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Swaziland has recently changed its name to eSwatini. The unique capitalization structure, similar to iPhone or eBay, is unique for the name of a country. While brand names have an established set of rules (How do you capitalize a proper noun such as "iPhone"?) (Capitalization of names that begin lowercased, at the beginning of a sentence), an iPhone is not a sovereign state, and I'm not sure whether eSwatini falls under the same set of rules.

If I were to write a sentence such as, "eSwatini is a beautiful country.", should I maintain the unconventional capitalization? Or would it be better to restyle the word as "ESwatini" or "Eswatini"? Wikipedia uses the latter at the moment, regardless of where the word appears.

It is worth noting that other locations have differently-styled capitalizations, but none begin their name with a lowercase letter like eSwatini does. This article lists some examples (I'm ignoring the provided example of las vegas, which was restyled for a marketing campaign).

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    This is largely 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 suitable to your audience and tastes and be consistent in its application. – choster Aug 1 '18 at 20:48
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    If you reword any sentence that would have it at the start, you bypass the problem. (Which is what many style guides would recommend.) – Jason Bassford Aug 1 '18 at 20:54
  • As of yesterday, AP Style hasn't issued guidance: apstylebook.com/ask_the_editors/last_seven_days – Azor Ahai Aug 1 '18 at 21:06
  • Are you sure? – tchrist Aug 2 '18 at 1:54
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I don't know how much you've researched this, but:

On 19 April 2018, the King of Swaziland Mswati III announced that the Kingdom of Swaziland had renamed itself the Kingdom of eSwatini to mark the 50th anniversary of Swazi independence. The new name, eSwatini, means "land of the Swazis" in Swazi, and was partially intended to prevent confusion with the similarly named Switzerland.[33][34] However, the country's common name in English remains Swaziland.
Swaziland

We can see the same phenomenon recurring in other parts of the language:

Months in English and Swazi:

January -- uBhimbidvwane
February -- iNdlovana
March -- iNdlovulenkulu
April -- uMabasa
May -- iNkhwenkhweti
June Nhlaba
July -- uKholwane
August -- iNgci
September -- iNyoni
October -- iMphala
November -- Lweti
December -- iNgongoni
Swazi language

Though as I've skimmed through more Swazi text, it seems most common with names, which I think is why they are common in the months of the year.

Note: Before my edit I had referred to Swazi spelling as a transliteration to English. This is definitely not correct, it's a "transcription" using the Latin script.

I'm unaware why these words were transcribed in this way using Latin characters to represent their language. I have absolutely no idea what a lowercase letter followed by an uppercase letter means in Swazi.

The alphabet can be seen here: Swazi alphabet

As to whether to capitalise these words at the beginning of a sentence, it's just a fact that this is dependent on style requirements/preferences and I'm afraid there don't seem to be universal English rules. Here is a section of the BBC's style guide in relation to this matter:

We treat most company names as though their punctuation were conventional (eg: 'easyJet' is Easyjet). But there are specific exceptions (eg: PricewaterhouseCoopers, iMac, NatWest), and one general exception: that we do use a lower case 'e' at the start of a name, where it stands for 'electronic' (eg eBay). If in doubt, check with the Business team.

eBay - lower case 'e', and upper case 'B', except at the start of sentences, where it should be written 'EBay'; but headlines can begin 'eBay'.

iMac, iPhone, iPad, iPod, iTunes - lower case 'i', followed by capital, except at the start of a sentence, where it should be IMac, IPhone etc.
BBC Style Guide article

I also found what looks like a blog which discusses this with reference to the Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook:

The Chicago Manual of Style has this to say: “Brand names or names of companies that are spelled with a lowercase initial letter followed by a capital letter (eBay, iPod, iPhone, etc.) need not be capitalized at the beginning of a sentence or heading, though some editors may prefer to reword.

On the other hand, The Associated Press Stylebook states that writers must capitalize the first letter – Ipad, Iphone, Ebay – because one simply cannot start a sentence with lowercase letter.

Wikipedia’s Manual of Style suggests rephrasing to avoid beginning sentences with initial lower case names.
Link to blog entry

Where I worked our rule was that sentences beginning with iPhone or eBay should remain as they are, that is, no capitalisation of the 'i' or 'e'.

As to the idea that to use our own English spelling of a foreign word is offensive, I find that rather ridiculous. Here's a list of discrepancies in the naming of places by natives and outsiders, and you can decide whether this is offensive, chauvinistic, or merely a result of historical events:

Naples/Napoli
Munchen/Munich
Florence/Firenze
Germany/Deutschland
Japan/Nippon or Nihon
Greek(language)/ellinika

I have opinions about using "Eswatini" instead of "eSwatini", or circumventing the problem by avoiding the use of the word to begin a sentence, but this answer is long enough, and nobody cares anyway.

