "First Generation" or something of the sort.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:24
  • "100% English" - who on earth can claim that? I'm from England, and I can trace Irish, Scottish and French roots. Ok, so I might be over 90% English, but that's very different from 100%!
    – AndyT
    Jul 21, 2015 at 8:49
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    @Catija: The point is that (other than very recent immigrants), the number of Americans with exclusively English ancestry is fairly small. Factor in the fact that most of those neither know or care about their ancestry further back than living grandparents, and the number becomes so small that there is really no explicit term for them.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 21, 2015 at 19:09

I have never called anyone an Anglo-Saxon. However, to be technical, Anglo-Saxon does mean "of English descent." But that word is rarely used. There is the term WASP, which means "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant." But this is more of a sociological term (see the definition), and by its literal definition excludes: non-whites and non-Protestants.

In the USA, as your question asks, a more common term is Anglo-American. However, as that article shows, this term can also have other meanings, therefore its usage can cause confusion and even dissension.

If you want to narrow it down, you can use: English-American. See the same wikipedia article. I do not know anybody who uses that term. Maybe some people do--probably only those who find it important to claim that they are of English descent.

British-American is problematic, because Britain encompasses more than just England.

  • "by its literal definition excludes: non-whites and non-Protestants" - yes, I want to exclude them.
    – Anixx
    Jul 20, 2015 at 21:35
  • Then @Anixx it depends on the context and exactly what you are trying to say (your purpose and audience). Since you are excluding people by race and religion, then WASP might be what you want to use. But without more context from you, I don't know.
    – user20792
    Jul 20, 2015 at 21:48
  • does WASP mean an exceptionally wealthy/elite group? Can it be applied to a worker or poor?
    – Anixx
    Jul 20, 2015 at 21:54
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    WASP means what the definition says. In order to not waste your time or mine, I am not going to answer any more questions without getting more context from you, which is what I requested before. To provide more context, edit your original question. Do not post it in a comment.
    – user20792
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:11
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    @Anixx - in sociologic or class terms, yes, WASP is referring to a relatively well off group socially and financially. A factory worker of the same descent would not be described so.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:26

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