In Gaelic the area is referred to according to its traditional areas: Dùthaich MhicAoidh (or Dùthaich 'IcAoidh) (NW), Asainte (Assynt), and Cataibh (East). However, Cataibh is often used to refer to the area as a whole.
The name Sutherland dates from the era of Norse rule and settlement over much of the Highlands and Islands, under the rule of the jarl of Orkney. Although it contains some of the northernmost land in the island of Great Britain, it was called Suðrland ("southern land") from the standpoint of Orkney and Caithness.
The northwest corner of Sutherland, traditionally known as the Province of Strathnaver, was not incorporated into Sutherland until 1601. This was the home of the powerful and warlike Clan Mackay, and as such was named in Gaelic, Dùthaich 'Ic Aoidh, the Homeland of Mackay. Even today this part of Sutherland is known as Mackay Country, and, unlike other areas of Scotland where the names traditionally associated with the area have become diluted, there is still a preponderance of Mackays in the Dùthaich.
As well as Caithness to the north and east, Sutherland has North Sea (Dornoch Firth) coastline in the east, the former county of Ross and Cromarty to the south, and Atlantic coastline in the west and north. Like its southern neighbour, Wester Ross, Sutherland has some of the most dramatic scenery in the whole of Europe, especially on its western fringe where the mountains meet the sea. These include high sea cliffs, and very old mountains composed of Precambrian and Cambrian rocks.
Much of Sutherland is poor relative to the rest of Scotland with few job opportunities beyond government funded employment and seasonal tourism.
Further education is provided by North Highland College, part of the University of the Highland and Islands. The Ross House Campus in Dornoch was the first establishment in the UK to provide a degree in Golf Management. The Burghfield House Campus, also in Dornoch, is an hotel school.