Geographical Abbreviation

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This post outlines the use of abbreviation to refer to geographical locations and other references to location. Note that in general, such references should be spelled out; abbreviation is usually reserved for when space is limited.

Some publications still use traditional abbreviations for states, such as Calif. and N.Y., but the trend is toward using postal symbols such as CA for abbreviation when necessary, as in bibliographies, lists, tables, and mailing addresses. When the older abbreviations are used, inclusion of periods for initials (as in N.Y.) is advised for consistency, but overall, the abbreviation style is not recommended. (However, when US is used as an adjective, no periods are necessary; the abbreviation should not be used at all as a noun.)

Whether a state or country name following a city name is abbreviated or spelled out, the state or country name should be punctuated before and after with commas: “San Diego, CA, is the second-largest city in the state.” In a reference to a street address, precede the state abbreviation with a comma, but do not insert a second comma between the abbreviation and the ZIP code: “123 Main Street, Anytown, CA 54321.” (By the way, ZIP is an acronym standing for “Zone Improvement Plan.”)

When a compass point is designated in a street address, follow a single-letter abbreviation with a period (as in “E. Main Street”), but do not punctuate a two-letter abbreviation or separate the street name from an abbreviation that follows (as in “First Street NW”). Compass points described in isolation are generally spelled out (for example, northwest), but in technical contexts, they may be abbreviated as they are in addresses.

For locations with words such as fort, mount, and saint in the name, consult a geographical dictionary or an official printed or online resource about the location to determine whether to spell out or abbreviate the word. However, the Spanish equivalents of saint, San and Santa, are never abbreviated.

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12 thoughts on “Geographical Abbreviation”

  1. “…the trend is toward using postal symbols such as CA for abbreviation when necessary.”
    When the U.S. Post Office announced its list of two-letter abbreviations** for the states, territories, and possessions, it also announced that these abbreviations were for Postal Use Only! I think that using them for other purposes is a case of intellectual laziness. Also note that abbreviations for the ten Canadian provinces and some territories were added to the list later by the Canadian post office & U.S. Post Office, in cooperation.
    I have also seen where some computer programmers gravely wrote “Do not use three-letter abbreviations,” geographically speaking. Well, I rolled up my sleeves and started typing these: Ariz., Alta., Conn., Mary., Mich., Minn., Miss., Okla., Penn., Sask., Tenn., W.Va., but their computer program did not like any of these, either. I will tell you that it is not THAT much trouble to program a computer to recognize three and four letter abbreviations, with or without periods, upper case or lower case, plus Calif., Louis., etc. Otherwise is just intellectual laziness, and they are advertising it, too.

    Also, in the past it was not considered to be necessary to abbreviate Iowa, Ohio, Utah, and Guam, and it is rather lazy to do so.
    **AL, AK, AR, AZ,… IA, ID, IL, IN,… NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY,… WV, WY,
    AB, BC, NB, NF, NS, ON, PQ, YT
    Manitoba was a problem because the U.S. already had MA, MN, MI, MT, and MO, so the only thing left was MB. Also, Prince Edward Island always was PEI before, and Northwest Territories was NWT.
    I have also read of confusion concerning “LA” between Louisiana, Los Angeles, and “Lower Alabama” (which is the southern part).
    Carrying that further, LA is also “Lower Arkansas” and “Lower Arizona”, geographically speaking.

  2. There is an entirely different kind of geographical abbreviation, and to explain, I will just list some of them for you:
    Ave., Blvd., Ct., Dr., Fwy., Ln., Pkwy., Rd., St., Tnpk., and Twps.
    Note the N.J. Tnpk., the Penn. Tnpk., and others in Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, and formerly in Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, and Virginia.
    In some of the Northeastern and Midwestern states, I got royally confused by highway signs saying “Twp.” or “Twps.”, such as in “Hancock Twp.” or “Boone Twps.”, until it finally dawned on me that “Twp.” = “Twps.” = “township”, and not “turnpike”.
    I had been thinking, “These Yankees have a funny way of abbreviating ‘turnpike’.”
    There was a funny abbreviation of twx or TWX, but that one meant “teletext”.
    As for byways named “Mud Alley”, “Rocky Way”, and “Mud Springs”, I think that we will just leave abbreviations out of it.

