We made the mistake over the weekend to referring in an article on the Baltimore Marathon to "the Ukraine," and we promptly got an irate note.
Ukrainians find the usage offensive. It was "the Ukraine" when it was a region, a part of Russia or the Soviet Union. It is an independent nation now, and its name does not take the definite article. (At least we didn’t commit the gaffe of using the old nickname, "Little Russia.")
It may also take us some time to accustom ourselves to the relatively new style of the names of major Indian cities. Bombay is now Mumbai, Madras is Chennai and Calcutta is Kolkata. India dislikes vestiges of British colonial nomenclature, and American journalism is slowly going along.
We also went along when Upper Volta became Burkina Faso (retaining the irresistible name of its capital, Ougadougou), though there has been some resistance to the Burmese junta’s insistence on Myanmar, though Seinfeld didn’t balk at it when it sent J. Peterman there.
But what to call a place doesn’t depend entirely on the local preference. As you may remember from the post on Feb. 9, "Italian Englished," we stuck with Turin over Torino during the Olympics, on the ground that there are many names of cities and nations for which English equivalents are well established. Not having received any irate notes from outraged Italo-Americans, we remain comfortable with that decision.
Some names just stick stubbornly, as we see locally in the refusal of residents of Pigtown to be gentrified into "Washington Village." They’ll accept the new name when pigs fly.