On air: Can a country dictate the place names that we use?

That’s what Iran is attempting to do. It’s warned airlines that they won’t be allowed to fly through Iranian airspace (let alone land…) unless they use the term “Persian Gulf” on their in-flight monitors.

As our correspondent Jon Leyne puts it: ‘To call it the Gulf, annoys the authorities; to call it the Arabian Gulf, infuriates them even more.’ Do you support their insistence? And in your country, do you want a strong stance taken on the correct names being used?

Just in our meeting we thought of Burma / Myanmar, Bombay / Mumbai, Ayer’s Rock / Uluru… And of course the list goes on and on.

Should we feel obliged to use the names chosen by those in power?

On another story, California has renamed Negrohead Mountain.

118 Responses to “On air: Can a country dictate the place names that we use?”

    February 22, 2010 at 14:20

    In case of Iran one can only read ‘NANNY BEHAVIOR’. There is clear distinction between the commerical world and political world.
    The Airlines can be cowed because they may choose to toe the line in order to protect profits but none of the rest of us should care whether it is Persian or Iranian Gulf. Gulf is a purely geographical term not subject to state patenting.

  2. 2 Nengak (Abuja, Nigeria)
    February 22, 2010 at 14:27

    I think what a country is to be called is up to the leaders and the people of that country not what is written in the atlas in our own countries. If Iran insist that its airspace must be called the ‘Persian Gulf’ then so be it, all airlines effect the change on their systems and everyone flies happily ever after. Alternatively, those who disagree should fine alternative routes and destinations.
    I may have a problem with some of the long and elaborate titles some countries give themselves, but if I have business with them, I will remember to quote such names correctly. Its not just Iran that is insistent on what it’s called, I think the same apples to all countries.

  3. 3 Faysal
    February 22, 2010 at 14:43

    We do name things and places on our own when we OWN them. We have suggested that we call it the Islamic Gulf, as it is being completely surrounded with Muslim countries…they, the persians, refused. From now on, Gulf Arab countries must close their sky and sea for planes and ships using name other than Arab Gulf…This is ridiculous!!!

  4. 4 Cabe UK
    February 22, 2010 at 14:53

    Does it really matter? – Countries change their borders and names all the time – We should comply and just call it – – The “Persian GOLF” and be done with it.

    ……..and if the Iranians don’t like it then we should just call their bluff – let them have their stupid name and just not land there anymore! and that would include all trade / exports etc. ….. Now wouldn’t that be so sweet!

  5. 5 steve
    February 22, 2010 at 14:58

    Do the British make threats because the French call London “Londres”? or do the Germans for the rest of the world calling Muenchen “Munich”?

    • 6 Steve - Vietnam
      February 23, 2010 at 08:08

      No we do not get so nasty but the French insisted in calling the Channel Tunnel the Trans Manche Link and don’t refer to the Pas De Calais as the Straits of Dover in Paris.

  6. 7 Ivan Mark Radhakrishnan
    February 22, 2010 at 14:59

    Yes they can (try using Rhodesia with Robert M!)……. but are there no important issues they should be working on?

  7. 8 Adam J.Carroll. - US
    February 22, 2010 at 14:59

    let them call it what ever pleases them, as Arthur stated it is a geographical term but furthermore the name shouldn’t be the worth of something. if you take that name away, would it still hold the same value? or is that value only in its name leaving that in and of its self valueless and therefore not worth discussing. and I’m sure the famous Shakespeare has popped into most minds as well, “a rose by any other name, still has prickers so don’t grab it quickly…

  8. 9 Chedondo
    February 22, 2010 at 15:00

    The Iranian government can dicatate what we call geographical places under their proper legal jurisdiction. I think the Gulf (the Arabian Gulf) is international territory and no one country can lay claim to all of it. It is like the French requiring that we stop referring to the English Channel because it borders their country. There is a place called the Sea of Japan and another called the Gulf of Mexico. We even have a place called the Mozambique Channel!

    The simplest thing is for international places (like the of oceans and continents) to be placed under the naming authority of a neutral body like they do in science – we have the IUPAP and IUPAC. But then the Iranians will claim religious authority and that tends to kill debate – still, lets meet in the Gulf (of Arabia)

  9. 10 C Clarke-Williams
    February 22, 2010 at 15:04

    I grew up calling Rhodesia by its original English name, it annoys me when it is referred to in British Media at Zimbabwe and its capital called Harare instead of its proper name Salisbury. Partly I suspect because it was clear right from the start that Mr Mugabe who seemed to be the person insisting on the change was a despot and partly because we never called Germany Deutshland so why change the name of a former British colony and since when has Peking been called Bejing?

  10. 11 Eddie Earl
    February 22, 2010 at 15:06

    I think that when visiting a country as a guest is is polite to use the place name used by your hosts.

    Closer to home the British visit Portugal in large numbers and in calling their capital City Lisbon when in fact it is Lisboa.

    It is on all the road signs yet our countrymen still persist……..

  11. 12 Eileen in Virginia
    February 22, 2010 at 15:13

    There are enough issues to deal with in the case of Iran, without turning a skirmish into a contentious stand-off.

    Rising to this Iranian challenge with resentment and hostility would be a good illustration of picking the wrong battle.

    What’s in a name? Quite a lot really. Imagine calling the English Channel ‘The French Channel’.

    • 13 Steve - Vietnam
      February 23, 2010 at 08:27

      Sorry Eileen although in the English speaking world the English Channel is the usual phrase for that stretch of water. In France it is known as La Manche (The Sleeve) as some people think it looks like a coat sleeve – I suppose that’s French Fashion Designers for you. The Dutch refer to it as Het Kanaal ( the Channel). I’m not sure what the Belgians call it, being part French Speaking and Part Dutch Speaking I suppose it depends if you define yourself as Flemish or Walloon. The actual Straits of Cover are known as the Pas Du Calais on the other side of the Water.
      We do not get nasty over it though and agree to differ hence thus the French built the Trans Manche Link and we Brits built the Channel Tunnel.

