Doug Ewell doug at
Wed Sep 28 20:33:08 CEST 2011

The UN Statistics Division has changed the M.49 name associated with
their code element 434 from "Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" to "Libya."  This
could be the first step toward a corresponding name change in ISO 3166,
so we might want to have the discussion now.

Traditionally, and in accordance with RFC 5646, Section 3.1.5,
Description fields for subtags that are based directly on code elements
in core standards like ISO 3166 match the core standard.  This is so
users of the Language Subtag Registry can look up the meaning of the
subtag by consulting the code list for the core standard.  (This would
break if the core standard ever reused a code element and the Registry
were forced to deviate from it, but I assume publicity and Comments
fields would cover that case.)

In the case of ISO 3166, which defines a "long name" and a "short name,"
the Registry uses the short name, which is freely available and often
corresponds to the name ordinary people (not standards wonks) use in
practice.  The correspondence is not always ideal; for example,
"Democratic People's Republic of Korea" and "Republic of Korea" appear
instead of the more common "North Korea" and "South Korea."

However, recent short-name changes in ISO 3166 such as "Bolivia,
Plurinational State of" and "Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of" have not
been reflected in the Registry, because this list has considered these
changes unnecessary for correctly identifying the country (the purpose
of any Description field).

Currently, the short names for Libya in ISO 3166 are "Libyan Arab
Jamahiriya" (English) and "Libyenne, Jamahiriya Arabe" (French).  The
Registry uses this English "short name" instead of the more common
"Libya."  The Arabic word "jamahiriya" occurs only in the name for
Libya, while the ISO 3166 names for countries such as "Islamic Republic
of Iran" and "Syrian Arab Republic" used the English word "republic."

According to Wikipedia, "Jumhūriyyah (Arabic: جمهورية‎) is the
word for 'republic' in the Arabic language," while "Jamahiriya (Arabic:
جماهيرية‎ jamāhīriyyah) is an Arabic term generally
translated as 'state of the masses.'"  The Wikipedia article on
Gaddafi's Libya indicates that "jamahiriya" is a portmanteau invented by

"The word jamāhīriyyah was derived from jumhūriyyah, which is the
usual Arabic translation of 'republic'. It was coined by changing the
component jumhūr — 'public' — to its plural form, jamāhīr —
'the masses'. Thus, it is similar to the term People's Republic. It is
often left untranslated in English, with Libya's long-form name thus
rendered as Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya."

The name change in M.49 to simply "Libya" could be seen not only as a
simplification of the short name to that used by most people in
conversation, but also as a reflection of the current or expected ouster
of Gaddafi and change in the form of government.  Approximately 94
nations now recognize the National Transitional Council as the
legitimate authority in Libya, while many others do not.

If this name change is adopted by ISO 3166/MA, and subsequently in the
Registry—where the Bolivia and Venezuela changes were not
accepted—it could be viewed by some as a political statement that the
Registry adopts only those name changes that reflect Western political
or diplomatic preferences (i.e. opposition to Gaddafi, Morales in
Bolivia, and Chávez in Venezuela).  Of course, this is not the purpose
of the Registry, but it could be perceived that way by those who choose

I support making this change in the Registry if it shows up in 3166,
with the goal of keeping names brief and vernacular, *not* with the goal
of making any sort of statement.  I suggest we look at future name
changes in the same light.  We might also consider adding the occasional
second Description field that matches common use, such as "South Korea"
or "Iran," to ease the transition and reduce the potential for
controversy the next time this happens.

Doug Ewell | Thornton, Colorado, USA | RFC 5645, 4645, UTN #14 | | @DougEwell ­

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