Monday, April 29, 2024

About a Bird? Your Complete Guide to Turkey's 2021-2022 Name Change

Map of Türkiye, formerly known as Turkey, which officially changed its name in English and other languages in 2022 to match the Turkish-language version. Map is in green, brown, and blue natural style with terrain, showing that more or less the entire country is mountainous, with colors varying from dark green to beige, and most areas in some hue of yellow-green. Turkey is roughly shaped like a long, horizontal rectangle (if north is treated as up), with the Black Sea along its whole northern side and the Aegean Sea to its west, with a small portion of the country in the far northwest (Eastern Thrace) separated from the rectangle (Anatolia) by the rivers connecting those two seas. The southern side of the country is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the west and the more-arid land of the Levant and Mesopotamia in the east. East of the country are the mountainous Southern Caucasus region and the northwestern end of the Iranian Plateau. Capital city Ankara is a bit northwest of the country's geographic center, and the larger Istanbul much farther to the northwest, straddling the gap between Eastern Thrace and Anatolia. Other cities of over a million people each, including İzmir, Adana, Bursa, Gaziantep, and several more, are located along the country's western and southern margins. Surrounding countries include Greece and Bulgaria to the west; Cyprus (and disputed Northern Cyprus), Syria, and Iraq to the southeast; and Iran, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan to the east. Russia looms large just across the Black Sea to the northeast, Romania is across the sea to the northwest (plus Ukraine and disputed Crimea directly north), and Israel and Lebanon are not far off along the southward turn the Mediterranean coast, while the Aegean Sea to the west is dominated islands that are part of Greece.

Turkey's "New" Name

Over the last two years, PolGeoNow readers might have noticed us using the name "Türkiye" for the country more widely known in English as "Turkey". That's because the Turkish government officially changed the country's name in English (and two other languages) about two years ago, and our policy is to call countries by what their governments say they're called, except in certain special cases. 

Türkiye, a large and influential country traditionally considered to be partly in Europe and partly in Asia, comes up a lot in news about both European and Middle Eastern geopolitics. So that means a lot of people and organizations now have to make a choice: Keep using the name they're used to, or switch the official one chosen by the country's government.

Turkey's Name Change to Türkiye: How it Happened

Türkiye was already the country's name in its national language, Turkish, and is now promoted as its official name in English and some other languages too.

Türkiye: How to Pronounce It? 

So what's the correct pronunciation of "Türkiye"? Well, it looks like some people plan to just keep saying it like "Turkey", since in English it's easy to imagine the new spelling could still be read that way.

But as you can hear in the official YouTube video, the idea was that the name should sound more like "Turkey-yeh", even when used by English speakers.

If you want to pronounce it even more like a Turkish person does, you need to make the ü into a sound kind of in between English "oo" and "ee" - basically the same as the ü in German or Mandarin, or the regular u in French.

A trick to achieve this: Start by saying "ee", then move your lips to make an "oo", while keeping your tongue and jaw in the "ee" position.

And for bonus points, the R in Turkish is more like a Spanish or Japanese R than an English or French one - sort of like a softly-pronounced D in English.

Some had already been calling the country "Türkiye" in English since before the official change: A powerful association of Turkish export companies chose in 2020 to label all its members' products "Made in Türkiye" - with government encouragement. One source says they'd already started recommending that version 20 years earlier.

But the first wide-ranging government order implementing the change seems to have happened in December 2021, when the Turkish president announced that he had ordered the country's government offices, and asked private companies, to start using the new name even in foreign languages. 

In mid-January of 2022, news broke that the country's government was planning to go all the way and register the name change at the United Nations (UN), the global organization that counts almost every country among its members. The reports said the registration was expected within the "coming weeks", though it didn't actually end up happening until May 31 of that year. 
In effect, this kind of name change registration obligates the UN, its subdivisions, and its affiliated organizations to use the new name, while firmly requesting that other countries' governments do the same.

International standards organization ISO - whose "country codes" database (ISO 3166) is widely used as a default list of world countries for apps, websites, and other purposes - revised the country's name in its database on July 11, 2022.

Why was "Turkey" changed to "Türkiye"?

Since Türkiye was already the country's name in Turkish, it might seem obvious why it would want to use its native name instead of one imposed by the outside world. Supporters have even argued that the name change proves the country isn't trying to "appease Britain", the powerful fellow European country where the English language - and the name variant "Turkey" - originated.

But on the other hand, most countries seem happy to accept traditional English names that don't correspond to their native names. "Germany" calls itself Deutschland in German, "Greece" calls itself Hellas in Greek, and "Japan" calls itself Nippon in Japanese. And it's not like people call all other countries by their native names even in the Turkish language, where Germany is Almanya, Greece is Yunanistan, and Japan is Japonya.

