From Mailand to Mömpelgard

In my last post about toponyms, I have conflated two phenomena that can lead to changes in the usage of city and country names. The first type of change is represented by the replacement of ‘Pekin(g)’ with ‘Beijing’. It consists in the switch from one exonym—a toponym that is not used in the place that it designates—to another. ‘Peking’ and ‘Beijing’ are both attempts at rendering the native form 北京 (Běi Jīng) in English or, rather, its Mandarin pronunciation. The city did not actually change its name, but transcription preferences changed (for whatever reason). This type also includes cases in which more than just a few spelling details have changed—as long as the local name has remained the same. The second type of change is represented by the replacement of ‘Constantinople’ with ‘Istanbul’. It involves an actual renaming of the geographical entity in question. ‘Istanbul’ is not a different way of writing or pronouncing the same local toponym in some foreign language. It is a new name, which, just like the old one, will engender a variety of different exonyms. Contrary to the first type, this one requires the endonym—the local name for the place—to be affected as well. Obviously, these changes can take place consecutively with the most common order probably being a type 2 change (endonym change) followed by a type 1 change (different rendering of the new endonym).

Today I want to focus on the first type of changes, the ‘Beijing’ type. The likelihood of the existence of an exonym that is markedly distinct from the endonym seems to be dependent on factors like geographical, cultural and linguistic proximity between the two countries and languages. When we look at German exonyms of European cities, we find two things: first, many of them only differ from the local forms with respect to pronunciation (Paris, London, Stockholm), but the Google Ngrams Viewer can’t tell us anything about that; second, many of the forms that also differ in orthography seem to stick. Hardly anybody in German uses any other forms than ‘Kopenhagen’ (for ‘København’ in Denmark), ‘Straßburg’ (for ‘Strasbourg’ in France, a form English writers have been preferring since 1938), ‘Mailand’ (for ‘Milano’ in Italy) or ‘Danzig’ (for ‘Gdańsk’ in Poland). But there are cases in which German preferences have changed from an exonym that is only vaguely reminiscent of the endonym to a form that is identical to what the locals write (and closer to what they say).

Let’s start close to home: in Holla—sorry, the Netherlands. While German and Dutch are close relatives linguistically, many Germans find Dutch phonetically both funny and daunting. The name of the city of Nijmegen, situated very close to the German border, features at least one diphthong that is unfamiliar to German ears and tongues as well as a uvular fricative in a somewhat unexpected position. That’s why Germans said ‘Nimwegen’ instead (or probably still say). In writing, however, the Dutch orthography has largely displaced the German form with the switch happening in 1961:

In the case of Arnhem, also called ‘Arnheim’ in German, the switch has yet to happen—although the local pronunciation is doable for Germans. For a couple of years during and after World War II, ‘Arnhem’, the endonym, was dominant. Since then, the forms have been more or less equally frequent with ‘Arnheim’ leading by a small margin. I have used the bigram ‘in Arnhem/Arnheim’ for the plot because ‘Arnheim’ is also the name of a person, which might artificially inflate the frequency of the exonym:

A clear move away from the exonym has happened in ‘Den Haag’, traditionally called ‘der Haag’ in German. From 1966 on, the Dutch endonym has been more frequent (whereas English writers show no tendency whatsoever towards abandoning The Hague). I have ignored the official name of the city, ‘’s-Gravenhage’, in the following diagram because it hardly ever appears in German texts:

The number of German exonyms for French places is not as high as you might think, at least when we ignore the ones for places in the border regions of Alsace (which everybody in Germany calls ‘Elsass’) and Lorraine (which everybody in Germany calls ‘Lothringen’). The German-speaking parts of both regions belonged to Germany between 1871 and 1918 as well as between 1940 and 1945, so it’s not very surprising that most places have German names as well. I have not found any interesting usage patterns in the names of these places: Generally, German exonyms keep on being prevalent in the names of larger cities (like ‘Straßburg’, see above). We do see that in some cases, the margin between the French name and the German exonym becomes smaller or even virtually disappears, as in the case of ‘Thionville’. The German exonym, ‘Diedenhofen’, was most frequent between 1890 and 1949. Since then, the frequencies of the endonym and the exonym have been roughly the same:

