From "Turin" to "Torino": Olympics Put New Name on the Map

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If this is what the Italian organizers are hoping, "Torino" may well catch on with English speakers, agrees David Miller, senior map editor at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. (National Geographic News is a service of the National Geographic Society.)

"Because of the media blitz, I have a feeling a lot of people will start referring to Turin as 'Torino,'" he said.

There's even a chance that the games could quite literally put "Torino" on the world map, Miller said.

"Since we're going with a largely English-speaking audience, we usually show the conventional, or anglicized, spelling," the mapmaker said. "So we would show 'Milan' instead of 'Milano,' 'Rome' instead of 'Roma,' and 'Turin' instead of 'Torino.'"

"Who knows," he added, "if the Olympics make 'Torino' really famous, we may start giving it higher usage. We react to popular media as well as governments and basically evaluate overall usage."

In many modern atlases, detailed plates already show the native spelling, with the English or conventional name in parentheses below.

If "Turin" does make way for "Torino," it wouldn't be the first example in Italy. The city of Livorno has the rather inelegant English title of "Leghorn," which local people took a dislike to.

"Hardly anybody uses 'Leghorn' anymore," Miller said.

Lost Names

English-language place-names have been altered or wiped off the map elsewhere around the world in response to political change or regional sensitivities.

In postcolonial Africa, for instance, formerly British-ruled Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, and the country's capital Salisbury became Harare.

Similarly, South Africa is changing apartheid-era place names to ones that reflect its multiethnic society.

Meanwhile, Côte d'Ivoire in West Africa doesn't like being referred to as Ivory Coast.

"The only other country that we show [on the world map] in its native name because of government insistence is the world's newest country, Timor-Leste, or East Timor," Miller said.

Timor-Leste is keen to build on its Portuguese colonial heritage to differentiate it from Indonesia, which occupied the country until recently, Miller says.

Ukraine, also for reasons of national identity since independence following the Soviet Union's breakup, has pressed for its capital to be spelled in English as "Kyiv" instead of "Kiev," as the latter is based on Russian, not Ukrainian.

Sometimes it's geography itself that kills place-names off.

"One that we recently removed is a fairly big feature in Brazil called the Mato Grosso Plateau," Miller said. "The Brazilians say they don't use this [term] anymore, as there is no such thing."

"A lot of the interior of Brazil was a vast unknown, and the geography is becoming better known through aerial photography and satellite imagery," the map editor explained.

"What they thought was a large plateau is actually more like a ridge."

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