  12. 14 Crystal Ball
    February 22, 2010 at 15:15

    The airline operators should stop flying into Iran completely and see how long it takes for this piece of nonsense and the Minister to fade away!

  13. 15 Colin L Beadon
    February 22, 2010 at 15:22

    In the case of Burma

    In the case of the country where I was born, Burma,
    I’d prefer it was allowed to keep its original name though I don’t know who gave it that, Burma. The name Myanmar, was given Burma by the military Junta, who squashed democracy and placed Burma in the sad state it is in today. It is though George Orwell ( Eric Blair) who was a colonial police officer in Burma, with my father and uncle, had a premonition about Burma, when he wrote Animal farm.
    If the people of a democracy chose to change the name of their counrty, then one would assume they have the prefect right to do so, whether they can afford such a change or not.

  14. 16 Mike in Seattle
    February 22, 2010 at 15:29

    Is it really that important to everyone what the gulf is called? Is there some issue that I’m ignorant of that makes the name of the Gulf that important that planes must be grounded until their monitors spell out the desired name?

  15. 17 Roy, Washington DC
    February 22, 2010 at 15:33

    Using one name over another isn’t necessarily an endorsement of one side over another. If we want to be able to use Iranian airspace, though, this apparently doesn’t matter.

  16. 18 subra
    February 22, 2010 at 15:38

    when politicians lose their mooring and they are booed by their own people, they try to breed some patriotism in the people by changing names of the country or the towns etc. Look at Mugabe; he changed the name of his country and called it Zimbabwe just to fool the people. Apart from changing the name he started killing his own people and brought in famines.
    What’s in a name.
    It is important for politicians to bear in mind that if they are not wanted in their country by their own people they must pack up and go. Can’t govern by changing names. Names don’f feed the people!

  17. 19 Guido, Vienna
    February 22, 2010 at 15:47

    The previous examples were from autocratic ruled countries, but this “problem” is also discussed by democratic (nationalistic) politicians.

    Some years ago a provincial governor in Austria decided to replace all Slovenian names on road signs with German names (e.g. Leibach instead of Lubijana). The story turned funny when a court ruled that this was against an European treaty. Now the road signs just say “Slovenien” (the country name), instead of the town names.

  18. 20 Ingo Recker
    February 22, 2010 at 15:48

    To be honest, I think that the Iranian transport minister makes a fool of himself. It should be the easiest way to tackle this issue by calling the Gulf whatever they want it to be called … and laugh out loud when no Iranian official is in sight.

    We all should – to use a German saying – “be generous in small items”. There are much more serious problems in the world!

    February 22, 2010 at 15:51

    The Iranian flag is the same, the regime the same, the country the same – no confusion appart from some unexplained premonition by attention seeker – it is unlikely that they are many.

    The region still remains ‘The Gulf Region’. We still use the word Burma yet I have not heard the so called generals raise a complaint.

    Iran should dictate to its own cizens only. This is not a genuine picketing by Iranian authorities – we always know when there is one. What if tomorrow they say that we use arabic alphabet who will comply with such requirement.

  20. 22 audre
    February 22, 2010 at 15:57

    Names are changed all the time and, in time, we adjust. What’s wrong with that?

  21. February 22, 2010 at 16:04

    This newest initiative by Iran to tweak the world’s nose is just as troubling as its purposeful disdain of and taunts to the world regarding its uranium enrichment. Iran’s demand that aircraft in its airspace label “Persian Gulf” on its screens or they might be impounded smacks of hegemony… the traditional term describing one nation’s physical incorporation of its neighbors is now being reinvented to require the world to hand symbolic “ownership” of the Gulf to Iran. Potentially very scary stuff considering Iran’s recent history. What percentage of Iran’s demand is meant for internal, anti-outsider propaganda, and what percentage is meant to manipulate the world itself doesn’t matter at this point. A body of water is a shared commodity and as such can go by many local names depending on one’s proximity to different nations, BUT travel and trade have agreed on common names to be used internationally. To let Iran get away with this hegemonic baby step is not worth any loss of money or trade. I hope nations and corporations will call Iran’s bluff and say, “Sorry, we’re going to treat you like we do every other nation. Unless you withdraw your provincial demand there will be no flights, no air trade, and no kowtowing to bullying. YOU drew the line in the sand (water), Iran, now live with it.”

  22. 24 guykaks
    February 22, 2010 at 16:12

    Yes!we live in a democratic world and Iran is free to choose what it best likes.After all, what are you hypocrites up to in Iran?may be nuclear power?Whatever name they suggest is as good as death.I see no reason for the skeptics to say blah blah blah about Iran,we have freedom for that!

  23. February 22, 2010 at 16:12

    Iran may have a political agenda behind insisting that the term “Persian Gulf” is used by airlines on their in-flight monitors. It already has territorial disputes with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, not to mention the previous territorial disputes with Iraq which led to the Gulf War between them .http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_disputes_in_the_Persian_Gulf#Background.

    Insisting on the use of the term the Persian Gulf may not be politically be accepted as it may implicit international recognition of its sovereignty on the disputed territories.

    During Apartheid In South Africa, in Scotland there was opposition to it, so the street in which there was South Africa consulate was named Nelson Mandela to make a political point.

    in Africa, there is the case of Ivory Coast , which insists on being called Cote d’Ivoire.

    In short, any name is acceptable as long as it isn’t embedded with political meaning that can start a diplomatic row.

  24. February 22, 2010 at 16:14

    Iran may have a political agenda behind insisting that the term “Persian Gulf” is used by airlines on their in-flight monitors. It already has territorial disputes with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, not to mention the previous territorial disputes with Iraq which led to the Gulf War between them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_disputes_in_the_Persian_Gulf#Background.

    Insisting on the use of the term the Persian Gulf may not be politically be accepted as it may implicit international recognition of its sovereignty on the disputed territories.

    During Apartheid In South Africa, in Scotland there was opposition to it, so the street in which there was South Africa consulate was named Nelson Mandela to make a political point.

    in Africa, there is the case of Ivory Coast , which insists on being called Cote d’Ivoire.

    In short, any name is acceptable as long as it isn’t embedded with political meaning that can start a diplomatic row.

  25. 27 Petr Gizzi UK
    February 22, 2010 at 16:22

    How long has Iran been known by that name? Its people are racially separate from the surrounding Arabs I understand? They were I think historically part of Persia? Why not use this name?

    Who named Iraq?

    Who asked me if I wanted to become a citizen of Europe? How many British People realise they are? When my passport was due for renewal 4 years ago I renewd it early so it still has The Royal Coat of Arms on the front. These are no longer issued. I hope to be able to renounce my European Citizenship though whether I succeed time will tell? I would love to die English not European.

  26. 28 John in Salem
    February 22, 2010 at 16:33

    Sure. Governments and leaders have been doing this for centuries to make themselves look more important and historically significant.
    It’s risky, however – if other countries play along without objection, humoring them by using the new name only when they have to but continuing to print maps and use the old name in every other context – it can make that government or leader look like a joke to their own people.

  27. 29 Linda from Italy
    February 22, 2010 at 16:37

    What’s in a name? A rose by any other name?
    As already mentioned, only the Brits call that bit of water between the Franca and England the English Channel, to the French it is La Manche, (The Sleeve) not terribly inspiring, and the Italians take their clue from the French with La Manica (another sleeve).
    Steve mentions München, called by Brits and Americans Munich, but the Italians call it Monaco – there’s confusing, since last time I looked Monaco was definitely not in Germany!
    Some of the new names in the English language for places in countries with a very different alphabet and phonological system such as Beijing for Peking and Mumbai for Bombay, reflect a better attempt to approximate the original pronunciation.
    As for this Iran posturing, it seems yet another example of the growing level of hysteria in a country whose rulers are beginning to feel distinctly shaky. Funnily enough I thought the name Persia was distinctly out of fashion for the country, so why aren’t they demanding this bit of water be called the Iranian Gulf? Time to let them stew in their own linguistic juice.

  28. 30 Turinawe, Kampala
    February 22, 2010 at 16:57

    Why debate this? Iran’s leadership has a reason. How does this decision really affect anyone’s business – as a sole factor? Let us shed the egos and do as told since we non-Iranians are guests in the land.

  29. 31 Elias
    February 22, 2010 at 17:02

    Typically, Iran is flexing its muscles now that she believes she has unlimited power, the worst is yet to come in the future. “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”.

  30. 32 Donnamarie in Switzerland
    February 22, 2010 at 17:09

    Iran’s insistance that a piece of water enclosed by numerous different countries be called by the name of Iran’s chosing is simply childish. Surely the Iranian authorities have better things to do: bringing the fossil fuel industry’s infrastructure up to modern standards, settling the international flap over their nuclear ambitions, holding free and fair elections, releasing political prisoners, the list is long.

    My children’s school atlas gives the name “Golfe Arabo-Persique,” or Arabian-Persian Gulf. Perfectly reasonable–which, of course, the Iranian authorities are not.

  31. 33 Venkat Gopal, North Carolina, USA
    February 22, 2010 at 17:12

    Countries on the “Persian Gulf” coastline such as Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia consider themselves as Arab nations and hence the name Arabian Gulf, If Iran wants to disassociate herself from them and prefers to be referred to as the Persian Gulf, so be it. Airlines can change their monitors to display Arabian Gulf over the Arab countries and Persian Gulf when they are over Iranian space. Problem solved! Burma, Bombay and so on bad analogy. The erstwhile Yugoslvia is now Serbia and Motenegro, nobody seems to have an issue with that!

  32. 34 tim gillespie
    February 22, 2010 at 17:13

    This is just another annoyance by Iran
    Belgium should insist on cities being given their Flemish or Waloon names depending on overhead location
    All flights from Europe to Britain should refer to crossing the English Channel
    Flights to Ireland would be across the Irish sea
    What a nonsense !
    Like silly children, just ignore them

  33. 35 Alan in AZ
    February 22, 2010 at 17:16

    We should respect what the locals call the area at this time. If there is political confusion, use the name recognized by the United Nations. If a country still cries foul, send them a box of tissues,

  34. 36 patti in cape coral
    February 22, 2010 at 17:18

    Personally I try to pronounce names the way the indigenous people do. So Iraqis say Iraq with the long e sound, so that’s what I say, even though most Americans say pronounce Iraq with the i long i sound. People from Illinois don’t prounounce the s at the end because it’s supposed to be silent, but the rest of the country seems to pronounce it for some reason. But that’s a different question altogether. I want to say it doesn’t really matter, but I’m sure it has political implications.

  35. 37 Anthony
    February 22, 2010 at 17:30

    Really? This is so absurd I can’t believe this is the topic today.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  36. February 22, 2010 at 17:30

    I think Iran has the right to decide the place names to be used. It just like when people decide not to be called certain names. The airines involved should effect the change if they wish to continue to fly. Iran has a right to be respected and its views respected as well.

  37. 39 chinaski in LA
    February 22, 2010 at 17:42

    this is another example of how a country like Iran can not be trusted with nuclear weapons. If they’re this petty and juvenile about naming conventions think of what will happen when they have their finger on the bomb.

  38. 40 steve
    February 22, 2010 at 17:47

    @ Anthony

    It may not be a big deal, but it’s a lot more newworthy and a Tiger Woods’ apology. If I had my way, the show would have been about the US’s 5-3 victory over Canada. That’s the only thing I really care about today.

  39. February 22, 2010 at 17:47

    Even my opinion is divided on this. But all of us should practice our pronunciation. Some, mostly Americans refering to African names, can be annoying!

  40. 42 steve
    February 22, 2010 at 17:47

    So will Iran be forced to call Israel “Israel” instead of “little satan” or “zionist entity”

    I smell hypocrisy.

  41. 43 Donnamarie in Switzerland
    February 22, 2010 at 17:59

    @ Audre:

    You said, “Names are changed all the time and, in time, we adjust. What’s wrong with that?”