The Turkish president defended the change in vague terms as an expression of national pride, saying "The phrase Türkiye represents and expresses the culture, civilisation and values of the Turkish nation in the best way". And it's worth noting that the change was registered in other languages too, not just English (more on that below). 

Still, it was widely assumed that the biggest reason was actually the inconvenient fact that in English, "turkey" more often means a kind of bird famous as good eating. And sure enough, a Google image search for "Turkey" brings up more pictures related to the bird than the country. But for the record, "Turkey" was actually a country name first, with the bird sort of named after the country, even though it didn't come from there (turkeys originated in North America, in what's now Mexico and the United States). Ironically, the Turkish-language name of the bird is hindi, implying (just as wrongly) that it came from India

It's also been suggested that the change away from "Turkey" was motivated by looking it up in an English dictionary: Besides the country and the bird, Merriam-Webster also reports that "turkey" can sometimes mean a failed theatrical production or "a stupid, foolish, or inept person". In our experience, neither of these meanings is widespread in the English-speaking world today, but a Turkish person looking it up might not know that. More commonly, the word means a perfect score over three rounds of bowling - but apparently that good meaning isn't enough to cancel out the bad ones in the dictionary.

On the other hand, maybe the motivation for the change was more practical: Some analysts think it was timed to stir up patriotism right when the government needed to distract the Turkish people from the country's economic crisis, which most experts say the president is partly to blame for. In reality, all of these reasons probably played some part in the decision.

So the government wanted to change the name, but what did regular Turkish people think? Well, as usually happens in situations like this, people had mixed reactions: Some liked it, some hated it, and a lot didn't really care (after all, they were already calling the country Türkiye in Turkish).

TÜRKİYE: Special Letters and Accents

There was speculation in early 2022 that the letter Ü* wouldn't be allowed in the UN's English-language registration of the country's name - accent marks above letters are often left out in English, since they generally have no meaning to English-speakers and are hard to type on English keyboards. But the prediction didn't come to pass: The official UN terminology database shows that the normally non-English letter was accepted after all.

That shouldn't actually have been a surprise, because there was already a country using a non-English accent mark in its English name at the UN: Côte d'Ivoire (also known as the Ivory Coast). It does seem like Côte d'Ivoire was the only country with any accent marks on its official English name, but the one example already pretty much proves that it's allowed.

In fact, the UN went even further to accommodate the Turkish alphabet in English: Its database also notes that (even in English), when Türkiye is spelled in all caps, it should be "TÜRKİYE", not "TÜRKIYE" (notice the dot above the capital letter "i"). 

This follows the Turkish-language rule that "İ" is the uppercase version of the letter "i", while "I" is instead the uppercase of the letter "ı" (a dotless "i", which doesn't normally exist in English). These are pronounced differently in Turkish, with the dotted versions making a sound like an English "long E" as in "keep", while the dotless versions makes a sound sort of like English "short I" as in "sit".

*The letter Ü is sometimes called U-umlaut or "U with diaeresis", but both the words "umlaut" and "diaeresis" technically don't apply to the way the letter is used in Turkish. In the Turkish alphabet, it's just called "ü" (which sounds different from "u"), and in English the accent mark can also be described simply as "two dots above".

Türkiye: Name Changed in Other Languages, Not Just English 

As promised, the Turkish government registered a name change not only in English but also in Spanish and French, the other two UN official languages that use versions of the Roman alphabet:

Official Short Name at UN
Language Before After
Arabic تركيا تركيا
Chinese 土耳其 土耳其
English Turkey
French la Turquie
la Türkiye
Russian Турция
Spanish Turquía Türkiye

Official Long Name at UN
Language Before After
Arabic جمهورية تركيا الجمهورية التركية
Chinese 土耳其共和国 土耳其共和国
English the Republic of Turkey the Republic of Türkiye
French la République turque  la République de Türkiye
Russian Турецкая Республика Турецкая Республика
Spanish la República de Turquía la República de Türkiye

Note that the name wasn't changed at all in Russian or Chinese. In Arabic, a word equivalent to "the" was added to the official long name, and the spelling change was made to the last letter of that long name, but it seems likely these were just small adjustments unrelated to the "Turkey"/"Türkiye" change. 

Since Russian, Chinese, and Arabic use completely different writing systems from Turkish and English, they already had no way to use the exact Turkish spelling. And the country's name in those languages doesn't sound much more like the English version than the Turkish version anyway: It's read roughly as "Turkia" in Arabic, "Too-er-chee" in Chinese, and "Turtsiya" in Russian.

Who's actually switched to using "Türkiye"?

