I'm referring specifically to city names, though I suppose this applies to other things named after saints.

I'm looking at the Wikipedia pages for my "sources of truth". Saint Paul is fairly split, with 170 instances of "Saint Paul" and 40 instances of "St. Paul".

St. Louis, however, is almost always St. Louis, with only 5 instances of "Saint Louis" and 460 instances of "St. Louis".

I'm looking for any semblance of rhyme or reason here, but I can't seem to find any documentation on this.

I thought it might be official names, but it appears Saint Augustine is officially "City of Saint Augustine", but the text for the page only includes that 4 times (compared to 139), and none of those are in the actual text.

  • This answer indicates that once a place name is set (whether for a road or city, etc), it becomes simply a set of characters forming that name. There is no further rhyme or reason other than history for the way it is spelt. – Lawrence May 8 '18 at 23:33
  • I want to "I will edit to explain how" but I actually don't really see any similarities. I vaguely see what you're saying with your first comment, but I definitely don't think the answer to that question in any way answers my question any more than it just "informs it". – River Tam May 9 '18 at 0:01

St., like Mt. or Ft. or less commonly Ctr., Spgs., Hts., and so on, are just abbreviations. While it is less common to see Sault Sainte Marie as opposed to Sault Ste. Marie, it is not "incorrect" to write it out as such, and for the most part, you can expect official laws and documents to write out the name in full.

How you should represent the name of a place is a matter of style. Adhere to the discipline of your editor, publication, or organization, or in the absence of a house style, adopt a style manual appropriate to your audience and tastes and be consistent in its application.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, for example,

Prefixes of most geographic names should not be abbreviated in text:

Fort Wayne      Mount Airy    South Orange
Saint Cloud     San Diego     Port Arthur

Many editors make an exception for names beginning with Saint (St. Louis, St. Lawrence), and where space must be saved any such prefixes (except San, Santa, etc.) may be abbreviated (Ft., Pt., Mt., S. [South], etc.).

For an alternative view, the AP Stylebook (2013) states

saint Abbreviate as St. in the names of saints, cities and other places: St. Jude; St. Paul, Minn.; St. John's, Newfoundland; St. Lawrence Seaway

But see the entries for Saint John and Sault Ste. Marie

Saint John The spelling for the city in New Brunswick, to distinguish it from St. John's, Newfoundland

This contrasts with the AP guidance for fort and mount, which are never to be abbreviated.

These do suggest that for a large proportion of American writing, at least, St. is a much more common and acceptable abbreviation than the others in running text.

A single Wikipedia article will not be a reliable guide to usage. The local newspaper is the St. Paul Pioneer Press

St. Paul Pioneer Press front page

and the abbreviated form is also used by the state tourism board, the airport, the independent baseball team, and so on. For that matter, the Wikipedia discussion on the name points out that both St. Paul and Saint Paul have widespread usage, and "It's almost always useless to debate orthography in this manner."

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