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We have had some discussions before about Native placenames vs English placenames and placenames with accents, umlauts, diacritics.

But this question is about a different case.

In English many foreign places have traditional names or spellings. Some have gone out of fashion but many remain common.

Some countries have official English names or spellings for some places, even though the country has an unrleated language or is written in a script other than Latin / Roman.

We are inconsistent about which name or spelling we use in tags.

  • Bombay is the traditional and still very common name of a city on the west coast of India. Some time after independence from the UK India de-anglicized the official English names of many places. Bombay became Mumbai. We use as our tag even though Bombay is still very common.

  • Kiev is the traditional and still very common name of the capital city of Ukraine. After independence from the USSR Ukraine decided to promote an English spelling for their capital which reflects Ukrainian pronunciation more than Russian pronunciation. Kiev became Kyiv. We use as our tag even though Kyiv is preferred by Ukraine.

So shouldn't we choose one standard? And if we went for traditional or most popular in English would we go so far as changing Netherlands to Holland?


(The only one I'm aware of arguing about before is Burma vs Myanmar. That case was complicated by the fact that some people feel Myanmar was promoted by a repugnant government. Yet other evidence suggests that Burma is too specific to one ethnicity of the country and that Myanmar is more inclusive. It could've gone either way.)

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    Since Stackexchange is an English-language website hosted in America, shouldn't we use whatever is the official name accepted by the US government? – JonathanReez Dec 8 '14 at 11:46
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    @JonathanReez: Link to the US government website of officially accepted placenames please. In any case I don't buy your line of reasoning, nor does it fit with our previous decisions. – hippietrail Dec 9 '14 at 3:02
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    The Kiev/Kyiv question is clearly resolved on the embassy website, for example: ukraine.usembassy.gov – JonathanReez Dec 9 '14 at 9:18
  • Another option is to use whatever Google search result returns more queries: "Kiev" -> 152m results "Kyiv" -> 23m results. Similarly Bombay is more popular than Mumbai and "Netherlands" is more popular than "Holland". – JonathanReez Dec 9 '14 at 9:22
  • So one way or another we're inconsistent. Of course "kiev" and "bombay" will occur in many old sources and with meanings other than the current name of a particular city. "Chicken Kiev" being the obvious one. Also in the past we have made decisions based not on any of these criteria, but on which variant Wikipedia uses. – hippietrail Dec 9 '14 at 11:52
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    Netherlands/Holland is a completely different question from Mumbai/Bombay or Kiev/Kyiv. The latter two are different names for the same place; Holland is merely one region of the Netherlands. Calling the Netherlands "Holland" is like calling the UK "England" or calling the USA "Texas". – David Richerby Dec 11 '14 at 18:57
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    Or calling USA "America". Most people do some of these all the time. In fact most English speaking people don't even know that Holland is just a part of the Netherlands. – hippietrail Dec 12 '14 at 12:05
  • @DavidRicherby Stereotypical Texans act like they agree with that. – Dan Neely Dec 12 '14 at 18:25
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    @hippietrail The term "America" is only used to mean the USA; if you didn't mean the USA, you'd say "the Americas", "North America", "South America", "Central America" or some other combining phrase. That is a different situation to "Holland". – David Richerby Dec 12 '14 at 18:32
  • Also, it's not uncommon to hear Dutch people use “Holland” when addressing foreigners in English even if they obviously know that Holland is a province (actually two provinces now). – Relaxed Dec 13 '14 at 23:52
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I'd suggest we just use the names on Wikipedia. They have an eminently sensible naming convention for places, and editors there have spent literally years squabbling over the hard cases already, so why repeat that here?

And for what it's worth, here's what Wikipedia says for the examples above:

  • Mumbai, not Bombay
  • Kiev, not Kyiv
  • Netherlands, not Holland
  • Burma, not Myanmar
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    Good enough for me. Though I checked and Wikivoyage, which is kinda the "travel Wikipedia" doesn't match 100% with Wikipedia itself. Just worth mentioning. – hippietrail Dec 10 '14 at 5:49
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    +1, this was precisely my idea also. Just assign a standard reference and be done with it. Widipedia is a great standard reference so tags should conform to it. – Gayot Fow Dec 10 '14 at 15:02
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    unstats.un.org/unsd/geoinfo/geonames says it is Kyiv, not Kiev – Ivan May 29 '18 at 16:26
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    @Ivan From your link: "Notes: - The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations." – fabspro Jun 7 '18 at 13:36
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Stack Exchange sites should use official toponyms, accepted by the United Nations (UNGEGN). Any other naming would inevitably become disputed.

Moreover, a misleading spelling at a Travel site can lead the travelers straight into the trouble.

Using open-source sites like Wikipedia seems a big mistake, too.