International Organizations

Flag of Türkiye (Turkey) Country Short Name:  
• Türkiye (Turkish, official English)
• Turkey (unofficial English)
Full Name:  
• Republic of Türkiye (English)
• Türkiye Cumhuriyeti (Turkish)
• Ankara
Adjective: Turkish
Citizens: Turks

So far, Turkey's name change has gained the most ground in the world of international diplomacy. And that's especially been the case with intergovernmental organizations - groups of countries working together to achieve shared goals. Because of how they're built, this kind of organization usually respects its member governments' wishes for what they want to be called. 

The switchover is just about complete at the UN itself - the world's biggest intergovernmental organization - whose headquarters and subsidiary organizations are basically required to use the name provided by each member country.

And lots of other intergovernmental organizations that have "Türkiye" as a member - like the WTO, NATO, OECD, OSCE, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the Council of Europe - have also switched to the new name. Other major organizations that interact with the country, like the European Union, African Union, and ASEAN, have followed suit too.

Of course individual people might not always stick perfectly to the new version when they talk, but for these organizations you can more or less count on official documents to respect the change. We did also find one major exception, the G20, that's still writing "Turkey" on its website even though the country is one of its members. The G20 is more loosely-organized than the other groups mentioned above, so it might just not have the bureaucracy in place to make sure the change happens.

What About Individual Countries?

The United States - the country with the most native English speakers - announced in January 2023, "after several months of hesitation", that its foreign affairs division would change the spelling (but not the pronunciation) to "Türkiye" in formal situations. The change came after a ruling from the US geography office saying both versions were okay. Some reports suggested the change was made under pressure from the Turkish government, which holds some sway over US politics as an important member of the NATO military alliance. Still, US bureaucrats later clarified that they still considered "Turkey" to be the "conventional" name, and reserved the right to keep using it on maps published by the government. 

Map of countries in the NATO military alliance, including Türkiye at far right and the US at far left, with new member Sweden labeled. (Click for bigger map and more information)
On the other hand, the home country of the English language, the United Kingdom (UK), doesn't seem to have made any change, despite also being a NATO ally. But the one other officially English-speaking NATO member, Canada, has. Also cooperating are lots of other English-speaking governments around the world, from Ireland, Nigeria, and Australia to India, New Zealand, and South Africa - all now using "Türkiye". 

Countries whose governments don't mainly use English probably have no reason to resist the change, though at the UN the name has been changed in Spanish and French too (as explained above). And just like the UK, language homelands Spain and France (both NATO allies) have apparently ignored the registered name change, continuing to call the country Turquía (Spanish) and Turquie (French) instead of Türkiye.

Of the remaining NATO member countries using French as one of their official languages, only Canada seems to have made the change from Turquie to Türkiye in French, while Europe's Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg seem to still be using Turquie. Though information is harder to come by for the rest of the world, there's evidence that non-NATO European country Monaco has accepted the French name change, and there are examples of other countries like Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire using Türkiye in French too.

Spain is the only officially Spanish-speaking country in NATO or the continent of Europe. But the world's most populous Spanish-speaking country, Mexico, seems to be using a mix of Turquía and Türkiye, with similar situations in countries like Venezuela and Panama, while other major Spanish-speaking governments like Colombia and Argentina seem to be using Türkiye more consistently.

So why have some countries ignored the change, while others have happily gone along with it? It might come down to the question of who's the authority on how a language is spoken: the countries where each language actually originated, or a whole different country that doesn't call those countries by their exact native-language names either. For France and Spain, which famously have public institutions trying to minimize outside influence on their language, the first option is always going to win out. Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg aren't such clear examples of that, but they do also fall more or less within the French language's historical homeland, so that might explain their resistance to taking orders about it from a non-French-speaking country.

Meanwhile, the countries that have started using "Türkiye" mostly have histories as former colonies of England, France, or Spain, which probably gives them a different perspective on how their languages work - they've never had so much authority on how the languages should be spoken anyway, and so are more accepting of outside influences (the US, as a military and economic superpower, is a more complicated case - and fittingly, has had a more complicated response to Turkey's name change). 

You might call Monaco an exception (it has a complicated history with neighboring France), but as a country that's smaller than New York's Central Park, there's no surprise if it takes a humble approach to international relations.

The "Türkiye" Name in News Media

What about in the news? Well, almost two years after the change was official completed, almost all foreign media outlets publishing in English are still calling the country "Turkey" - quite a rebuke to any supporters who hoped it would catch on quickly among the general public. 

The only outlets we could find that did use "Türkiye" were AzerNews (based in close Turkish ally Azerbaijan), China's government-controlled Xinhua and CGTN, Russia's government-owned RT, and Cuba's government-controlled Prensa Latina. Since governments have been quicker to accept the change than most news media have, it makes sense that some of the first news outlets to make the change are the ones most closely controlled by governments.