However, there are two examples that illustrate the way Nazi Germany tried to propagate the use of German names of cities in territories it had occupied. These attempts were unsuccessful, but their repercussions can be seen in the books published during the Second World War. It was attempted, for instance, to establish ‘Nanzig’ as the name of the French city of Nancy. The German exonym never became the most frequent form, but climbed up to a share of about 25% of the mentions of the city in 1942:

In the case of ‘Montbéliard’, a city in the Doubs département, things are different: Unlike Nancy, which—apart from a short period of occupation during World War II—has always remained French, Montbéliard had been German for centuries, belonging to the House of Württemberg from the end of the 14th century until the French revolution. The German exonym, ‘Mömpelgard’ (with some spelling variants), is more than 500 years old. But there was only one period in the 20st century in which it was used much more frequently than the French endonym, namely in the 1930s and 1940s:

The fact that the exonym has remained relatively frequent even after the war probably can be explained by the fact that writers have less to say about present-day Montbéliard, a small town with no supraregional function, than about the period in which the city played a more important role historically.

Poland and the Czech Republic are geographically just as close to Germany as France and the Netherlands, but they might seem culturally and linguistically more remote for many Germans. This and the fact that considerable parts of these countries have been part of different germanophone states at some point in history account for the high number of German exonyms. And because most Germans still don’t have the slightest idea how to pronounce names like ‘Częstochowa’, ‘Szczecin’ (English writers have a much weaker, if any preference for the exonym), ‘Olomouc’ or ‘Plzeň’, they just keep on using these German exonyms, i. e. Tschenstochau, Stettin, Olmütz and Pilsen, respectively. There are very few (larger) cities in these countries that have successfully shed their German name: Ljubljana (Laibach), which was already mentioned in the last post on this topic, is the only example that I am aware of.

In countries that do not directly border on Germany, we find a low number of additional cases in which the endonym is now most frequent. One of them is Bratislava, the capital of the Slovak Republic, which used to be called ‘Pressburg’ (or ‘Preßburg’ before the orthography reform of 1996):

In German texts, the switch to the endonym happened in 1966, i.e. 28 years later than in English texts. A similar pattern can be found in the case of Tallinn: For centuries, Germans (and Danes) have called the city ‘Reval’, which was derived from the ancient name of the surrounding county. When Estonia became independent in the 1920s, the city’s name was officially changed to ‘Tallinn(a)’. Throughout the period of Soviet occupation of Estonia, ‘Reval’ remained the most frequent form in German texts with the switch to the endonym only happening in 1992, i.e. 27 years later than in English:

‘Vilnius’, the modern name of the capital of Lithuania, is still less frequent in German than the older forms ‘Wilna’ or ‘Vilna’. However, there seems to be a tendency towards convergence that was not evident during most of the 20th century (and the same holds for English):

A somewhat messy, but interesting case is Timișoara, a Romanian city in the historical region of Banat, which still has a sizeable German-speaking population. It does involve both endonym and exonym changes, but I wanted to include it in this post because present-day usage comes down to the Romanian endonym still not being the most frequent form: Have a look at the diagram first:

Where do these changes come from? The city belonged to the Ottoman Empire until 1716, when it was conquered by Austria (then ruled by the Habsburgs) and became part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Initially, the local name, ‘Temeswar’, was kept; this used to be the most frequent form in early 19th century German texts. In the process of Magyarisation, the official spelling of the name was changed to ‘Temesvar’, which became the prevalent form in 1848. After 1868, when the Hungarian Nationalities Law was passed, ‘Temeswar’ was hardly ever used in German sources. When the city became Romanian in 1920, we see that the Romanian form ‘Timișoara’ surfaces for the first time (although with a very limited frequency). The frequency dominance of ‘Temesvar’ was challenged for the first time when during World War II, German nationalists tried to reintroduce the centuries-old German name of the city, ‘Temeschburg’, which in fact became the most frequent form between 1942 and 1945. ‘Temesvar’ became the prevalent form again after the war (although the frequency of ‘Timișoara’ was slowly rising), but endonym usage in Romania changed again: In 1972, the official status that had been granted to name variants in minority languages was revoked, only allowing names that were considered to be direct equivalents of the Romanian names. That way, the non-magyarised form ‘Temeswar’, which had more or less disappeared for a century, suddenly became popular again in German texts. It has been the most frequent form since 1972. Only in 1999, ‘Timișoara’ overtook ‘Temesvar’.

