Style Quiz #9: Geographical and Geopolitical Names

By Mark Nichol

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect style for capitalization of place names according to The Chicago Manual of Style and other writing guides; revise as necessary:

1. The Atlantic ocean separates the Western and Eastern Hemispheres.

2. Political tensions have abated around the Gulf.

3. Nashville is a Mecca for aficionados of country music.

4. I believe that the Republic will endure.

5. The city of Los Angeles ordinance went into effect last year.

Answers and Explanations

Exceptions abound for treatment of place names, but specific places, when referred to literally, are generally capitalized, and generic references are lowercased.

1.
Original: The Atlantic ocean separates the Western and Eastern Hemispheres.
Correct : The Atlantic Ocean separates the Western and Eastern Hemispheres.

In names of bodies of water, the word for the body of water is generally capitalized. (Although “Western and Eastern Hemispheres” is not the name of a single geographical feature, a convention allows two features that share a designating word to be capitalized as shown.)

2.
Original: Political tensions have abated around the Gulf.
Correct : Political tensions have abated around the Gulf.

If the context is clear, certain designations for geographical or geopolitical features can be capitalized in isolation from more specific terms. This sentence is correct.

3.
Original: Nashville is a Mecca for aficionados of country music.
Correct : Nashville is a mecca for aficionados of country music.

A place name is not capitalized when it is used metaphorically.

4.
Original: I believe that the Republic will endure.
Correct : I believe that the republic will endure.

Capitalization of generic terms such as republic is a rhetorical flourish and is not recommended for formal writing.

5.
Original: The city of Los Angeles ordinance went into effect last year.
Correct : The City of Los Angeles ordinance went into effect last year.

When a municipal designation refers to the governmental body, not the location, capitalize the word city (or town, village, or the like).

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4 Responses to “Style Quiz #9: Geographical and Geopolitical Names”

  • Dale A. Wood

    No, this one is quite incorrect:
    “Political tensions have abated around the Gulf.”
    Possible corrections:
    Political tensions have abated around the Gulf of Mexico.
    Political tensions have abated around the Persian Gulf.
    Political tensions have abated around the Arabian Gulf.
    Political tensions have abated around the Gulf of Aqaba.
    Political tensions have abated around the Gulf of Tonkin.
    To tell you the true facts:
    1. There has been a huge amount of political tension around the Gulf of Mexico for decades, and these tensions have arisen from Cuba, the United States, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. There has been some relief from the facts that President Obama has visited Cuba and set about some moves to diplomatic recognition. Also, Fidel Castro has died. On the other hand, there are still political tensions between Mexico and the United States concerning drug trafficking, illegal immigration, commerce, poverty, etc. The United Kingdom (i.e. British Petroleum) set off an explosion of tension with an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that was set off by criminal carelessness and neglect. Furthermore, when educated Americans and Canadians say “the Gulf” they mean the Gulf of Mexico, but this is not true in other parts of the world.
    2. There is a body of saltwater between Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, etc., that people cannot even agree on the name of: Persian Gulf, Gulf of Arabia, or something else. There is an immense amount of political tension on and around that body of water because of petroleum resources, fresh water, freedom of navigation or the lack thereof, Sunni Moslems vs. Shiites, liberal Moslems vs. ultraconservative Moslems, modernized Moslems versus xenophobic Moslems.
    3. For a long time, there has been political tension around the Gulf of Aqaba, in this case concerning Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. At times, the Egyptian government has even rattled its sabers about blockading the Gulf of Aqaba and cutting off the access of Israel to the Indian Ocean. This is pointed especially because Egypt controls the Suez Canal, too.
    Tensions have abated around the Gulf of Aqaba because Jordan and Egypt have made peace (to some degree) with Israel, even to the point of establishing diplomatic relations, and Saudi Arabia has become a mediator rather than an aggravator of trouble. Still, there are troubles around the Gaza Strip between Egypt and Israel, and these could boil over into the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez at any time.

  • Dale A. Wood

    4. Over the decades, there has been a huge amount of political tension on and around the Gulf of Tonkin. Those tensions have involved the following: United States vs. North Vietnam. Red China vs. Vietnam. United States vs. the People’s Republic of China especially concerning the island of Hainan on the Gulf of Tonkin, freedom of the seas, and freedom of international air space. The air force of the PRC has even harassed American aircraft in international airspace over the Gulf of Tonkin and forced them into captivity on Hainan.
    5. Sometimes, there is even political tension between the United States and Canada concerning the Gulf of Maine and the surrounding waters. These tensions concern fishing rights, gross overfishing of a precious natural resource, exploration for petroleum by Canada underneath these waters, water pollution caused by both sides and also by foreign ships.

    TENSIONS, TENSIONS, concerning various gulfs, seas, bays – words that are just different words for the same kind of things. Tensions over the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Gulf of Oman, the Black Sea, the Red Sea, the Yellow Sea, the North Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Mediterranean Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the Caspian Sea (Russia vs. Iran), the Greenland Sea, the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
    6. Sometimes the same kinds of fishing tensions spill over into the Gulf of Alaska, and those are exacerbated by intrusions of illegal fishermen from Russia, Japan, and Korea, especially North Korea.

  • venqax

    MN specifies: If the context is clear,. So if the context is clearly conversation about things around a particular gulf, you would capitalize Gulf. Likewise with other terms, e.g., president/President, depending on context. So he covered that.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The point I made is that the context is NOT clear.
    How could you read it and not realize this?
    In North America, “the Gulf” is always the Gulf of Mexico, as in “We will be going to the Gulf on vacation.”
    This never means the Gulf of Alaska, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aqaba, the Gulf of Suez, or even the Gulf of Maine, or the Bay of Fundy. Foreigners need to beware of this.
    When Britons, Aussies, New Zealanders, or South Africans say, “I am going to the sea on holiday,” I understand what they mean. Don’t Americans and Canadians deserve the same courtesy ??
    Don’t we?
    D.A.W.

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