    What’s wrong with it is that the Arabian-Persian Gulf is not enclosed by Iran only, it is bordered by a number of other countries that do not call it the “Persian” Gulf. Burma/Myanmar, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe can change their names as a matter of national sovereignty. Russia can change St. Petersberg to Stalingrad and back to St. Petersberg, and China can reasonably demand that Pekin be rendered as Beijing.

    Here in my own little Switzerland, the people who live in the town call it “Genève.” In German, it’s called “Genf,” in Italian “Ginevra,” in English “Geneva.” The Swiss, being peaceful, neutral and reasonable people, go with the flow, make an effort to communicate in whatever language, using whatever name the interlocuter is comfortable with. No big deal.

    Unlike the Iranian authorities, the Swiss are not bullies. They have no axes to grind. Unlike the Iranian authorities, the Swiss do not posture, they accommodate. Switzerland is one of the most prosperous nations on earth in spite of its lack of natural resources like oil. Except for a little blip a couple of hundred of years ago, Switzerland has been a peaceful, neutral, democratic nation since its founding over 700 years ago.

    And, by the way, the big puddle on the Rhône River that English-speaking folk call “Lake Geneva” bears the official name of Lac Lèman. The border between France and Switzerland runs through the middle of the lake. Neither country makes a fuss about how the name is rendered elsewhere.

    The Iranians could take a lesson from this: Grow up.

    These are internal matters.

  42. 44 JanB
    February 22, 2010 at 18:00

    You’d think the Iranian leadership has more important things on its mind, but apparently they don’t care.

    It’s just ridiculous.

  43. February 22, 2010 at 18:25

    I have just consulted my world map and that area around Iran,kuwait and Oman is called the Persian Gulf,its an up to date map.So what is the problem? The Iranians have not changed the name,they just want it to be used;much the same as I would wish proper names to be used,in and for my country.

  44. 46 Turinawe, Kampala
    February 22, 2010 at 18:27

    Can anyone provide an objective criticism to this (government’s) suggestion? Nuclear weapons, democracy, bla…………… I mean, what’s wrong with the suggestion? What if a similar one was raised by the UK government, would all this talk be on air?

  45. 47 Neal Rubenstein
    February 22, 2010 at 18:27

    First of all, Iran isn’t dictating a name change, only trying to keep others from changing the name. Secondly, in my world, the local government, not I, establishes the place names. I have never named any place, just accepted the world I was born into, absurd as it is.f

  46. February 22, 2010 at 18:30

    Greetings to All,
    After a low absence due to academic obligations, i am happy to get involve again with the WHYS online debate.
    A sovereign nation has got the right to ensure that its names including those of cities and historical sites are properly chosen and pronounced. The fact is, these names are peculiar to the country and are therefore their heritage and pride.
    However, like my friend and brother from Morocco, Abdelilah articulated, if the selection of these names have huge political undertones that they violate the rights and heritage of other countries, then the issue most be addressed seriously by the international community. Learning from the history of the fragility of peace in the Gulf, it is so prudent that we do not allow Iran to bite more than it can chew. The arrogance and adamance of the Iran leadership is an indication that they are prepared to foment chaos in the region.

  47. February 22, 2010 at 18:35

    Names often cause friction especially when there are conflicts involved and when the leaders are belligerent by nature! Often it is a storm in a tea-cup but when countries are prepared to go to war over territorial claims and insist on calling countries or disputed territories by different names, it becomes tedious and confusing to natives and tourists alike. Is it prestige or sheer possession of land that drives certain leaders to madness? The mind boggles!

  48. 50 eSCe
    February 22, 2010 at 18:40

    Personally I will feel insulted , if I introduce myself as Peter but you insist on calling me Paul . I dislike the BBC for refering to ex colonies by their colonial names. It seems you brits are still sore at losing your empire. Well you still got the Falklands b/cos you can still bully Argentina and displace the natives with Brits. Shameful imperialist. Post this if you b lieve in free speech.

    • 51 Harry
      February 22, 2010 at 22:00

      @farshid wonders…
      “Ladies and Gentelmen,
      “we are just flying over French chanel and will be arriving soon Dover?
      “How dose it sound &feel?

      Well, it sounds something like this: “Messieurs dames, nous traversons actuellement LA MANCHE et arriverons bientôt à DOUVRES”. Is it an insult to the British nation that other languages have different names for places in or near Britain? In what possible sense does the (despotic and unrepresentative) Iranian government have any right to dictate to the peoples of the world how to refer, in their own languages, to places not even within Iranian territory? The Gulf, and the English language, are no-one’s property.

  49. 52 Sam, Kansas city
    February 22, 2010 at 18:52

    sovereignty sovereignty and more sovereignty people!

    Every nation has the right to name its own vicinity, its just like having someone else naming your new born child without your permission.

    Food for thought!

  50. 53 skinnymalinky1
    February 22, 2010 at 18:53

    What’s the issue here? It’s called the “Persian Gulf” anyway. Seems like a reasonable request given that most of the coastline of that gulf is Iranian.
    Kate in Frankfurt.

  51. 54 Kenneth Ingle
    February 22, 2010 at 18:56

    There is little to stop countries changing names within their own borders. Less sensible is when organisations such as the BBC start trying to tell listeners that Peking is not Peking or Bombay no longer Bombay. In such cases nobody should follow such leads. As with the German writing reform, where now some words are written in a different way – for example with a tripple instead of a double “s” in the middle – such changes just cause confusion and bring no advantage.

  52. 55 Edmund Jones
    February 22, 2010 at 19:00

    Well, back in the day, the Persian Empire occupied all of the western shore of the gulf. Since Persia has been split up, maybe we should rename the gulf in pieces, depending on where you are. But seriously, if the gulf were all enclosed in Iran they can call it anything they want. Various countries (Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia etc) have, under maritime law, jurisdiction over parts of the gulf. Therefore Iran cannot just go ahead and effect a name change. This seems to be an ego problem with the symptomatic bullying attached.

