Naming Conventions

November 17, 2009

sub-titled: “You know where I mean, so what does it matter what we call it?”

Place names here continue to both baffle, amuse and occasionally confuse. It isn’t unusual for a town or village to have more than one name, or variation of the spelling. Putting aside the Greek/Turkish Cyprus Problem for a moment there have been occasions where bureaucrats or politicians have decided that a place should be renamed.

So, a tourist may be happily driving along looking for signs to Paphos and instead finds signs for Pafos. In that case, and in the case of Larnaca/Larnaka, the spelling difference is so minor it may not be noticed.

When Limassol turns into Lemesos it’s a little less clear … by the time we have Nicosia becoming Lefkosia you can forgive our poor tourist for being confused. Since most tourists don’t cross the border to the occupied Turkish area in the north they are unlikely to discover that Famagusta is now Ammochostos to the Greek Cypriots whilst being Gazimaguza to Turkish Cypriots.

Probably just as well really, or they’d be heading for a lie down in a darkened room with a large brandy sour to recover.

The re-naming of those five towns was a bureaucratic decision made some time ago which was meant to return the towns to Cypriot-sounding names rather than those inflicted upon them by the pesky British during their conservatorship of the island. That the no-longer-used names pre-date British control is a small niggle best not mentioned to those who made the decision.

Putting aside that bureaucracy for a moment the re-naming is a useful reminder that here in Cyprus naming conventions can be a little bit of a movable feast.  But, with true Cypriot pragmatism as long as both parties in a conversation know what, or where, is being referred to then what exactly is the problem?

Road signs are usually dual language with the place name first in Greek, in upper case, and then in English, in lower case. Many non Greek-speaking folks find the signs useful in helping to firm up their knowledge of the Greek alphabet – at least the slightly friendlier upper case rather than the rather terrifying lower case.

But, helpfulness aside, the signage often throws up some oddities which only go to reinforce this laid back Cypriot attitude that ‘as long as we both understand …

For example, take this motorway sign. The signage indicates that the way to Lefkosia is off to the left. The first line, the yellow uppercase, is the Greek, the second line, in white proper case in the English.

Where are you going ... Nicosia or Lefkosia?

Where are you going ... Nicosia or Lefkosia?

The Greek is fine, it says “Lefkosia”, the new name for Nicosia. But the English says Nicosia, a name that was abandoned years ago. The sign is clearly newer than that yet has a mix of old and new.

The sign directly after it has Lefkosia in both languages.  Have some sympathy for our poor confused tourist, particularly as they realise that sign #1 told them that the mysterious Nicosia/Lefkosia was 28km away only for sign #2, just a kilometer on, to say the distance is now 43km.

Lefkosia 43km?!

Lefkosia 43km?!

Is this a political snipe? Sloppy workmanship? Or does the average Cypriot really not care too much?

Between Larnaca and Limassol there is a small-ish village called Anglisides … or maybe it’s called Agkleisides. It really depends who you ask or which maps you refer to.

The roadsign makers have a slightly different take on the matter. The following two signs appear sequentially on the motorway. The third is in the village itself.  To the signmakers the solution to the problem is clear. Three (or maybe four) variants on the name, three signs. “Hey, lets use one spelling on each, then everyone is happy!”








There’s logic there Jim, but not as we know it :-)


One comment

  1. I think Cyprus signed a UN convention on transliteration. They do the same thing with names on passports so that there is consistency to be able to truck people. These is huge resentment from the part of local authorities about this with some municipalities fighting the gov like Lakatamia/Lakatameia or for people Constantinos vs Konstantinos. The same happened in other places like Beijing vs Peking or Mumbai vs Bombay. But in general Cypriots don’t care much as they don’t read the signs. No Cypriot knows which one is A1 highway or what is B5 road. We have highways that go to Limassol and roads that goes to Vavla.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: