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Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what her Department’s policy is on changes in nomenclature of foreign place names in official documents following linguistic revisions by foreign governments, with particular reference to (a) India, (b) Burma and (c) China; and if she will make a statement. (84234)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) consults the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (PCGN) on issues concerning foreign geographical names. The PCGN is an interdepartmental body, whose principal function is to advise the Government on policies and procedures for the proper writing of geographical names for places and features outside the United Kingdom, excluding those of the Antarctic. The final decision on the appropriate name to use, however, rests with the lead section on geographical names within the FCO.

The policy for the application of geographical names is to follow the practice of the supreme administering authority of the country concerned. It is the FCO’s policy to recognise changes of geographical name where these fall within the sovereign competence of a particular foreign government. For example, in India the name change from Madras to Chennai has been made according to due processes within the Government of India and requires appropriate acknowledgement within the FCO. The name Madras would therefore now be considered a former name for this city, in the same way that Salisbury is a former name for Harare.

However, there will be a number of occasions where a geographical name within the sovereign competence of a particular foreign government is already known in a traditional form in the English language and it would not be unusual for this form to be used within the FCO for ease of recognition. For example, the Burmese geographical name Yangon has long been known in the English language as Rangoon, and that form continues to be acceptable today. However, the use of English-language terms can also alter over time. This could be considered to have occurred in the case of Beijing, where the name Peking is today rarely encountered as the English-language name.