Australia's ABC (government-funded but generally considered independent) seems to be using "Türkiye" inconsistently, and a handful of regional or national outlets, like the Middle East Monitor, Arab News, and Malaysia's The Sun have started using "Turkiye" without the accent mark on the U (the Middle East Monitor and Arab News are thought have close ties to the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, though The Sun is independent).

Among English-language media within Turkey/Türkiye itself, major government-controlled and pro-government outlets have made the switch, but several independent outlets haven't.

Country Name Changes on Wikipedia: Will "Türkiye" Make the Grade?

The English-language version of Wikipedia might be just as big an influence as news media on what names people use for countries, though you could argue there's some circular referencing going on: Wikipedia editors have a policy of prioritizing commonly-used names over official ones, so the Wikipedia version is influenced by what people actually use, while what people actually use is probably influenced by Wikipedia. This might be part of what's happened with Côte d'Ivoire, which Wikipedia still calls "Ivory Coast" almost 40 years after the country registered a name change similar to Turkey's (substituting the local-language version for the traditional English one). 

Historic English names still win out on Wikipedia for Cabo Verde and Timor-Leste too, and the Czech Republic's invented short name hasn't made the grade yet either. On the other hand, the two most recent country renamings - "Eswatini" (2018) and "North Macedonia" (2019) - have caught on without much problem. The difference seems to be buy-in from the news media, since Wikipedia editors often use that as a measure of which name is more commonly used. 

So why did those two name changes have more buy-in from news outlets? For the first one, the answer is probably that "North Macedonia" was a name widely supported by the international diplomatic community as a compromise solution to a stubborn controversy, so there was a clearer reason for news editors to jump onboard. Far from being just a one-sided decision from the country itself, it was actually carefully negotiated and specified in a treaty signed by the country and Greece, with the approval of the European Union and NATO.

"Eswatini" really was a one-sided decision from that country, but at least most English speakers weren't used to hearing or saying "Swaziland" very often anyway. We can also speculate that the native name "Eswatini" got sympathy for being clearly a rollback of the name imposed by its former colonizer, the UK. That's in contrast to fellow small, lesser-known countries Cabo Verde and Timor-Leste, who are asking for almost the opposite: that their names be rendered more exactly in the way their former colonizer said and spelled them (that is, in Portuguese rather than English).

"Türkiye" falls outside of this colonialism argument, since it wasn't colonized by the UK, Spain, or France - their local names for the country are just what their people always called it since Medieval times or earlier.

Other Places

Despite the cold shoulder from the news media and Wikipedia, governments and international officials aren't the only ones accepting the name change to "Türkiye". The widely used Google Maps app and website, though notorious for showing different versions of its maps to people in different countries, seems to generally be showing "Türkiye" in English. It doesn't seem to have changed the name in Spanish or French, though in those languages it does also show the native-language name of the country in the info section.

Meanwhile, with the change already adopted by the ISO 3166-1 country name database, which is widely-used by companies to make quick lists of the world's countries (for example, for drop-down menus on internet forms and apps), its likely the new name will eventually pop up in all kinds of places.

And the International Crisis Group, a NATO-friendly think tank that publishes on-the-ground research and analysis about many countries of the world, has bucked the trend set by its journalist colleagues and instead chosen to accept the change to "Türkiye" in English - probably a strategy to make its critiques and recommendations more appealing to Turkish politicians.

Will average English-speakers really start calling it Türkiye?

No country's government can really control what people call it in another language, and it always seemed unlikely that average English speakers would quickly adopt the unfamiliar name "Türkiye". "Turkey" is almost universally known to English speakers, and it takes effort for people to change words they're already used to using.

The news media's refusal to cooperate, and Wikipedia's refusal to change it's own articles until they do, seems like it'll be a major obstacle in convincing the English-speaking public to use "Türkiye". But changes to Google Maps and ISO country codes could be a pretty good counter to that, and even official government and diplomatic sources do give it some exposure.

For now, "Turkey"/"Türkiye" is looking like more of an "Ivory Coast"/"Côte d'Ivoire" type of case, where the official name is mostly only used for official purposes - but anything could happen in the future. In the end it might be partly down to whether Turkish people participate in promoting it - lot's of people do care about respecting the wishes of people from other countries and cultures. But if the sense is that Turkish people don't care much whether the English name changes, then the English-speaking public won't be very motivated to change it either.

PolGeoNow always reports on changes to countries' names, even if it sometimes takes us awhile. Learn about others by viewing all country name change articles.

Graphic of the Turkish flag is in the public domain (source).