Britain is divided into small administrative regions, many of which are called counties. Three regions, the counties of Essex and Kent and the region of Sussex (which includes the counties of East and West Sussex), have the same names and cover almost the same areas as three of the former Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Other counties, e.g. Dorset, are probably based on areas where particular tribes once lived.Counties were previously called shires. The original shires were the counties of the English Midlands and the word became part of their name, e.g. Northamptonshire. Administrative and legal affairs were dealt with by shire courts presided over by shire-reeves, later called sheriffs. Many shires were divided into smaller districts called hundreds. The large former county of Yorkshire was until 1974 divided into ridings, North Riding, East Riding and West Riding, named after the three divisions of the 9th century Viking kingdom of York.The families of people who own land in the shire counties, are sometimes described as county, as in a county family and She’s very county, or said to belong to the county set. Such people have a high social status and are thought to have a way of life that is typical of the upper class.Counties were for a long time the basis for local government. Since 1972 there have been many changes to their boundaries and names, and to the structure of local government. Most recently, unitary authorities have been created throughout Wales and in many places in England, and a similar system of council areas introduced in Scotland. The main difference is that counties have two tiers (= levels) of local government, at county and at district level, and unitary authorities and council areas have only one level. Some towns that were previously part of counties, e.g. Southampton, are now separate unitary authorities. Many people are confused by all the changes and continue to use the old county names. People do not like to have changes forced upon them, and in 1974 local people were unhappy when the small county of Rutland was abolished and became part of Leicestershire. In 1996, when they had the opportunity to change, the people of Rutland chose to have their own separate unitary authority.In the US most states are divided into counties, which are the largest units of local government. There are over 3 000 counties in the US; Delaware has just three, while Texas has 254. Connecticut and Rhode Island have none. In Louisiana, similar units of local government are called parishes, and in Alaska they are called boroughs. In some urban areas, such as Philadelphia and Boston, the city takes up almost the entire county.
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