20 January, 2014

ICYMI: Cape Verde's Name Change

In the following weeks, PolGeoNow will be publishing several short "in case you missed it (ICYMI)" articles on events from 2013. This is news that we weren't able to cover when it first broke, but that we thought our readers might still want to know about.

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Topographic map of Cape Verde, now known officially as Cabo Verde
Cape Verde, now officially Cabo Verde (click to enlarge). Map by Oona Räisänen/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA) (source).
By Evan Centanni

Cape Verde Changes Official Name
If you read our article on the year 2013 in political geography changes, you've already heard about the change to Cape Verde's official English name. But since keeping track of country name changes is one of the primary missions of Political Geography Now, we are now presenting this in-depth report on the topic.

On October 25, 2013, this West African island country changed its official English name at the U.N., from "Cape Verde" to "Cabo Verde". Unlike other recent country name changes, like those of Libya or Hungary, Cape Verde is changing its short-form official name as well as the long-form one. The long name has also been changed, from "Republic of Cape Verde" to "Republic of Cabo Verde".

Location on the globe of Cape Verde, now known officially as Cabo Verde
Location of Cabo Verde. Graphic slightly modified from this map by Eddo/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA).
Language Issues
In fact, in its own official language of Portuguese the country has always been known as Cabo Verde, meaning "green cape". But curiously, partially translated "Cape Verde" has long been the established English name. Perhaps to avoid the inconvenience of juggling these slightly different appellations, the country's government has now requested to be known only by the fully Portuguese version. It is also promoting a name change in French, from "le Cap-Vert" to just "Cabo Verde".

How Do You Say That?
The traditional English name of the country, Cape Verde, is pronounced "kayp verd". On the other hand, the new name is presumably intended to be pronounced as closely as possible to the Portuguese: approximately "kah-bo vehr-dih" (the "e" at the end is pronounced something like an English "short i"). Our bet is that common English usage will default to either "vehr-day" or "vehr-dee".

What's in a Name Change?
Flag of Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) Country Name:  
• Cabo Verde (Portugues, official English)
• Cape Verde (traditional English)
Full Name:  
• Republic of Cabo Verde (English)
• República de Cabo Verde (Portugues)
Capital: Praia
Demonym: Cape Verdean (traditional), Cabo Verdean (official)
Ultimately no country's government can control what people call it in another language, and it's always been normal for them to be called very different names by speakers of foreign tongues. Think of how Deutschland and Italia are known as "Germany" and "Italy" in English - it would be very difficult to convince all English speakers to switch to the native names. And every language does this. For some, such as Chinese or Arabic, every country's name is at least a bit different from its native appellation, due to the needs of transliterating from Latin letters into the language's native script.

What Cape Verde's change will affect is official usage in the United Nations, and diplomats will also be obliged to use the new name in official English communications. Meanwhile, the international standard list of country codes, ISO 3166-1, is based on U.N. usage, meaning that "Cabo Verde" will soon begin appearing on country lists online and elsewhere (though the change hasn't come through quite yet).

Some organizations, like National Geographic, which already favors using native names whenever possible, will also oblige the Cape Verdean government in their publications. However, the majority of news media and average people may be reluctant to make the switch, as has been the case with Ivory Coast and East Timor.

Graphic of the flag of Cape Verde (Cabo Verde) is in the public domain (source).