  53. 56 JanB
    February 22, 2010 at 19:06

    Do you see the Dutch refuse airplanes because the in-flight monitor says “Holland” instead of “The Netherlands”? No, of course, maybe that has something to do with the Netherlands not being a cruel theocracy whose leaders care more about distracting their people than about helping said people.

    Besides, if the Kuwaiti’s and Iraqi’s call it the Arabian Gulf, then who is Iran to tell them they’re wrong?

    It’s all so pathetic…

  54. 57 patti in cape coral
    February 22, 2010 at 19:06

    This reminds me of how sad I felt when I found out the Sears Tower in Chicago was now Willis Towers since the Brits bought it. In the end it doesn’t matter, I’m just being sentimental about the place I grew up. I suspect Willis Tower will be The Sears Tower to most Chicagoans for many years to come.

  55. 58 Andrew in Australia
    February 22, 2010 at 19:07

    But who really decides what is the commonly accepted name for some place.

    Within your borders you can get away with saying this is called Mount X or the Sea of Y. But how can you doctate what others may commonly call something else.

    You might call it Mt Everest or Chomolungma, or anything else depending on whose dialect you use.

    Pronounciation is one thing, but can you enforce what someone calls a place?

  56. 59 JanB
    February 22, 2010 at 19:08

    “What’s the issue here? It’s called the “Persian Gulf” anyway. Seems like a reasonable request given that most of the coastline of that gulf is Iranian.
    Kate in Frankfurt.”

    Actually, the combined coastlines of the Arab countries surpasses that of Iran, but it’s all so pointless anyway.

  57. 60 Andrew in Australia
    February 22, 2010 at 19:12

    If the Iranians are so touchy about it.. perhaps they should still call themselves Persia!

    Frankly I’d like to see that.

  58. 61 Adam
    February 22, 2010 at 19:12

    The global phenomenon of this name-changes appears to be symptomatic of the influential rise of the gulf countries on the world arena in modern times, as opposed the Iran’s waning recognition. This of course 2000, was no contest, as the Gulf countries were no more than sand.

    They could call it the Persio-Arabian gulf if they want, as they do their script. As an Arab, we know it as the Arabian Gulf. Let the Iranians call it what they want, and we will call it what we want. After all, there is expansive arab territory that borders the Gulf.

  59. 62 Chad, Kentucky, USA
    February 22, 2010 at 19:14

    A lot of context has been lost in the presentation of this topic. Of course people can determine the place names of places within their borders, but there’s a regional political element here that’s being missed. The Arabians want the body of water to be called the Arabian Gulf. The Iranians want the body of water to be called the Persian Gulf. What Iran is doing is actually quite an agressive “land grab” of sorts in the region when paired with their development of nuclear weapons technology. Iran wants to reclaim its dominance in the region, both through the development of military technology and by this sort of regional “land grab”. Now, I agree with your guest that “Persian Gulf” is the proper name, but what’s key here is the aggressiveness of Iran within the region in context of its other aggressive behavior.

  60. 63 steve
    February 22, 2010 at 19:17

    I guess KLM better stop using Dutch on their transatlantic flights! I’ve seen the Atlantic ocean written in Dutch, and the names of countries in Dutch, and heaven forbid, the altitude and speed in metric, and this is American where Metric system is the tool of the devil!

  61. 64 steve
    February 22, 2010 at 19:18

    I still await the Iranian leadership calling Israel by its actual name.

  62. 65 Eduard
    February 22, 2010 at 19:24

    I think, it’s another provocation of Iran. It seems like they are interested in any kind of a conflict. Iran wants to dictate the world its will.

  63. 66 David - US
    February 22, 2010 at 19:24

    I’m sure I’ll touch a never for the BBC 😛

    Although I really don’t care much about this topic I’d like to point out a small little island down south who’s ownership is quite controversial and yet it has two names. England calls it the Falklands but South America calls it Las Malvinas. I wonder which one is correct and who or what country gets to name it…

  64. 67 Ruisch Festen
    February 22, 2010 at 19:28

    “Holland” is a Dutch province (now ‘North-Holland’ and ‘South-Holland’) that used to be very influential some centuries ago. To use it now for “The Netherlands” could have been insulting to people in other provinces. As far as I know, however, the term “Holland” used in English is considered by all Dutch people as referring to “The (Kingdom of the) Netherlands”. Also in Dutch, the term “Holland” is used, but less officially (in soccer, for example: “Hup Holland Hup”).

  65. 68 Andrew in Australia
    February 22, 2010 at 19:28

    I just dusted off my TARDIS and flew back in time landing in 10,000 BC. I therefore arrived before it was settled and claim my right to name it being the first there before humans laid eyes on it.

    You may now refer to this inlet as the Poo-poo-kookachoo-hubba-hubba-woo-woo Gulf.

    Oh, I just renamed the region of Iran as Dummyspitland.

  66. 69 mohammad
    February 22, 2010 at 19:28

    It’s not the Persian Gulf any more,

    If we look at the people live on two sides of the gulf, we will see they are pure Arabs even on the Iranian side.

    It’s not due to political reasons, but on the contrary, the fact which we see right now. many name all over the world have been changed for differnt reasons and the gulf is one of them.

    If we look at the origin of many things the map of the world will be changed consequently.. The question to the Iranians is that where were they coming from? is the current Iran is theirs? of course NOT. They are migraated from another palces to this lands…

    So for the current facts, IT IS the Arabian Gulf and NOT Persian…


  67. February 22, 2010 at 19:30

    Some years ago I was a member of a delegation to the periodic UN Conference on Geographic Names. At the time I was an Researcher Officer of the Jordanian Government and was standing in for a diplomat who was not able to attend. It was an eye-opener to me how fraught with disagreement, controversy and even hostility the matter of Geographic names are. I do not look anything like Arabic, so to my surprise and amusement a member of the Israeli delegation kept taking photographs of me! Hw walked right up to where my delegation was seated, and without a word stood in the middle of the hall clicking away. I suppose he was going to send his pictures to his government also to MOSAD to ask “Do you know who this mysterious guy is? A lot of people from different countries seem to know him.”

