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National Geographic's Statement on Persian Gulf


National Geographic Books has recently published its Eighth Edition Atlas of the World. Questions have been raised regarding the decision to use both a primary name, "Persian Gulf", and an alternative secondary name, (Arabian Gulf), for the body of water situated between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. This designation appears on two map plates in the Eighth Edition Atlas of sufficient scale for this level of detail. While National Geographic considers "Persian Gulf" to be the primary name, it has been the Society's cartographic practice to display a secondary name in parentheses when use of such a name has become commonly recognized.

The Society does not follow any single source to make such determinations, and seeks to be accurate, apolitical and objective. Decisions regarding nomenclature assigned to geographic places, locations, bodies of water, and the like are checked against a number of external entities, including the Board on Geographic Names, recognized reference books such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and geographical dictionaries. The Arabian Gulf is recognized as a variant naming of the Persian Gulf by many such entities. In fact, the Society first used the primary-secondary dual listing on a Middle East map published in 1991.

In using the dual primary-secondary indicator, the Society specifically seeks to acknowledge sometimes conflicting naming claims involving bordering bodies of water. The Society does not attempt to make judgments about the validity of such claims but accurately to acknowledge the existence of the conflicting names. The Society has decided to make a change for the purpose of clarification and will include an explanatory note on this treatment of the Persian Gulf in future iterations of the Atlas and area maps, including to our on-line maps at, as it does occasionally with other naming issues. Our naming policy on the Persian Gulf is consistent with our cartographic treatment of other parts of the world, such as the body of water between Japan and Korea, for which we show the primary name as the "Sea of Japan," and a secondary alternative name, (East Sea).

Questions have also been raised about the labeling of the islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb. National Geographic's research determined that these islands are currently the subject of a dispute between Iran and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). While Iran controls these islands, the U.A.E. claims them. Our large-scale regional maps include a notation to acknowledge that dispute: "Occupied by Iran (claimed by the U.A.E.)"

National Geographic will insert additional clarifying language on the map plates relating to the Persian Gulf in subsequent printings of the Atlas, and will add such notations to its on-line maps.

The eighth edition of the Atlas of the World is 416 pages, with more than 140,000 place names. More than 15,000 cartographic changes and updates were made in the course of creating this edition, which was five years in the making.

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