The other answer suggests to use Wikipedia, but open sources have some natural drawbacks that virtually eliminate the possibility to use them in official context — the only context which makes Stack Exchange a source of quality content, unlike forums, blogs, and other Q&A sites.

Quite often, toponyms pose a political controversy, so open-source sites like Wikipedia are vulnerable to politically-motivated disputes and edit wars, ending up being always locked on the Wrong Version.

One vivid example is the disgraceful situation coming up around the Wikipedia page for Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
The United Nations (UNGEGN) has accepted the only possible English-language transliteration, Kyiv. There is no "or", "a.k.a.", or "alias" here.
However, the Wikipedia page has a detractive name "Kiev" which has its roots in centuries of Russian occupation and forced russification. There have been a whopping 10 (ten!) attempts to rename it, and, to the shame of the Wikipedia community, none were successful.

In the light of numerous accusations of a certain country committing a massive number of cyberterrorist acts in the recent years, successfully penetrating the most protected sites like presidential elections and national referendums, it is not surprising that the same force could easily penetrate the less-protected community-driven sites like Wikipedia.

And now it is on the way to penetrate the Stack Exchange, too.

There are good thoughts posted in comments above, I'll take my liberty to put it into this post:

  • Since Stackexchange is an English-language website hosted in America, shouldn't we use whatever is the official name accepted by the US government? – JonathanReez
  • The Kiev/Kyiv question is clearly resolved on the embassy website, for example: https://www.usembassy.gov/ukraine/JonathanReez

We do not force the users to obey this rule in their posts because it's impossible to enforce, but the site itself should follow the internationally-accepted (the UN) convention of spelling toponyms. This includes keeping the proper spelling of tags, UI (dropdown selectors), etc. This would make Stack Exchange a source of quality content, helping people learn, and avoid any misleading content.

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    While I was the one who suggested using the US government as our source of information, I also believe that we should follow a single solid standard to avoid bias. Wikipedia is a standard. US embassies are a standard. CIA factbook is a standard. UNGEGN is a standard. Let's pick one and use it, without resorting to involving Travel.SE into Politics. And currently Wikipedia is the accepted standard in this community. – JonathanReez May 28 '18 at 15:47
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    Wikipedia is politically driven in this case. It redirects from Kyiv page to Kiev page (thus, considering Kiev as main page), however, if you look at the page with founder of Kyiv (Kyi) the situation is reversed. Kyi is the main page and Kiy redirects to Kyi page. So you cannot call Wikipedia the source of truth. – Ivan May 29 '18 at 16:32
  • I do not object in principle to a shift from Kiev to Kyiv; however, UNGEGN is really only official with respect to the UN and its organs. Most English speakers encounter names in the English language press, which by and large prefers Kiev (e.g. BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, The Economist). – choster May 29 '18 at 20:43
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    That's the problem with Wikipedia, any controversial pages are always locked to the Wrong Version: meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/The_Wrong_Version – jpatokal May 29 '18 at 22:24
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    @bytebuster, your source (UNGEGN) literally says this: "Notes: - The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations." – fabspro Jun 7 '18 at 13:37
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    Additionally @bytebuster, you will kindly note that the Ukranian UN website itself actually uses Kiev as its spelling. – fabspro Jun 7 '18 at 13:37
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    @choster Do not mistake via sharing those links. Because I also can say that BBC, Reuters (just to notice that your page here is not working), The Guardian, The Economist (tag is not changed but name is used in articles) prefers to use Kyiv. – stegetsj Feb 13 at 0:50
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    Funny and interesting thing. It has happened. Guardian style guide update: Kyiv not Kiev (except “chicken Kiev”) — Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) February 13, 2019. Shaun Walker is the Guardian's central and eastern Europe correspondent. – stegetsj Feb 13 at 19:37
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It is vey strange to use instead . Especialy when here is used . As you can see, ending ~iv (~ів) is typical ending for Ukrainians place names which is also part of ending as ~ivsk~ (~івськ~) like in Ivano-Frankivsk.

If you like to use Wikipedia, then we meet next pages as main: Lviv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv and many so on. And here is no any problems with this.

  • This misses the point that Kiev is the well-established name of the city in English, just like Cardiff, Cologne, Copenhagen, or Cairo are preferable to Caerdydd, Köln, København, or al Qahira; the latter are correct but alien, and only introduce confusion. Romanization changes are more difficult and take longer to adopt the more embedded any anglicization is, thus Busan over Pusan was unremarkable, but Beijing over Peking took decades. Kiev is more analogous to Beijing than to Busan, I'm sure you would agree. – choster Feb 12 at 21:53
  • @choster Of course, I am not agree. Why? 1) Not well-established name, because Kyiv is also well-used. 2) Saying about preferable is not good thing, because, for example Köln, København, Beijing has a) letters; or (here is also al Qahira) b) sounds which standart English does not have. But Kyiv is not from those examples, sorry. – stegetsj Feb 13 at 0:38

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