March 7, 2014

Financial Times | Business Insider | Reuters

Kiev/Kyiv on Wednesday, March 5. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

My editor and I have had this discussion several times lately. Which one? Kiev or Kyiv? We don’t write Roma for Rome, but we do now write Mumbai rather than Bombay. And really, there’s not a lot of difference between the pronunciation of Kiev and Kyiv, at least when I read them.

On Friday, Ben Aris wrote about this orthographic challenge for Financial Times, noting that the White House switched to Kyiv on Thursday.

In addition, the President has signed an Executive Order that authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine; threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; contributing to the misappropriation of state assets of Ukraine; or purporting to assert governmental authority over any part of Ukraine without authorization from the Ukrainian government in Kyiv. This E.O. is a flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate.

In a press briefing from Jan. 23, it was Kiev.

On Jan. 24, Adam Taylor considered the question for Business Insider.

“Here we say ‘Kyiv’ not ‘Kiev,'” Taras Ilkiv, a Ukrainian journalist who recently wrote an article for Business Insider on the protests, explained in an email, “because ‘Kiev’ is the Russian word.” It’s simple: in Ukrainian, the word for the city is Київ, while in Russian, it reads as Киев.

In 2010, Robert Basler wrote about the yi vs. ie for Reuters in response to a request for the yi.

We try to communicate with readers using geographic names they commonly understand.

Changes in our style do occur, but the timing is always a judgment call. It’s difficult to know precisely when Peking becomes Beijing, Burma becomes Myanmar, Cambodia becomes Kampuchea and then Cambodia again.

Kiev is not the Russian spelling. It is the commonly accepted English language spelling of the name.

But news orgs certainly do redefine language now and then, too. AP stopped using the term “illegal immigrant” last year. In 2010, Alicia Shepard wrote about pro-life/pro-choice and anti-abortion/abortion rights language for NPR.

In an article Friday, the Associated Press stuck with Kiev.

John Daniszewski, senior managing editor for international news with the Associated Press, explained why it’s still Kiev, for now, in an e-mail.

We have looked at it in the past and opted on the side of “Kiev” because we believed, at that time, that the preponderance of usage and the way most Americans and English speakers understood the name was “Kiev” and the alternative spelling might cause confusion. We do not always go with local spellings of course. We do not spell Warsaw as Warszawa or Moscow as Moskva, for instance.

However, given the dynamic of the last few weeks and Ukraine’s strong assertion of Kyiv as the preferred spelling of its capital and the popularization of that spelling, Stylebook editors are likely to look at the question again in the near future.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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