APRIL 2000

What's in a Name?

Names of places

Often, the names of places in other countries remain the same in our own language or are recognisable beyond doubt (Londen/Londres = London). Nevertheless, we can still be caught out by the translations of place names and other such phenomena in texts written in other languages, or be unsure as to how to render them correctly when writing ourselves in a foreign language.

The aforementioned problem is accentuated in a country like Belgium where there are already three official languages at play! Although many outsiders are unaware of the full details of the political structures in Belgium, this is how we talk about you in English:

1. The people in the North of Belgium are living in Flanders, they are Flemings governed by Flemish institutions and are known to speak Flemish (note, however, that official EU documents refer to the language as Dutch).

2. The people in the South are living in Wallonia, they are Walloons governed by Walloon institutions and are known to speak French.

3. As for those in the middle (well, almost), they live in Brussels and would be referred to in a manner such as 'the people of Brussels' as no collective noun exists. Similarly, the adjective is quite simply Brussels as in the infamous Brussels sprouts.

Importantly, when referring to language groups, such as the fourth smaller but equally important Belgian community not mentioned above, the terms germanophone, francophone and néerlandophone in French are rendered German-speaking, French-speaking and Dutch-speaking in English, NOT germanophone etc. The nouns from this would be German speaker etc.

As to the other main cities and areas of Belgium, my general advice would be that where no anglicised form exists, you should use the name in the language of the area concerned, i.e. Mons and Liège should be known as such and Leuven remains Leuven and not Louvain. Four special cases exist in which we have adopted our own preferred versions. These are: Antwerpen / Anvers = Antwerp
Gent / Gand = Ghent
Oostende / Ostende = Ostend
and, finally, Brugge takes the French version Bruges.

Some other countries also provide us with good examples of this problem.
Just across the border in France, two main differences which are often overlooked as they are so small are Marseilles and Lyons, where English, for reasons unknown, adds an extra 's' at the end! Picardie and Normandie are known as Picardy and Normandy and don't trip up on Bourgogne which is Burgundy. Across the border further to the East is another unexplained anomaly. In English, we have decided to use the French version of Köln, which therefore becomes Cologne. Den Haag in the Netherlands (NOT Holland) is, of course, The Hague (capital T). Another country within the EU for which English has many of its own names is Spain. Thus, Cataluña is Catalonia and the País Vasco is the Basque Country, for example. And Mallorca and Menorca have more commonly become Majorca and Minorca. Other geographical features such as rivers can also catch you out. I'm not sure I would recognise the Tamise as being the famous Thames.

Joanne O'Donnell