Romanization systems for geographical names
2. Specifically, determination by the Working Group whether the romanization
system is based on sound scientific principles, and consideration both of the
system's degree of reversibility and of the extent of its implementation with
respect to cartographic products (maps and charts) by the proposing country.
There are many factors that one should consider when adopting new romanization
systems for international use. These encompass both the nature of the system itself, and practical
considerations and expectations for its future usage. The romanization systems would benefit
from fulfilment of the following criteria:
1. The system should be reversible, that is to say, it should be possible to
reconstruct the original non-Roman script form on the basis of romanization.
2. Using the system should be as simple and as clear-cut as possible. For example, if
a character table is not adequate, the notes to the table should clarify all aspects
of usage. It would not be to the advantage of the system if dictionaries and other
sources had to be consulted in order to obtain a correct romanization of names,
or if the rules allowed for variations in the romanization of the same original
3. The romanized name forms should be as easy as possible to write, read and
memorize as well as store electronically. This would entail minimal use of
diacritical marks, avoidance of difficult and unusual character sequences, etc. A
systematic representation of phonological features is also recommended.
If the above conditions should be irreconcilable, as is sometimes the case, then it is the
practical aspects that are to be considered the most decisive. For writing systems that do not
allow for practicable and easy-to-use reversible romanization systems, it is often necessary to
adopt two different romanization methods. The transcription method is the one recommended for
wide usage, including the romanization of geographical names, which is the area of interest for
the United Nations. The second method, transliteration, could be applied for rendering the
original script forms, for example, in the area of bibliography. Such systems fall within the
sphere of activities of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). For one such
language, there may exist two totally differing systems. For example, for Thai, there exists
United Nations system 1967/2002 and ISO 11940: 1998. Alternatively, the two systems can be
combined into one integral system, as is the case, for example, with Greek, for which there exists
United Nations system 1987 (ELOT 743) containing two versions of romanization: one for
general purposes; and the other for documentation (that is to say, a fully reversible version).
Reversibility is achieved by adding diacritical marks in cases of possible ambiguity.
A new romanization system is typically submitted by the proposing country, in the form
of a resolution, to the earliest full United Nations Conference on the Standardization of
Geographical Names. When the resolution is adopted, the subject romanization system becomes
the United Nations standard.
Part one presents an overview of romanization systems for each of the above-mentioned
languages. Each language section typically consists of an introduction that discusses the origin of
the United Nations system, describes the implementation of the system both nationally and
internationally, and briefly characterizes the system itself regarding the ease of applicability,
reversibility, possible ambiguities and other problems.