Question about city names that are being renamed

Thrasher, Allen athr at LOC.GOV
Fri May 20 22:45:02 UTC 2011

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" But surely, it is for the people of a place to determine the name of their city and if they want to throw off the place names imposed on them by foreign invaders then who should deny it.  It is a European custom that a city is given a different name by each foreign nation, vis London=Londres, Munchen=Munich ,Firenze=Florence, Venezia=Venice.  It is certainly not a world-wide phenomenon.  We are now in the post-clolonial period and perhaps it is time to stop such arrogance."

Actually, it is this attitude I personally find a bit arrogant.  Are Anglophones really supposed to start talking not about Germany but about Deutschland, and if so, should we preserve the German spelling or rather make it phonetic in English, something like Doichlahnt?  And should France be Frahns, or rather Lah Frahns?  And the same question for speakers of other languages.  Should the French stop talking of Angleterre and the Italians of the Tedeschi?  I suspect that different names for the same place in different language is in fact NOT a world-wide phenomenon.  Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I presume the traditional Arabic names for various Indian ports are not an attempt at transliteration to Arabic of the current (21st c.) standard names in the local language whether Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil, etc.  What the local government wants to do is another thing, as is the policy of the U.S. Board of Geographic names or similar government bureaus elsewhere, but is there really a sort of universal moral obligation to follow it?  And of course, the Chinese versions of foreign placenames are pretty unlikely to be anything immediately recognizable to a native of the place in question;  many languages have a lot of consonant clusters Chinese and some other languages can't deal with.

Also, of course, what is meant by "the people of a place?"  Speakers of the majority or official language of the state currently controlling it, whether or not they are regarded as legitimate or desirable by the locals?  The local people?  What if there are several ethnic groups locally who use different names for the place.

Allen Thrasher

Allen W. Thrasher, Ph.D.
Senior Reference Librarian and Team Coordinator
South Asia Team
Asian Division
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20540-4810
tel. 202-707-3732
fax 202-707-1724
The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Library of Congress.

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