Its greatest length north to south is only 18 miles (29 km) and its greatest breadth east to west is 17 miles (27 km). It is the smallest historic county in England and the fourth smallest in the UK as a whole. Because of this, the Latin motto Multum in Parvo or "much in little" was adopted by the county council in 1950. It has the smallest population of any normal unitary authority in England. Among the current ceremonial counties, the Isle of Wight, City of London and City of Bristol are smaller in area. The former County of London, in existence 1889 to 1965, also had a smaller area. It is 323rd of the 326 districts in population.
The only towns in Rutland are Oakham, the county town, and Uppingham. At the centre of the county is Rutland Water, a large artificial reservoir that is an important nature reserve serving as an overwintering site for wildfowl and a breeding site for ospreys.
The origin of the name of the county is unclear. In a 1909 edition of Notes and Queries Harriot Tabor suggested "that the name should be Ruthland, and that there is a part of Essex called the Ruth, and that the ancient holders of it were called Ruthlanders, since altered to Rutland"; however, responses suggest "that Rutland, as a name, was earlier than the Norman Conquest. Its first mention, as "Roteland", occurs in the will of Edward the Confessor; in Domesday it is "the King's soc of Roteland", not being then a shire; and in the reign of John it was assigned as a dowry to Queen Isabella.