    But when one thinks of the disputes all around the world involving land claims, disagreements over borders, occupied territories, etc., it really should not be a surprise that geographic names will always be a source of many bilateral and even trilateral disagreements and disputes. This matter is not, as some people mistakenly believe, simple and straightforward.

  68. 71 Tom D Ford
    February 22, 2010 at 19:33

    On renaming Mt Diablo, to Mt Reagan:

    What a great piece of appropriate irony, because President Ronald “Amiable Dunce” Reagan was a devil to workers, the poor, and the US middle class; he sold us all out to his wealthy handlers, financially raping Americans with his De-Regulation of the savings and loans.

    So I recommend renaming it to Mt Diablo-Reagan!


  69. 72 Ben in Indianapolis, USA
    February 22, 2010 at 19:33

    Words do contain much more than we give them credit for. All the talk of Iran’s arrogance, what about “America” and the insistence in the US that we are the only America. The slightly more politically correct “North America” also ignores the countries to our south and north. This probably is built up on a certain arrogance. Just ask peoples from the rest of America who were protected under our Monroe Doctrine (they probably would say they don’t see the name change between Mt Diablo and Mt. Reagan… It’s just a translation) . At the same time, it is hard to come up with the right thing to call it, we’re not even the only “united states” of these Americas.

  70. February 22, 2010 at 19:34

    It is astonishing to hear callers referring to Iranian “aggression” and its dreaded nuclear program while the US and Israel invade and occupy others at will and Iran has invaded nobody in 280 years and has been unable, according to journalist Seymour Hersch, to refine its uranium beyond 3%, needing to send it to Russia or France to produce the 20% refinement needed for medical use.

  71. 74 steve
    February 22, 2010 at 19:38

    The Russians have a history of changing names of cities. Volgograd to Stalingrad, back to Volgograd, St. Petersburg to Leningrad back to St. Petersburg.

    Think of all the change in control in europe and the name changes. Kaliningrad, part of Russia today, used to be in East Prussia and was called Koeningsburg.

  72. 75 Irene in Texas
    February 22, 2010 at 19:41

    Historically English speakers have referred to this body of water as the Persian Gulf. English is the language of international travel. Calling it anything else is confusing. Where is the beef? Or is this just another excuse to beat on Iran?

  73. 76 gary indiana
    February 22, 2010 at 19:41

    Wow, one nation-state wants naming rights to something it doesn’t even own! Oh my, what will the other nation-states do? Make some equally immature responses, I’ll wager!
    The point is; there is nothing in a name, in any word in fact, but the sense of communicated information. Insult can be given with any words or without any words at all. However, it cannot be given without being taken. Let’s not be insulted and call it a rose!

  74. February 22, 2010 at 19:44

    Shouldn’t this body of water be called The Gulf of Mesopotamia?

    After all, they were the first and most famous there, and indeed, part of Mesopotamia has submerged there.

    This change would focus on history and avoid confrontations.

    Alternatively they could agree to name it for the second largest country bordering thereon, as is the case with The Gulf of Mexico.

    Howver, I do not know what the Iranians are so upset about, because the vast majority of maps where I live, hard or soft copy, call it The Persian Gulf already.

    As for air traffic, if they impede ariliners, then Iranian airlliners should be excluded everywhere else in the world. That is an entirely separate issue.

  75. 78 CJ McAuley
    February 22, 2010 at 19:48

    I’ve got a bone to pick on this topic. I am a Canadian, who has always lived in Canada, which is part of North America. As is the United States and Mexico. Yet those who live in the United States, as indeed the world has usurped the term “American” to refer to themselves alone. I do not dwell on this, but sometimes it really bugs me. They could change it to the United States of Arrogance and still have USA on everything they do! It would be more appropriate as well.

    • February 22, 2010 at 20:05

      I like your suggestion. Let’s recommend it to the UN, where probably most states would agree.

    • 80 Margaret Malloy
      February 22, 2010 at 20:09

      To all those who think people from the United States of America is co-opting non US citizens’ right to identify themselves as Americans:

      Please take a look in your atlases and teill my of any other country that actually has the word “America” in their official names.

      I would also point out that people from the United States of Mexico (Estados Unidos Mexicanos) are commonly called Mexicans.

      Look elsewhere if you are looking to pick a fight.

    • 81 murphy
      February 22, 2010 at 20:09

      I’m from the States (Oregon) and I agree. Guess you need to get momentum behind you. I say “The US” or “The States” and if someone asks for clarification of “America” I say “Yes, but that includes Canada and Bolivia, etc.” just to make a point, but with a smile. 😉 A lot of people just aren’t educated to think about the Continent. So, please, consider the source. And accept my hand in good friendship.

      Once we vacationed in BC, I told my English husband, “Start a breakfast conversation, say you think Canadians are just like Americans. ”
      OK I stopped him before he did but, the thought of the unsuspecting English Imperialist, stepping into the bear trap was funny for a moment. 😉

    • 82 Linda from Italy
      February 22, 2010 at 22:45

      CJ I would be only too happy to agree that US = a bit of N. America, but how do you produce an adjective from United Sates, Italian can do it quite easily “statiunitese” – suggestions anyone, but no satans please.

  76. 83 Jonathan (sunny San Francisco)
    February 22, 2010 at 19:54

    I just heard yesterday of a lover’s lane somewhere in England known as “Tickle-Cock Lane.” The town fathers recently decided to clean it up and renamed it “Tickachock” or something equally innocuous, even putting up a plaque with the new name.

    The populace of the town rose as one and demanded the older, more risque name again, and got their wish.

    (I don’t expect this to get on the air.)

  77. 84 Alan in AZ
    February 22, 2010 at 19:54

    @ Andrew in Australia

    I fully recognize you and your triumphs.

    I fully recognize DUMMYSPITLAND and it’s DUMMY leadership!

  78. February 22, 2010 at 19:55

    War is about power over land and resources and laying claim to that territory and then protecting one’s interests. History and romance/religion then plays apart in further wars as those who romantically cling to the flags, the pictures, the names, the devotions would spite their own noses to save their faces and have their families driven into poverty in these issues as conflict rises. It’s really just neo-colonialism. For example ~ Ireland, The Falklands, etc, etc.

