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Who makes the decisions when it comes to changing the names of cities such as Bombay and Peking?

P Mackintosh, Anglesea

You can still call Bombay by its old colonial name if you want to. But the government of India prefers the name Mumbai and so does Geographical.

In the UK, there isn't a committee that enforces the use of particular names, although there is one that provides advice to government departments on naming. The Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (PCGN) works with international groups to try to standardise place names. And there is a steady flow of name changes. In some countries, practically all of the names have changed in recent years, particularly in the former Soviet states.

"Since independence, Latvia has thoroughly and methodically revised every single name in the country for a new map series and national database," said Dr David Munro, chairman of the PCGN and the director and secretary of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

"The issue of geographical names is a large and complex subject that has taxed the UN since it was created in the 1940s," he continued. "Names aren't just a geographical reference, they represent power and the identities of regions, national linguistic groups and ethnic groups."

Similarly, it's difficult to represent many names from other languages and writing systems correctly in roman text. This ambiguity led to the change from Peking to Beijing in recent years. The name didn't change, just the conversion into English text. The UN Group of Experts on Geographical Names has developed systems to take local names in non-roman writing systems and convert them consistently. The group expects to publish two manuals in the near future that will provide a guide to internationally recognised place names and how to romanise them. The general rule from the PCGN is that conventional English names such as Munich or Rome are still perfectly acceptable for informal use, but that countries may prefer the use of a locally standardised name.

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Title Annotation:Permanent Committee on Geographical Names
Author:Edwards, Chris
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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