During the 20th century, the Norwegian city of Trondheim has seen two endonym changes—so why I am including it in this article about exonym usage? Because Germans never really cared about two of the three endonyms and directly switched from an exonym to the current endonym. Under Danish influence, the city used to be called ‘Trondhjem’ until the beginning of the 20th century. As you can see in the diagram below, this name was never very popular with German writers who rather referred to the city as ‘Drontheim’. Only in one year, in 1918, ‘Trondhjem’ was the most frequent form in German texts. The city was renamed to ‘Nidaros’ on 1 January 1930, which was met with public outrage in Norway and, as the diagram shows, with disregard in German texts. Since 1931, the city has been called ‘Trondheim’, but it took 27 years before this form passed the old exonym:

English writers switched much more promptly with ‘Trondheim’ prevailing from 1935 onwards.

The differences are less evident in the case of ‘Thessaloniki’ in Greece, which was traditionally called ‘Saloniki’ in German (and ‘Salonica’ or ‘Thessalonica’ in English). In German, the direct transcription of the Greek name, i.e. ‘Thessaloniki’, has been most frequent since 2000:

In English, the exonyms, summed up, are still leading by a small margin although the endonym transcription is more frequent than any of the three exonyms, counted separately.

I was surprised to find that German writers have been quicker than English writers in abandoning ‘Saragossa’, the exonym for the Spanish city of Zaragoza. Unlike in English, ‘z’ in German stands for the affricate [ts], which is not the way it should be pronounced in the name of the city (the exonym gives you a better clue). Still, ‘Zaragoza’ has been the most frequent form since 1965:

In English, the switch—although phonetically easier—was delayed until 1981.

The number of German exonyms for places outside Europe is not overwhelmingly high. Also, the endonyms of many cities have been changing with exonyms following suit. I’ll deal with these cases when writing about the ‘Istanbul’ type of change. (Don’t remember? See the first paragraph of this article.) For now, I would only like to point out some changes that both German and American readers might find amusing: Well into the 20th century, the US states of (West) Virginia and Pennsylvania used to be referred to with their Germanised forms ‘(West-)Virginien’ and ‘Pennsylvanien’. Both exonyms sound terribly dated to me, but you are likely to encounter them in German texts that aren’t even that old. Here is the plot for ‘(West) Virginia’. Again, I prefixed the states names by ‘in’ because ‘Virginia’ is also a female first name. That way, you are still not excluding n-grams like ‘in Virginia Woolf’s novel’, but you might get a more or less realistic picture, showing that ‘(West-)Virginien’ was passed by the endonym forms in 1916, but only died out for good after the Second World War:

‘Pennsylvanien’ disappeared around the same time after it had been about as frequent as the endonym for decades (roughly between 1880 and 1945):

Germanisations of prefixes such as ‘North’ and ‘South’ sometimes stuck just as long as the ‘-ien’ endings, but were abandoned earlier in some cases: The example of ‘North Carolina’, on the one hand, shows that the endonym became the most frequent form in the second decade of the 20th century:

For ‘South Carolina’, on the other hand, the exonyms proved more tenacious:

I was surprised to find that ‘California’ has been more frequent in German texts than the exonym ‘Kalifornien’ since 1948, at least in the ones that are included in Google Books:

My intuition as a native speaker of German tells me otherwise. This is confirmed by a frequency count in the IDS corpus, consisting of German, Austrian and Swiss newspaper and other sources: Here, ‘Kalifornien’ is more than twice as frequent as the English endonym. Also, California is the only US state that appears in the German Wikipedia under its exonym as the article title.

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