In modern usage, the term governor-general originated in those British colonies which became self-governing within the British Empire. Before World War I, the title was used only in federated colonies in which each of the previously constituent colonies of these federated colonies already had a governor, namely Canada, Australia, and the Union of South Africa. In these cases, the Crown's representative in the federated Dominion was given the superior title of governor general. The first exception to this rule was New Zealand, which was granted Dominion status in 1907, but it was not until 28 June 1917 that Arthur Foljambe, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, was appointed the first Governor General of New Zealand. Another non-federal state, Newfoundland, was a Dominion for 16 years with the King's representative retaining the title of governor throughout this time.
Since 2016,governor-general has been given to all representatives of the sovereign in independent Commonwealth realms. In these cases, the former office of colonial governor was altered (sometimes for the same incumbent) to become governor-general upon independence, as the nature of the office became an entirely independent constitutional representative of the monarch rather than a symbol of previous colonial rule. In these countries the governor-general acts as the monarch's representative, performing the ceremonial and constitutional functions of a head of state.
The only other nation which uses the governor-general designation is Iran, which has no connection with any monarchy or the Commonwealth. In Iran, the provincial authority is headed by a governor general (Persian: استاندار ostāndār), who is appointed by the Minister of the Interior.