    Best regards,

  79. 86 murphy
    February 22, 2010 at 19:55

    If the name is derogatory to the locals, change it.
    Country has a right to change, re: Yugoslavia, etc., And bits of USSR became Georgia, etc.
    And if the locals choose/vote to change it, change it: Sandwich Island to Hawaii.
    The Falkland/Malvina’s islands, the locals say Falklands.
    Staten Island became Richmond Island when it went from Dutch to British, but the New Yorkers still say Staten.
    The Canadians manage with bi-lingual French/English.

    BUT the mere fact the map is printed and the name shall remain is bogus. And the old school can get with it or the phrase will die out with them anyway.

    HOWEVER, If the Iranian Minister has the ‘weight’ of the government AND THE PEOPLE behind him, then we must listen and consider.

    But I agree, he’s just posturing.

  80. 87 Amad zaatreh
    February 22, 2010 at 19:56

    I think the historical approach for naming places does not sound good, the past passed away. trually the world today affected by the power ando so I think Iran is a bit naive since arab gulf and america have a strong relation which bring prosperity specific for the Arabian gulf.

  81. 88 steve
    February 22, 2010 at 19:58


    Do you propose calling us Yanks or United Statesians? If you think “American” is arrogant, do you realize what names like China mean? Center of the universe/world. Japan means land of the Rising sun, yet the sun rises on every country. That’s not arrogant?

    • 89 murphy
      February 22, 2010 at 20:18

      Yanks? The people in Dixie might object!
      Brits would make fun and gestures!
      I say I’m from “The US” or “Oregon” 😉 or sometimes from Minnesota, NYC, California, FLA, Indiana, Tulsa, Seattle, Spokane, Delaware River Gap, Sullivan Mts., or Cascadia/PNW. Depending on the audience. 😉

    • 90 Bert
      February 22, 2010 at 21:18

      Actually, yes. In Italian, United Statesians are aptly called “Statunitensi.” (Although “Americani” is also used.)

      I think worse than that is when people call the US “America.” It sounds so, uhmm, IGNORANT. Ignorant even more than arrogant.

  82. 92 Alan in AZ
    February 22, 2010 at 20:01

    @ CJ

    I’m proud to be called an American, but honestly, if I lived in your beautiful country. I would be just as proud to be called a Canadian. You are a lucky individual. As for arrogance, you know we are both very lucky to live in our countries, compared to so many others that are not so fortunate to live so free.

  83. 93 farshid
    February 22, 2010 at 20:02

    Ladies and Gentelmen,
    we are just flying over French chanel and will be arriving soon Dover?

    How dose it sound &feel?

    • 94 Harry
      February 22, 2010 at 22:47

      @farshid Your argument isn’t helped by an ignorance of European realities. Whether you like it or now, “the Arabian Gulf” is well established around the world (even if the term “Persian Gulf” is older) but there simply is no such term as “the French Channel” and no-one would claim otherwise. But even if there were, I can’t see how it would be a problem for any sane person.

  84. February 22, 2010 at 20:07

    I had this conversation a while ago on twitter.Every country should have the right to call their nations place names what they want,but they shouldn’t expect everyone elese to follow suit. http://bit.ly/Indiacity Shashi Tharoor had a few interesting points in this article http://bit.ly/ShashiPM .I remember when Peking became Beijing
    about 30 years ago ,it seemed unecessary but i appreciated the Chinese need to ne assertive I think this is ehat is happening with Iran,they demand to be taken seriously as a country and the name thing is a manifestation of this.

  85. 96 jens
    February 22, 2010 at 20:28


    could you please enlighten me where in medicine 20% enriched Uranium is used?

    February 22, 2010 at 20:32

    Iran should clear the air about this new request because it smacks of politics – regional or internation is hard to say at present. Personally I do not know whether it is talking about the Greater Iran or mearly showing its differing stance with Suni Arabs with whom it wants to quarrel with.
    As the way things are developing in the middle east, it is not enough to talk about Muslims as a single entity. Its either Shia or Suni. Is this the political card being flashed?

  87. 98 Bert
    February 22, 2010 at 21:12

    We were always taught the name “Persian Gulf” for that body of water, truth to tell, and that’s in the West. I’m not sure when the idea of calling it “Arabian Gulf” got started, but I can see that it would be galling to the Iranians. Who generally dislike Arabs, to put it mildly.

    But of course, what they want to call it is fine for them, and what others prefer should be fine too. For example, you won’t find too many French people who call “la Manche” by the name “English Channel.” If either party made the same sort of demand about how everyone else should call the English Channel, it would seem quite petty, don’t you think?

  88. 99 Roberto
    February 22, 2010 at 22:25

    RE “” Should we feel obliged to use the names chosen by those in power? “‘

    ——— All part of the new era ushered in when weak, incompetant, and corrupt western politicians and global megalomaniacs crashed the market.

    So the little guys call their own shots in their own airspace as western power shrinks in bankruptcies. Shame there ain’t more cooperation in this world we all have a stake in, but power mongers won’t allow it.

    So don’t fly in Iranian airspace if you don’t like it.

    Funny how flying is quickly going the way of the DoDo Bird in spite of substantial taxpayer subsidies in every country.

  89. 100 Thomas Murray
    February 22, 2010 at 23:00

    How very extraordinary! I’ve always refered to it as “The Persian Gulf” even though I live in Kentucky — FYI, a Cherokee term that word-of-mouth translates as “land of the dark and bloody ground”…. no lie, though the chamber of commerce likes to argue otherwise.

    And Steve’s comment is very well taken about United Statesians. Is “Moby Dick” the greatest American novel. Brazil is American.

    No, I can’t see anything wrong with calling it the Persian Gulf. Else, we’re gonna have to change Gulf of Mexico to Gulf of America. Gulfo de Mexico is catchier.

