Why is it that we Anglicize some foreign proper nouns, but not others?

  • 2
    Ease of pronunciation. Source: pure conjecture on my part.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 14:46
  • 2
    Quite simply just because. No systematic logic behind it. Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 14:50
  • 3
    Why do the Spanish translate the Netherlands as Países Bajos but use Swazilandia for Swaziland? Why do the French say le Salvador and not le Sauveur? Why do the Germans say Kap Verde and not Kap Grüne? Names are names. They get popularized in a certain way and tend to stick. There is no rhyme or reason to them.
    – choster
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 15:55
  • And how do Americans pronounce "Paris France"?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 21:28

2 Answers 2


There is a general tradition in North America of not translating Spanish or Native American place names. We say Los Angeles, not City of the Angels, and Connecticut, not Long Tidal River. (We do tend to anglicize the pronunciations.) In a place like California, Spanish had been well established for a long period before English-speakers arrived in significant numbers, and we still have a sizable Spanish-speaking population. The Spanish place names became well entrenched and continued to be used by Spanish speakers. Since we don't translate our own local place names such as Costa Mesa, it seems pretty logical to me that we don't translate foreign ones like Costa Rica.

Côte d’Ivoire is actually now supposed to be referred to as Côte d’Ivoire, not as Ivory Coast, so that doesn't seem like a good example.

  • That might explain it for North America, but my motivation was actually listening to the British TV presenters talking about the World Cup.
    – Carlos
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 15:21
  • While local place names are not necessarily translated, they are certainly anglicized; the established pronunciation of the neighborhood of Los Feliz is quite different from the Spanish. And this doesn't explain why we have Vienna instead of Wien, or why Zambia has a "Northern Province," which is neither Bantu nor Sotho.
    – choster
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 15:29
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    @Carlos This actually more or less explains it for the whole world. Foreign names are rarely translated; translation is the exception, not the rule. Even when names are quite transparent and obvious in the local language(s), they are most commonly left untranslated in English. Consider Montenegro, which is a Venetian translation of the local name, Crna Gora. The name is completely transparent in both languages, but was never translated into English (‘Black Mountain’), though, for example, the Chinese did translate it: its Mandarin name is 黑山 Hēishān, meaning ‘black mountain’. Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 15:42
  • But 'Ivory Coast' was common a few decades ago, and Naples and Florence still are. Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 18:24

Whether or not to Anglicize a name is a controversial and dynamic question. with a changing answer. It usually boils down to a (changing) consensus and common usage.

In my lifetime Peking, Bombay and Calcutta have become Beijing, Mumbai and Kolkata, but Kyiv has remained Kiev, and referring to Napoli or Firenze would be confusing to most English speakers.

Ben Crowell is right about the habit of keeping Spanish language names in North America, with Puerto Rico, San Juan and San Francisco being excellent examples.

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