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Chapter 4: Names

This chapter sets out our practice for the spelling and use of proper names, where there might be uncertainty or variation. For examples beyond those given here, the ‘New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors’ may be of assistance. Geographical name changes are generally well recorded in online encyclopaedias.

§4.1. Place Names

(a) Historical forms

In a historical context, relevant anglicized or obsolete names may be appropriate (e.g. Bombay, Danzig, Rhodesia), but otherwise current usage should be respected (e.g. Mumbai, Gdańsk, Zimbabwe).

(b) Anglicized forms

Where there is a current English form for foreign place names, it should be used:

Brussels, Cologne, Dunkirk, Florence, Geneva, Lisbon, Majorca, Mexico City, Moscow, Munich, Naples, Quebec, Salonika, Turin, Venice, Vienna

The forms Luxembourg, Lyon, Marseille, Reims, and Strasbourg are now more widely used than Luxemburg, Lyons, Marseilles, Rheims, and Strasburg or Strassburg and are therefore recommended.

Where countries have officially changed the English-language spelling of towns and cities (for instance, from Calcutta to Kolkata or from Kiev to Kyiv) this is to be respected, though it may be necessary to use the historical version in writing about the past (e.g. Danzig rather than Gdańsk in an analysis of Günter Grass’s The Danzig Trilogy). The same applies to country names: respect the currently accepted designation (for instance, Myanmar) but use the historical name where appropriate to the context (for instance, Burma when analysing Orwell’s Burmese Days).

The definite article is no longer used in the names of the countries Lebanon, Sudan, and Ukraine (but the Gambia, the Netherlands).

The following are now the official spellings of certain Welsh names (including in texts written in English) and should be used instead of the anglicized forms found in earlier maps and books:

Aberdyfi, Aberystwyth, Betws-y-Coed, Caernarfon, Conwy (river and town), Dolgellau, Ffestiniog, Llanelli, Tywyn

(c) Punctuation in place names

The use or non-use of hyphens in names such as Newcastle upon Tyne, Stratford-upon-Avon should be checked in a good reference work. French place names are regularly hyphenated, e.g. Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, Châlons-sur-Marne, Saint-Malo, except for an introductory definite article, e.g. Le Havre, Les Baux-de-Provence.

(d) Parts of the British Isles

Note the difference between (a) Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales), (b) the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland), (c) the British Isles (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands). In particular, note:

  1. that England should never be used for any of the above;
  2. that in the context of the nation state in the present day, the term United Kingdom should be used;
  3. that the Irish form Éire should not be used in English as the name of the Republic of Ireland;
  4. that the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not parts of England, of Great Britain, or of the United Kingdom.

§4.2. Academic Institutions

Care needs to be taken to ensure that the names of academic institutions are correctly given, e.g. Johns Hopkins University (not John), Magdalen College (Oxford), Magdalene College (Cambridge). Universities and colleges with similar names must be clearly distinguished, such as the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State University, the University of York (England) and York University (Toronto).

§4.3. Personal Names

(a) Classical names

Where generally accepted English forms of classical names exist (Horace, Livy, Ptolemy, Virgil), they should be used.

(b) Popes and saints

Names of popes and saints should normally be given in their English form (Gregory, Innocent, Paul, St Francis of Assisi, St John of the Cross). In a philosophical or historical context, the title ‘St’ may be omitted (Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo).

(c) Kings and queens

Names of foreign kings and queens should normally be given in their English form where one exists (Charles V, Catherine the Great, Ferdinand and Isabella, Francis I, Henry IV, Victor Emmanuel). Those names for which no English form exists (Haakon, Sancho) or for which the English form is quaint or archaic (Alphonse, Lewis for Alfonso, Louis) should retain their foreign form. If in the course of a work it is necessary to refer to some monarchs whose names have acceptable English forms and some which do not, in the interests of consistency it is better to use the foreign form for all:

  • the reigns of Fernando III and Alfonso X
  • Henri IV was succeeded by Louis XIII

For when to capitalize titles such as ‘duke’ or ‘queen’, see §3.2.

(d) Non-English names

A comprehensive reference work for global naming conventions is:

Names of Persons: National Usage for Entries in Catalogues (International Federation of Library Associations, 1996) <> [accessed 10 May 2023]

The following brief notes cover some of the most common issues arising in practice:

Celtic. Care must be taken over the spelling of Celtic names in Mc, Mac, etc. (e.g. McDonald, MacDonald, M’Donald, Macmillan, Mac Liammóir); adopt the form used by the individual in question.

Distinguish between Irish names that retain their original form (Ó Máille) and those that are anglicized (O’Donnell).

Note that ap and ab, in Welsh names such as Llywelyn ap Madog, are neither capitalized nor hyphenated.

Dutch and Flemish. Surnames in van take a lower-case initial in the Netherlands (van der Plas, van Toorn) but are generally capitalized in Belgium (Van den Bremt, Van Ryssel).

French. In case of ambiguity concerning the correct spelling of names of French authors, use as a guide the catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (<>).

Slavonic. Names originally written in a non-Latin script (e.g. Достоевский) should be given in transliterated form (e.g. Dostoevsky). It is important that this be done consistently, following a scholarly scheme: see §1.2 (f).

For the alphabetization of names, see §8.1 and §8.2.

(e) Initials

Use initials for forenames only if authors or artists publish in this form or are widely known by this form of their name. Follow each initial with a full stop and a space. For instance:

C. P. E. Bach, T. S. Eliot, E. T. A. Hoffmann, J. K. Rowling

§4.4. Possessives of Personal Names

The possessive of personal names ending in a pronounced -s or -z is formed in the normal way by adding an apostrophe and s:

Berlioz’s symphonies, Cervantes’s works, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essays, Dickens’s characters, bell hooks’s theories, in Inigo Jones’s day, Dylan Thomas’s use of language

French names ending in an unpronounced -s, -x, or -z also follow the normal rule and take an apostrophe and s:

Cixous’s criticism, Descartes’s works, Malraux’s style, Cherbuliez’s novels

The possessive of names ending in -us also conforms to the normal rule:

Claudius’s successor, Herodotus’s Histories, Jesus’s parables, an empire greater than Darius’s

However, the possessive of Moses and of Greek names ending in -es (particularly those having more than two syllables) is usually formed by means of the apostrophe alone:

under Moses’ leadership, Demosthenes’ speeches, Sophocles’ plays, Xerxes’ campaigns

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