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November 2, 2012


Friday Fun 29: Winston takes his stand on foreign place names

by quaesitor

A real gem this week. It’s on display in the painting studio at Chartwell, Churchill’s much-loved home in Kent. I couldn’t resist getting down his points verbatim when we paid a return visit over the summer.

In the final stage of the 2nd World War (Hitler would commit suicide only 1 week later and VE day would follow just a week after that) Churchill found time to dictate this rather tongue-in-cheek minute. Of course just 3 months later we would be ousted from office in the Labour Landslide of 1945. And as ever, he proved prophetic. Who knows? If he’d stayed in power immediately following the war, he might have been able to take his stand, and we might still be calling Livorno Leghorn today.


Alas, it was not to be. Quite what my many Turkish friends might make of this, is another matter.

10 Downing St

Prime Minister’s Personal Minute:
Serial No: M 387/5 A


1. The principle at “A” is entirely disagreeable to me. I do not consider that names that have been familiar for generations in England should be altered to study the whims of foreigners living in those parts.

Where the name has no particular significance, the local custom should be followed. However, Constantinople should never be abandoned, though for stupid people Istanbul may be written in brackets after it. As for Angora, long familiar with us through the Angora Cats, I will resist to the utmost of my power its degradation to Ankara.

2. You should note, by the way, the bad luck which always pursue peoples who change the names of their cities. Fortune is rightly malignant to those who break with the traditions and customs of the past. As long as I have a word to say in the matter Ankara is banned, unless in brackets afterwards. If we do not make a stand we shall in a few weeks be asked to call Leghorn Livorno, and the B.B.C. will be pronouncing Paris Paree. Foreign names were made for Englishmen, not Englishmen for foreign names. I date this minute from St George’s Day.



[handwritten: “A”= last sentence of final paragraph of Mr Henderson’s letter to Mr Colville of 20.4.45 on the pronunciation and spelling of foreign place names.]

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Dec 21 2016

    Thanks for this. I recall reading this letter years ago and hearing the laughter of others as they came across it. I’ve been looking for a transcript for a long time.
    Regards, Tim


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