  3. Note that the names of Frankfurt, Germany, and Frankfort, Kentucky, are spelled differently. In German, “Furt” really is the word for “fort”, but in Kentucky, that name was cobbled together. Originally, it was probably “Franck’s ford” or “Frank’s ford”, a stream crossing, but that blended into “Frankfort”. Also, that place is about halfway between Lexington and Louisville, so they chose it as the state capital city long ago. Then when cars and expressways came along, they built the Kentucky Turnpike connecting Lexington, Frankfort, and Louisville, but the tolls paid off the construction bonds long ago, and that highway has been a freeway section of Interstate 64.
    In eastern Maryland, there is a town named “Berlin”, but its roots do not have anything to do with the capital of Germany. Back in colonial times, a man named Burley established “Burley’s Inn” there as a place to drink, eat, and sleep, and over the years that blended into “Berlin”.
    There is the huge, well-known city of Frankfurt in western Germany. It is the German center of banking and transportation, and especially of airline transportation, dating back to the times of West Germany and earlier. It is on the Main River, a tributary of the Rhine. In East Germany, there is another Frankfurt, a smaller one, on the west bank of the Oder River, right on the Polish border. To distinguish it, it is often referred to as “Frankfurt an die Oder”, and sometimes the other one is called “Frankfurt am Main”.

  4. As for abbreviating, or not, “fort” in geographical names, there is SOME simple reasoning. It is easy to write these:
    Fort Dix, Fort Lee, Fort Hood, Fort Knox, Fort Myer, Fort Polk, Fort Sill, Fort Bliss, Fort Bragg, Fort Irwin, Fort Myers, Fort Riley, and Fort Scott , but better to write
    Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Ft. Benning, Ft. Campbell, Ft. Huachuca, Ft. Jackson, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Leavenworth, Ft. McClellan, Ft. McPherson, Ft. Oglethorpe, and Ft. Stewart.
    There are also some confusing ones like Ft. Worth, Ft. Lewis, Ft. (George G.) Meade, and Ft. Smith.

  5. I think that you should look at maps of areas with strong French influences, historically, such as in France (!), Quebec, the Great Lakes Region, Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana, Haiti, French Guinea, etc.
    You will find French abbreviations (or very short words, lest I am mistaken) in geographical names all over the place, such as Isl., Mte., Ste., all over the place, especially when it comes to female saints like Ste. Marie, the mother of Jesus, Ste. Marie Magdalene, Ste. Ana, etc.
    Then there are the short French words that I know are not abbreviations, like Ile, Lac, Mont, and Rue.
    I know a lot more German and Spanish than French, where I am limited to stuff like “Ile la Paris, Mont Blanc, Sault Ste. Marie, bon voyage, Superior, Illinois, and parlevous Francois”. My answer is, “Nein, ich spreche kein Franzosisch.” = “No, I don’t speak any French.”

  6. That would be “Do you speak Francis?” or “Do you speak Francoist?…” as opposed to Marxist or Stalinist or some-such. I think you’re reaching for, <> with a cedilla under the C that we ain’t got to announce the S sound that it would normally be prohibited from making prior to an O . Also, there is no French Guinea, just a French Guiana, though there was A Guinea that was “French” for all intensive porpoises.

  7. Ah, venqax, I have already conceded that I will leave the details of the French to you, except for the abbreviation like “Ste.”, “Mr.”, & “Mdme.” and aeronautical terms like empennage, fuselage, and nacelle.
    “Ich spreche kein Franzosisch.”
    Herr Wood

  8. Vanqax: Thank you, I understand it now, belatedly.
    “parlez-vous francais” didn’t come out between the francais quotation marks. M—–e!
    I understand now that you used “” as quotation marks as the French do. I have had then same thing happen to me, here and now. Whatever is in between vanishes in this peculiar system.
    In German, and especially for long quotations “<>” are sometimes used as quotation marks. Let’s see what happens now:

  9. That was strange: I wanted to draw an arrow with points on both ends of it, such as connecting two ideas. Everything in between the arrowheads vanished, leaving just “”.

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