The original central settlement was Västergötland and it is Västergötland that appears in medieval Icelandic and Norwegian sources as Gautland (Götland), a form which is not etymologically identical to Götaland. Ptolemaios (2nd century AD) mentions these people as goutai and Beowulf (8th century) mentions them as Géatas. Norwegian and Icelandic sources sometimes use Gautar only for the people of Västergötland, but sometimes as a common ethnic term for both the people of Västergötland and those of Östergötland.
The name Götaland replaced the old Götland in the 15th century, and it was probably to distinguish the wider region it denoted from the traditional heartland in Västergötland. The name Götaland probably originally referred only to Västergötland and Östergötland, but was later extended to adjoining districts. The name Götaland is probably a plural construction and means the "lands of the Geats", where Göta- is the genitive plural of the ethnonym Göt (Geat). The interpretation that the neuter noun -land is a plural and not a singular noun is indicated by Bo Jonsson Grip's will in 1384, where he stated that he donated property in Swerige (Sweden, i.e. Svealand), Österlandom (Finland) and in Göthalandom to monasteries. Here Götaland appears in the plural form of the dative case.
Västergötland and Östergötland, once rival kingdoms themselves, constitute Götaland proper. The Geatish kings, however, belong to the domain of Norse mythology.
It was only late in the Middle Ages that Götaland was beginning to be perceived as a part of Sweden. In Old Norse and in Old English sources, Gautland/Geatland is still treated as a separate country from Sweden. In Sögubrot af Nokkrum for instance, Kolmården between Svealand and Östergötland is described as the border between Sweden and Ostrogothia (...Kolmerkr, er skilr Svíþjóð ok Eystra-Gautland...), and in Hervarar saga, king Ingold I rides to Sweden through Östergötland: Ingi konungr fór með hirð sína ok sveit nokkura ok hafði lítinn her. Hann reið austr um Smáland ok í eystra Gautland ok svá í Svíþjóð. The lord Bo Jonsson Grip was probably the one who was best acquainted with the geography of the Swedish kingdom since he owned more than half of it. In 1384, he stated in his will that the kingdom consisted of Swerige (Sweden, i.e. Svealand), Österland (i.e. Finland) and Göthaland (i.e. Götaland).
Dal to the north west became the province of Dalsland.
In the Treaty of Roskilde (1658), the Danish kingdom ceded what is today often referred to as Skåneland and Bohuslän to Sweden. Skåneland, which had constituted the eastern part of Denmark, became the Swedish provinces of Skåne, Halland and Blekinge. The new provinces came to be counted to Götaland.
Värmland originally belonged to the Göta Court of Appeal, but the province changed to become part of the Court of Appeal for Svealand for a period of time in the early 19th century. Even though Värmland historically was a part of Götaland, it has since that time generally been counted as part of Svealand, although it is now part of the Court of Appeal for Western Sweden.