  • Some people do care, trust me. Here’s a thought experiment that appears relevant to this case. If someone tells you that their name can only be written vertically not horizontally, you as the publisher certainly don’t have to honor that request when referring to them. I know of no widely recognized exemption to the rule that proper names (like of people, cities, nations) in English must begin with an uppercase letter. Sure, you can go ahead and pick your own name, but you can’t change English itself to do that — at least, not and expect your wishes about this to be universally honored. – tchrist Aug 2 '18 at 1:31
  • Do you mean it's an "English transliteration"? – Azor Ahai Aug 2 '18 at 1:39
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    @AzorAhai It appears to be a misunderstanding, as the country’s own website at www.gov.sz consistently spells it Eswatini in English. – tchrist Aug 2 '18 at 1:48
  • @Azor Ahai Good question. As per the definition of "transliterate", pretty sure I was wrong in calling it that. This is because a transliteration is the composing of words by substituting characters from one language script to another. To compose a word using an alphabet based on how a word sounds instead is "transcription" in linguistics (this I learned just now). Swazi has its own alphabet, you can see the chart here: omniglot.com/writing/swati.php . It is Latin-based, and I don't know to what extent it was influenced by the English alphabet. I should note in my answer that point. – Zebrafish Aug 2 '18 at 2:01
  • @AzorAhai So yeah, thanks for bringing that up, because I was wrong, it's not a transliteration to or from English, it's instead a transcription of the sounds of the language using the Latin script. It does share the same characters (but not alphabet) with English, as we use the same script. Either way, the initial lower case followed by a capital letter seems to be rather common, and I don't know what it means. – Zebrafish Aug 2 '18 at 2:17
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I don't know if there's a right answer to this but imagine time will tell. In the meantime this article on the confusion for copy editors uses 'eSwatini' :

eSwatini is completely one-of-a-kind now thanks to that lower-case "e."

and gives other examples of 'camel-casing' -- IJsland and PyeongChang.

  • Please edit your answer to include the relevant parts of the article. – JJJ Aug 2 '18 at 0:17
  • It's used throughout, but I've highlighted one example for your information. – S Conroy Aug 2 '18 at 1:05
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The Commonwealth website avoids the problem by only referring to it by the full name:

Kingdom of eSwatini

Wikipedia, usually careful about details like this, uses Eswatini as the English transliteration and eSwatini as the Swazi version:

Swaziland (/ˈswɑːzɪlænd, -lənd/) or Eswatini (Swazi: eSwatini [ɛswa̯tˈiːni]), officially the Kingdom of Eswatini since 19 April 2018

However, the section on Government and politics starts with:

eSwatini is an absolute diarchy with constitutional provisions and Swazi law and customs.

So it seems they can't really make up their minds about it.

I would say, whichever you choose, be consistent.

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    Eh, I dunno if I'd consider formatting consistencies Wikipedia's strong suit. – Azor Ahai Aug 1 '18 at 21:03
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    Like @AzorAhai, I'm calling you on "Wikipedia, usually careful about details like this,". Not that WP is bad (it's a work in constant progress), it's just that WP is a great first informal pass, but I wouldn't take it as authoritative. People can and will write all sorts of factual detail of questionable provenance there that never gets noticed. – Mitch Aug 1 '18 at 21:05
  • There are a number of automated tools that scan and edit Wikipedia pages for such things as capitalization. I suspect some of that may be due to those tools. – Roger Sinasohn Aug 1 '18 at 21:05
  • @RogerSinasohn I wouldn't expect that such autocorrect regexes are edited to take into account whatever the strange idiosyncrasies there are about eSwatini. Do you know how detailed those things are managed? – Mitch Aug 1 '18 at 21:08
  • @Mitch I was using Wikipedia as an example of inconsistency (and confusing inconsistency, at that). Sorry if that wasn't clear. (But maybe it is so unreliable, it can't even be used as a counter-example! :-) ) – user184130 Aug 1 '18 at 21:31
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Go for eSwatini. It would be offensive to force the decision of a sovereign state in spelling its name to suit our tastes.

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    The writer's primary responsibility is to the reader, hence the major journalistic outfits have largely clung to the familiar Kiev over Kyiv, which Ukrainian nationalists insist upon as a more faithful transliteration of the Ukrainian. Everyday usage may also vary from official usage— Saigon persisted for Ho Chi Minh City for decades, until the government finally compromised and acknowledged that Saigon could at least apply to one district of HCMC. Locals may dispute the name themselves as well, e.g. Londonderry. Avoiding "offense" is not a practical guideline on its own. – choster Aug 2 '18 at 0:56
  • Arguing from history (what is "familiar" to a reader) is clearly irrelevant when there is no historical precedent for alternatives to eSwatini – Paul Childs Aug 2 '18 at 4:52

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