Saturday, November 7, 2015

Will Lithuania Become Lituania for the English-Speaking World?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 7 – When the three Baltic countries recovered their de facto independence in 1991 and the 11 non-Russian republics gained theirs, many in the West were faced with the challenge of what to call these states given that up to that time most Westerners had used the names Russians had given them rather than the names they gave themselves.

            That led to some amusing outcomes: Georgia’s first ambassador to the United States, Tedo Japaridze, frequently had to tell American audiences that he not from Atlanta but rather from Tbilisi, and US President George H.W. Bush reportedly was confused when he found out that the first Ukrainian ambassador to Washington was named Bilorus.

            But it is not a trivial issue:  Estonians insist that their capital city Tallinn is spelled with two n’s not one as Russians insist on doing to this day, the Kyrgyz call their country Kyrgyzstan even though Russians still refer to it as Kyrgyzia, and Kazakhs call their former capital Almaty instead of Alma-Ata as the Russians did and do.

            The question of what names countries should have continues to spark controversies within the region as well. A few years ago, Tbilisi asked the post-Soviet states to call the country of which it is the capital “Georgia” rather than “Gruziya” -- and even formed a special language commission to push the idea (

            And not long ago there was a controversy between Lithuanian and Belarus.  Mensk asked Vilnius to call “Belarus” as Belarusians do and not “Baltarusiya” as some Lithuanians occasionally have. The Belarusians apparently aren’t aware of the fact that most Lithuanians call Belarus “Gudia” (

            Now the issue of the proper name of a country in a foreign language has come to a head in Lithuania.  Economist Zygimantas Lauritsas has proposed insisting that Lithuania be called “Lituania” by English speakers, an idea that has found favor in the Lithuanian blogosphere (

            Lauritsas argues that this will help Lithuania attract attention internationally and insists that Lituania is more correct than Lithuania because the country’s name in English comes from the Latin and Latin has no “h,” thus making “Lithuania” an unfortunate and unnecessary linguistic modification.

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