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The Gulf

A sea of troubles

Rhetorical conflict over placenames is particularly difficult since all options are thought to have political implications and there is usually no name that everyone agrees is neutral. The Guardian reports:

From now on, the Iranian government has announced, any airline which refers to the waterway between Iran and Arab states as the Arabian Gulf rather than the Persian Gulf will be banned from its airspace. […] Iran says it is the Persian Gulf; the Arab states say it is Arab. Foreign language descriptions can offend either party if they use one name or the other, or decide to omit an adjective altogether.

So we can’t even say “the Gulf”? Drat! And the other alternative not mentioned here, Gulf of Iran, is obviously going to make some people even more unhappy. The UN, for its part, insists on Persian Gulf, along with the UK, though the US has recently begun to prefer Arabian Gulf. Frankly, it’s a mess. I hereby institute an competition™ for the best new name for this body of water that won’t offend a living soul. Any ideas?

  1. 1  Dan  February 24, 2010, 3:13 pm 

    I nominate the Keane Gulf, in honour of the the band whose brand of aural blancmange is so middle of the road that it’s incapable of causing offense to anyone.

  2. 2  Ricardo  February 24, 2010, 3:14 pm 

    Lake Placid

  3. 3  shadowfirebird  February 24, 2010, 3:43 pm 

    There is no name so innocent that it will not offend *somebody*. Such is the nature of the human race.

    However, we could try naming it something that both parties would find equally offensive, and for the same reason. How about “The Brazillian Gulf”, since clearly it’s nowhere near Brazil? No? “The Indian Gulf”, then — since that’s the closest country not arguing about the name?

    We could always call it “Fred”….

  4. 4  NomadUK  February 24, 2010, 3:46 pm 

    I say we acknowledge its significance to the petroleum industry and call it The Gulf Gulf.

  5. 5  Mordaunt  February 24, 2010, 3:48 pm 

    The inhabitants of Londonderry/ Derry used to (and for all I know still do) refer to the place as Stroke City on the grounds that Londonderry/ Derry was a bit of a mouthful and to use one or the other terms could cause unnecessary offence.

  6. 6  Ricardo  February 24, 2010, 4:20 pm 

    Wouldn’t be more fun to think up a name that would cause the maximum offence to all parties?

  7. 7  des von bladet  February 24, 2010, 4:24 pm 

    The Former Yugoslavian Republic of Gulf (FYRG)?

  8. 8  democracy_grenade  February 24, 2010, 4:40 pm 

    …Londonderry/ Derry was a bit of a mouthful…

    This could’ve been a grand opportunity for the first institutionalised use of “air brackets”. “(London)derry”. Catholic residents could’ve subverted the system somewhat by combining their air brackets with air quotes (using the index fingers for the brackets and the second and third fingers for the quotation marks). I’m disappointed that no-one thought of this.

    As for the Gulf: just fill it in! That’ll teach those squabbling Johnny Foreigner-types a thing or two about compromise…

  9. 9  groo  February 24, 2010, 4:40 pm 

    why not call it what it is?

    ‘The oil gulf’.

    The strait of Hormuz: ‘The oil tap’.

    After all is gone, everyone could name it as he pleases.

  10. 10  dsquared  February 24, 2010, 5:19 pm 

    The Gulf of Israel.

  11. 11  James  February 24, 2010, 6:36 pm 

    I was going to go for the British Imperial Gulf but dsquared’s suggestion is far better.

  12. 12  Steven  February 24, 2010, 6:48 pm 

    I think dsquared wins? SO FAR.

  13. 13  Chris Schoen  February 24, 2010, 8:41 pm 

    This is simple.

    A gulf is something that separates two things. In the US we call the body of water to the west of Florida the “Gulf of Mexico” because Mexico is on the other side. It would be weird to call it the Gulf of Florida. Someone should explain to the Iranians that “Arabian Gulf” favors Iran by putting it in the center of the geographic POV.

    But that won’t satisfy the Rabs, of course. Therefore I suggest we name it after an extinct civilization that everyone can plausibly claim as part of their own ancestry. No one seems to know just where Dilmun was located, for example, but it was in the general vicinity, and should fit the bill.

    Gulf of Dilmun.

  14. 14  Chris Schoen  February 24, 2010, 8:43 pm 

    Sorry–that should be “Arabs,” not “Rabs.”

  15. 15  zebbidie  February 24, 2010, 10:28 pm 

    In honour of LOTR we could call it Smea-gulf and Ahmadinejad could be Lord of the Nazgul. Oil could be the One Ring and Gordon Brown could be a hobbit. Obama could be a Black Elf and the head of the House of Saud could be the Witch King of Angmar. The US would have to be Boromir and Israel could be Rohan. In fact ee could name the entire region after fictitious places.

  16. 16  soundhand  February 24, 2010, 10:56 pm 

    Brown people’s gulf.

  17. 17  weaver  February 25, 2010, 3:47 am 

    The Gulf of al-Khaleej.

  18. 18  Stan  February 25, 2010, 3:48 pm 

    The Sea of Non-Tranquility.

  19. 19  Barney  February 25, 2010, 5:22 pm 

    ‘Ours’. Translated into every language, they should all feel happy with that.

  20. 20  ANO  March 2, 2010, 11:29 am 

    The Yawning Gulf.

  21. 21  richard  March 4, 2010, 3:44 pm 

    The Indian/Israeli Gulf is brilliant: my first thought was “The Indian Ocean Hernia” or maybe “The Gujarati-Armenian Pipeline” in honour of its ancient functions.

    If one really were looking for an inoffensive name, then I wonder why this feature is called a gulf and not a sea. Then it could be coloured, like the Red, Black and White (Med): I’d avoid Green (too religious), but what about Blue, Purple, Taupe, Khaki or Teal?

    Sadly, the Great Gloomy Sea and the Sea of Tar are already taken, for the Atlantic and the southern Indian Ocean respectively.

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