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My first question here, so I'm not sure if this OT or not, so please bare with me.

Background: I don't live in US. I'm working with some data that I'm pulling from Adwords. Sometimes, I'm getting a city name as St. John and sometimes as Saint Ann.

So my question is, is there an accepted way on how people write a US city names which starts with Saint or is this just some random thing (or just specific to AdWords maybe)?

I'm asking this, because if for example I'll get both St. John and Saint John in the same file, should I consider them the same or should I be suspicious?

  • Both are acceptable, and it probably mostly depends on how much room you have to write the name, and how lazy you feel at the time. Also, depending on where you're getting this data (or where Adwords got the data), different systems will probably automatically abbreviate (or un-abbreviate) it no matter what the user inputs. Why would you be suspicious? – Kevin Workman Aug 7 '14 at 13:46
  • @KevinWorkman, I will be suspicious because having the same city written differently in the same file is not a correct way to provide information – David Arenburg Aug 7 '14 at 13:48
  • According to whom? – Kevin Workman Aug 7 '14 at 13:51
  • @DavidArenburg Like Kevin said, it could be due to the way different systems report the data. So your web provider might list itself as being from Saint John, whereas a different web provider in the same town might use their address as St. John - thus causing the discrepancy. – Ronan Aug 7 '14 at 13:53
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Both should be acceptable. There is usually one more common usage e.g. St. Louis, but you'll also find people referring to it as Saint Louis.

Take this example:

Wikipedia Page for St. Louis uses St. Louis repeatedly, but also in a few places has Saint Louis - see the caption titled "The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis" or the related page:

Saint Louis Cuisine which relates to food from St. Louis.

  • But what about cities like San Francisco and San Diego? Just because the name is Spanish does it mean that the San is regarded as part of the name rather than the prefix 'saint', and that they are treated differently for alphabetical purposes than, for example, St Louis? – WS2 Aug 7 '14 at 15:27
  • Migrate to spanish.stackexchange.com? – Ronan Aug 7 '14 at 15:31
  • But my point is what if you are putting San Francisco and St Louis into alphabetical order? Which goes first? – WS2 Aug 7 '14 at 15:50
  • It's a fair point, but one that isn't anything to do with his question. David is wondering are St John and Saint John are normal constructs for the placename. I would alphabetise St out to Saint anyway, so St Louis would come before San Francisco and that before Santa Monica. – Ronan Aug 7 '14 at 15:54
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    One difference is that the Cathedral is named not for the city, but for the same saint the City is named after. So even if the city was always St., the cathedral name would not be. – Oldcat Aug 7 '14 at 18:55
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I believe it's, generally, a matter of style—but it may also be a question of "rules" on the part of regional mapmakers or specific cities.

For example, Open Street Map has a discussion that claims St is always used in the UK. To quote a passage from the Cambridge Guide to English Usage used in that discussion:

When saints' names are written into those of institutions, the shortened form St(.) is always used... Geographical names which honor a saint are likewise written with St(.): St Gotthard Pass, St Kilda, St Moritz, St Petersburg. Abbreviated forms like these are used in the gazetteers of world atlases published by The Times and Oxford, among others, and they reflect common usage... Use of full stop/period: The shortened form St is normally left unstopped by British writers and editors, because (a) it's a contraction rather than an abbreviation, and (b) it contains a lower case letter.

(Note that in North America, the style is to use a terminal period after the shortened name. It's also interesting to note that the passage seems to be talking about at least some cities outside the UK—and, therefore, could only be considered an "authoritative" source for how UK-based publications reference them, not necessarily what their names actually are.)

However, according to the official website of the city of Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada:

The “Saint” part of the city of Saint John is traditionally not abbreviated in common spelling in order to differentiate it from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, another city in Canada whose name usually uses this abbreviation.

This seems to imply that, in Canada anyway, St. actually is an abbreviation of a longer legal name.

I suppose you could look at the articles of incorporation for the towns or cities in question if you want to see what their legal names were at the time they were founded. However, even that may not necessarily be conclusive.

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