On Wikitravel we use the most common English name as the article title for destination guides. We do this for three main reasons:
- It makes it easier for travellers to find the destination guide they're looking for.
- It makes it easier for contributors to find a destination guide to contribute to.
- It makes AccidentalLinking work better.
An alternative policy for article naming is to use the destination's official name. Often, the official name is also the most common English name, so there's no problem. But there are often difficulties with official names.
- They are overly long; for example, the official name for Bangkok is 163 Roman characters!
- They have lots of extra words that no one uses; "City and County of San Francisco", "Federal Republic of Germany", etc.
- They are obscure and unknown.
- They are otherwise not as well recognized by English speakers. For example, the country English speakers know as Germany is known as Deutschland in its native language.
Responses to common objections
There are some common objections to using the most common English name rather than the official name (or some other scheme). These are some of them.
- The official name is the correct name. We should be correct.
- There is not, actually, any single body or organization that sets rules for the English language (unlike French and some others). Usage dictates what's "correct" in English.
- In addition, "official" names are often in conflict. The official name used by a local government isn't necessarily the same as the one used by the English, Australian, American, or Canadian governments, and all of them may differ from the official name used by dictionaries, the United Nations, cataloging systems like the AACR2, or others. Which "official" is really "official"?
- It's offensive to local people to use an older or unofficial name.
- This may be the case, and it's regrettable. But those local people are also being offended by the majority of English speakers. We don't use the oldest or most offensive name -- just the one in most common use.
- It's important to be respectful to locals, but the traveller comes first on Wikitravel. If travellers can't find the article about a place, they won't be able to be respectful in person, anyways. It's better to have some information about the politics of naming in the article itself, rather than in the article title.
- Using old names makes Wikitravel look "behind the times."
- In point of fact, using the most common English name for a destination puts us solidly in the times. We run with the pack; neither ahead nor behind.
- We have a responsibility to teach travellers the right names.
- This is a fairly convincing argument. However, it presumes we have one single idea of what the "right" name for a place is. If a name is disputed, or two different groups use two different names for the same place, which side should we fall on? Which one is "right"?
- It's good for Wikitravel to convey information to travellers, but it's probably counterproductive to try to indoctrinate them in one or another political or philosophical view. We try to keep a neutral point of view, and choosing one side or another in a naming debate doesn't seem really all that neutral.