The closing ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics took place this
morning, but still unresolved is the name of the city in which the games were held – is it “Turin” or “Torino”?
Most media have stuck to “Turin”, the traditional French and English
name for the city. But some, including Nick Place in Crikey, have been
criticised for calling it “Torino”, as its inhabitants do. A
letter-writer in The Age‘s Green Guide last Thursday suggested that Channel Seven
was too ignorant to realise they were the same place.
Despite the criticism, the habit of anglicising foreign names is
definitely on the wane. Once upon a time, we did it as a matter of
course, even with personal names: French kings “Louis”, for example,
were pronounced and even spelt “Lewis”. No longer; today’s king of
Spain is always referred to as Juan Carlos, not John Charles.
Similarly with place names. We now generally spell “Lyon” and “Marseille” the way the French do, not “Lyons” and “Marseilles”.
“Leghorn” and “Salonika” have become “Livorno” and “Thessaloniki”. And
a range of Eastern European cities are now called by the local Slavic
names instead of the Germanic variants that an earlier generation was
more familiar with.
As more and more people travel or deal with overseas countries, they
realise that, other things being equal, communication is improved if we
can use the same names for the same things. Most Australians would
never have thought about the fact that “Turin” is not an Italian name,
but being confronted with it on their TV screens they may realise that
switching to “Torino” makes a certain amount of sense.
Change cannot afford to get too far ahead of public opinion. People
will rebel, understandably enough, if asked to give up “Vienna”, “Rome”
and “Moscow” for “Roma”, “Wien” and “Moskva”. But language is never
fixed, and as long as the process is gradual, it is not something to be