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DIPLOMACY

What’s in a name? The switch from Kiev to Kyiv for the Ukrainian capital

In Summary

• Ukraine has been campaigning under the slogan #KyivNotKiev for international entities, countries and media to spell places in Ukraine in a way that reflects Ukrainian phonetics.

• In May, the Ukrainian government approved a law that requires all Slavic names, including Russian ones, to be spelled according to Ukrainian-language standards.

Ukraine's Kyiv campaign
Ukraine's Kyiv campaign
Image: COURTESY

The United States Board on Geographic Names, or BGN, on June 13, changed its English spelling of Ukraine’s capital from Kiev to Kyiv.

The US Board of Geographic Names, Radio Free Europe notes, is a federal body that operates under the U.S. secretary of the interior. It has the mandate to standardise geographic names for official US government business.

This change in the board’s international database will impact the official spelling of the Ukrainian capital beyond the United States — particularly for international flight listings at airports around the world and by international organizations. Some airports will also change the name. For instance, Denmark’s second largest airport, Billund, has already started using the name for the Ukrainian capital in Latin as “Kyiv” instead of “Kiev.”

Ukraine has been campaigning under the slogan #KyivNotKiev for international entities, countries and media to spell places in Ukraine in a way that reflects Ukrainian phonetics.

In May, the Ukrainian government approved a law that requires all Slavic names, including Russian ones, to be spelled according to Ukrainian-language standards.

Among the publications that have ditched Kiev for Kyiv is The Calvert Journal, and the Guardian, effecting it in its stylebook.

But what’s in a name?

Following the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict over the Crimea, Kyiv appears to be shunning anything to do with Russia. Kiev spelling is transliterated from the Russian language, while Kyiv is transliterated from Ukrainian.

So, last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine launched an online campaign named CorrectUA, to persuade international media to write “Kyiv” for the name of Ukraine’s capital name instead of the traditional English spelling of “Kiev.”

Spelling is an important aspect of diplomatic courtesy and etiquette as a misspelt name or world could be interpreted as rudeness, disrespect and even contempt. To avoid offending others or hurting their feelings, especially in situations where this ability is important, diplomacy suggests a smoothness and skill in handling others, usually in such a way as to attain one’s own ends and yet avoid any unpleasantness or opposition: You just don’t want to antagonise, and that’s what soft diplomacy is about. Pleasantries. Other than cities, some states have also changed names.

These include Swaziland which reverted to eSwatini, Congo to Zaire and back, Burma to Myanmar, Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, while Kampuchea returned to Cambodia and Dahomey became Benin.

 

Kibii comments on Foreign Affairs