Refer to peoples and places outside Australia based on current information. Correct spelling and style avoids causing confusion or offence among users.
Check official sources for country and place names
Some countries have several official names. Consult trusted references to decide which name to use, then use it consistently. Helpful references include:
- the countries, economies and regions webpages, on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website
- the United Nations geographical names database
- the Australian Bureau of Statistics Standard Australian classification of countries.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is often called the ‘United Kingdom’.
The names of countries can change for political reasons. For example, a country might change its name to show independence from a former occupying country.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo used to be called ‘Zaire’. The former name came from the Portuguese colonial name for the Congo River.
Country boundaries can also change.
Spell country names with a capital letter
Use initial capitals for:
- the official name of a country
- any commonly used short forms of the country’s name
- the names of states, territories and provinces.
The definite article ‘the’ isn’t capitalised unless it begins a sentence.
- the Cayman Islands – the Caymans
- the Falkland Islands – the Falklands
Shorten a country name only if it is clear to the user
Use a short form of a country’s name only if it’s clear and accurate. Shortened forms can make it easier to read text or tables, illustrations, notes, lists and bibliographies.
‘North Korea’ is the shortened form of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Use English versions of countries and places in most content
English-language content usually uses the English version of a country’s name.
- ‘Socialist Republic of Vietnam’ is the English version of Cộng hòa xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam.
- ‘Germany’ is the English version of Deutschland.
- ‘New Zealand’ is the English version of Aotearoa.
- ‘The Czech Republic’ or ‘Czechia’ are the English versions of Česká republika.
There are some cases where the preferred official name isn’t in English.
- ‘Côte d’Ivoire’ is the preferred official name for the Ivory Coast.
- ‘Eswatini’ is the preferred name for Swaziland.
In English-speaking countries, the convention is to use the established English forms for well-known place names.
- the Hague
When the name is used generically, you don’t need an initial capital.
- brussels sprout [A type of sprout, not a sprout from Brussels]
- venetian blind [A type of screen for a window, not a blind from Venice]
- french door [A type of door, not a door from France]
Check the official status for area and region names
Groups of nations or areas that are recognised as political or geographic regions take initial capitals.
- South-East Asia
- Central America
- the Balkans
Use lower case if the names of compass points (such as north and south-east) are not part of the name but are used to refer to the geographic area.
- southern Germany
- northern Iraq
Some names that aren’t officially recognised become well known and gain a semi-official status. Use a dictionary to help you decide when this is appropriate.
Write nationalities, peoples and places with initial capitals
There’s usually a clear relationship between the name of the country or region and the word used for the nationality. It’s not always obvious though, so check a dictionary to ensure you’re using the correct term.
- Turkey – Turkish
- Melanesia – Melanesian
- the Philippines – Filipino
- Congo – Congolese
- United Arab Emirates – Emirati
- New Zealand – New Zealander
Follow guidance for writing non-English personal names.
Capitalise the names of certain groups.
- People groups – Hispanic, Sentinelese, Vietnamese Rục, Sámi
- Clans – Clan Campbell (Scottish)
- People from particular regions – Asian, European, Sumatran, Basque
- People who follow particular religions – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Greek Orthodox
- People who speak particular languages – Hokkien-speaking
Check if an official language differs from the country name
The name of a country’s language isn’t always derived from the name of the country.
- The people of Iran speak Farsi.
- Dari and Pashto are the official languages of Afghanistan.
- While Chileans speak Spanish, Brazilians speak Portuguese.
- East Timor has two official languages: Portuguese and Tetum.
The digital edition builds on sixth edition content: it consolidates details about peoples and places outside of Australia. It links to authoritative sources so users can find current spelling for official country and place names.
The guidance on nationalities, language names and groups of peoples relates to guidance on:
The Content Guide had generic advice about capitalisation. It did not go into detail about names of people and places outside Australia.
About this page
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016) Standard Australian classification of countries (SACC), catalogue number 1269.0, accessed 9 June 2020.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (n.d.) Countries, economies and regions, DFAT website, accessed 9 June 2020.
International Organization for Standardization (n.d.) Popular standards: ISO 3166 Country codes, ISO website, accessed 9 June 2020.
Seterra (20 April 2018) ‘Countries known by more than one name’, The Seterra Blog, accessed 9 June 2020.
United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (2019) UNGEGN world geographical names: geographical names database, UNGEGN website, accessed 9 June 2020.
This page was updated Thursday 10 June 2021.