2.34 General. Many place names have an anglicised form, but as people become more familiar with these names in the language of the country concerned, so foreign spellings will gain wider currency in written English. As a rule of thumb, therefore, use the native form for geographical names (retaining any accents) except where an anglicised form is overwhelmingly common. If in doubt as to whether an anglicised form is in widespread use, use only those given in the following sections and in the Country Compendium.
2.35 Orthography. Recommended spellings of countries (full names and short forms), country adjectives, capital cities, currencies and abbreviations are given in Annex A5 to the Interinstitutional Style Guide. Geographical names frequently contain pitfalls for the unwary, particularly in texts dealing with current events. Check carefully that you have used the appropriate English form. Examples: Belén/Bethlehem; Hong-Kong/Hong Kong; Irak/Iraq; Mogadiscio/Mogadishu; Karlsbad/Karlovy Vary; Naplouse/Nablus; Saïda/Sidon.
2.36 Countries/cities. Watch out for the definite article when translating place names from French, as in the following table.
- (au) Gaza — the Gaza Strip
- (à) Gaza — Gaza
- (au) Guatemala — Guatemala
- (à) Guatemala — Guatemala City
- (au) Mexique — Mexico
- (à) Mexico — Mexico City
and NB in Spanish:
- México — Mexico
- México D.F. — Mexico City
2.37 Scandinavian/Nordic. When referring to the countries of the Nordic Council, i.e. Denmark (including the Faeroes and Greenland), Finland (including Åland), Iceland, Norway and Sweden, use ‘Nordic’ rather than ‘Scandinavian’ in terms such as ‘Nordic countries’ or ‘Nordic cooperation’.
However, you may use ‘Scandinavia(n)’ if you do not need to be specific, though bear in mind the following points. In its narrow geographical interpretation, ‘Scandinavia’ refers to the two countries of the Scandinavian peninsula, i.e. Norway and Sweden. In practice, however, it includes Denmark and is often stretched to cover Finland. As a cultural term, ‘Scandinavian’ also embraces Iceland and the Faeroes. Note that ‘Scandinavian languages’ refers to the northern Germanic languages, i.e. Danish, Faeroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish, but not of course Finnish.
2.38 Names of regions. Regional names fall into three types.
♦ Administrative units. Anglicise only those names with translations in the Country Compendium. Other names should be left in the native spelling, without inverted commas.
♦ Traditional geographical names. Anglicise if the English has wide currency, e.g. the Black Forest, the Ruhr. Otherwise retain original spelling and accents. Regional products are a frequent example:
a Rheinhessen wine, the eastern Périgord area, the Ardèche region (NB: it is useful to add ‘region’ or ‘area’ in such cases), Lüneburger Heide
♦ Officially designated development areas. Designated development areas are mostly derived from names of administrative units or from traditional geographical names, often with a defining adjective. Follow the appropriate rule above, e.g.:
Lower Bavaria; the Charentes development area
The name of the cross-border region Euregio is written with an initial capital only.
2.39 Rivers. Use the forms Meuse (Maas only if the context is solely the Netherlands) and Moselle (Mosel only if the context is solely Germany). Write Rhine for Rhein, Rhin, and Rijn, and Rhineland for Rheinland. Also: Oder for Odra (Polish and Czech); Tiber for Tevere; Tagus for Tajo/Tejo. Note that the river called the Labe in Czech is known as the Elbe in English.
If included at all, the word ‘river’ normally precedes the proper name (the River Thames), unless it is regarded as an integral part of the name (the Yellow River). In either case, it takes a capital letter.
2.40 Seas. Anglicise seas (e.g. the Adriatic, the North Sea, the Baltic); Greenland waters implies official sea limits; use ‘waters off Greenland’ if something else is meant.
2.41 Lakes. Use the English names Lake Constance (for Bodensee), Lake Geneva (for Lac Léman), Lake Maggiore (for Lago Maggiore) and Lake Balaton (for Balaton).
2.42 Strait/straits. The singular is the form commonly used in official names, for example: Strait of Dover or Strait of Gibraltar.
2.43 Other bodies of water. Write Ijsselmeer (without capital J), Wattenmeer, Kattegat (Danish), Kattegatt (Swedish), Great/Little Belt.
2.44 Islands. Islands are often administrative units in their own right, so leave in original spelling, except Corsica, Sicily, Sardinia, the Canary Islands, the Azores and Greek islands with accepted English spellings, such as Crete, Corfu, Lesbos.
Use Fyn rather than Fünen in English texts and use West Friesian Islands for Waddeneilanden.
2.45 Mountains. Anglicise the Alps, Apennines (one p), Dolomites, Pindus Mountains, and Pyrenees (no accents).
Do not anglicise Massif Central (except for capital C), Alpes Maritimes (capital M) or Schwäbische Alb.
Alpenvorland should be translated as the foothills of the Alps.
2.46 Valleys. Words for valley should be translated unless referring to an official region or local produce: the Po valley, the Valle d’Aosta, Remstal wine.
2.47 Cities. See the sections on individual countries in the Country Compendium.
2.48 Non-literal geographical names. Geographical names used in lexicalised compounds tend to be lowercased, as they are no longer considered proper adjectives: roman numerals, gum arabic, prussic acid. Consult an up-to-date reliable dictionary in cases of doubt.
2.49 Compass points. Points of the compass (north, north-west, etc.) and their derived forms (north-western etc.) are not capitalised unless they form part of a proper name (e.g. an administrative or political unit or a distinct regional entity). Hence South Africa, Northern Ireland but southern Africa, northern France. Compass bearings are abbreviated without a point (54°E).
2.50 Compound compass points. Compound compass points are hyphenated (the North-West Passage); always abbreviate as capitals without stops (NW France).
Source: European Commission Directorate-General for Translation
A handbook for authors and translators in the European Commission
Seventh edition: August 2011 Last updated: May 2014