    –To the Folks in Great Britain (named after the Roman Republic’s Brutus, 509), From Louisville (named-after-a-French-king-so-awful-he-and-wife-were-killed-by-an-angry-mob), Kentucky, US.

  90. 102 Guillermo
    February 22, 2010 at 23:33

    We have the same problem with USA. They call America to their country. America is a continent. They call themselves americans. Americans are all the people that live in this continent. For years people around the world talk about America and they think is USA. They are not even north americans. They have injustly appropiated a name that does not correspond to them. In other parts of the world they say south americans, central americans, north americans including the Caribe. Then why do they say America, meaning USA.
    In the Roman Empire the romans were citizens of Rome. And anyone, being a free citizenz could adcquire the roman citizenship. But when they said Rome they referred as Rome, not the Empire. The Empire was Roman, but with the sincretism everyone had their nationality. USA has always said that America is a colony of them. It is not nationalism but a congruent statement that each nation and country has the freedom to have their right names on their countries.

  91. 103 Eileen in Virginia
    February 23, 2010 at 00:06

    When Spaniards in conversation refer to ‘America’ they mean South America. If they talk about ‘America’ as Americans see it, they call it ‘The United States’. If they want to refer to the north American continent they call it ‘North America’. Does that help?

  92. 104 Jack
    February 23, 2010 at 06:29

    It’s The Arabian Gulf :), but they are confusing and mistaken regarding their nuclear program!

  93. February 23, 2010 at 06:58


    Countries that want you to use the names that theychoose is a question of sovereignty

    Most of them want to uz=se these names because they want to impose their rules and conditions on others, thus imposing their supremacy and sovereignity, as they feel insecure about their status.

    The names they choose are parochial, and want to “redeem” their “culture” and “language” by imposing these local names on others.

    It all is a question of “self esteem” in the way they see it and that is the view they want to impose on others.

    Philip. .

  94. 106 Steve - Vietnam
    February 23, 2010 at 08:44

    There seems to be a bit of lack of knowledge about the English Channel in France it is called La Manche and the French when they look at across the Straits of Dover to England refer to it as the Pas Du Calais. Most discussions on this have gone politely so have been unnoticed. The Channel Tunnel was built as the Trans Manche Link in France and is still called that.

    Now why can’t the Iranians be like that?

    What I find unnerving here is that Iranians get upset about the neutral term “The Gulf”. Why must they insist on it being Persian. It seems to say a lot about there politicians mind set. They do not even refer to there own country as Persia.

  95. 107 david lulasa AKA daudee mwanzi
    February 23, 2010 at 10:34

    the highway to my home district goes up to Uganda,yet people in the government called it NAIROBI-NAKURU HIGHWAY…because they are just tribal….it was meant to fool gullible tourists that past nakuru its not kenya,but uganda…and even still,some people in north eastern province call nairobi kenya,and their town garrissa,out of kenya.

    TV(tambua village/jebrock),HAMISI,VIHIGA,KENYA.

  96. 108 Ibrahim in UK
    February 23, 2010 at 11:42

    Isn’t the correct name used by international maritime organisations: “The Persian Gulf” and sometimes “The Gulf of Iran”. If you look at any map, the term used is Persian Gulf. Why would we change hisorical, political and practical conventions and start calling it Arabian Gulf? That’s like changing the name from British Isles to European Isles or even worse, French Isles. Heck, Greece didn’t even allow FYROM to call itself Macedonia!
    I think there needs to be an agreed method for changing fixed geographic names. What if tomorrow Iran decided to call it the Gulf of the Glorious Persian Empire. Would we be obliged to call it that? Hey it’s their country, they can call it whatever they want and can impose any rules they want. If we want to enter their territory, we are obliged to abide by their rules, however silly they may appear. (The same way people in French territory are obliged to abide by French rules against certain items of clothes.)

  97. 109 Subhash C Mehta
    February 23, 2010 at 13:37

    Don’t be surprised, if tomorrow, the Iranian authorities start to choose and decide upon your kids’ names!

  98. 110 Mahjoub Ali
    February 23, 2010 at 14:09

    Doesn’t Really Matter.
    If some one wants to be called John Commando
    then call him that, what doesn your agent loose by doing that.

    To me its nothing BIG

  99. 111 steve
    February 23, 2010 at 16:23

    How about Canada rename itself from Canada to the United Canadian provinces of America?

    We are called the United States of America. Hence why we are called Americans. Your country is called Canada, hence why you are called a Canadian.

  100. 112 jens
    February 23, 2010 at 17:46

    i always knew it as the persian gulf.

  101. 113 James
    February 24, 2010 at 11:24

    The name of the FYROM seems to be a big issue in Greece. I however believe that it’s a non-issue and think it is a massive distraction from the real problems faced by the average person in the region created and encouraged by politicians

  102. 114 Ifiok Ededeh
    February 24, 2010 at 13:45

    I think that it’s certainly impossible to do that no matter the level of sophistication. The Government of Iran should please moderate.

  103. 115 Kev in Canada
    February 24, 2010 at 16:02

    Its just more sabre rattling from yet another extremist government. Few months ago it was the Russian PM now its Iran and next month China will feel left out so will raise Taiwan again…WHO CARES, when we try to change things we get criticised ( Afghanistan / Iraq ) and when we ignore this stuff we get criticised. Ever feel we cannot win here…. thank god for being Canadian ( so long as we win the Hockey of course !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) 🙂

  104. 116 Ronald Almeida
    February 24, 2010 at 17:44

    Can foreign countries like Britain or the U.S. do so?

  105. 117 Harry Campbell
    February 24, 2010 at 18:50

    Does anyone know any other (specific, credible) instances of countries seeking to impose a certain version of a placename by legal or forcible means? The only one I can think of is the Soviet Union where (so they say) you could be arrested for using pre-Soviet names, though whether this was actually against the law, or just seen as suspicious or provocative behaviour, I don’t know.

  106. 118 Jagjit Singh Mukandpuri
    February 27, 2010 at 13:47

    There is no harm to use the cities or countries in their mother language names. It is their glory. Any one can use forcibly given namea in brackets for their convience.

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