What's in a name? Handling the Londonderry/Derry issue
Published 31/01/2011 | 08:00
A reader inquires why the Belfast Telegraph sometimes refers to ‘Londonderry’ and on other occasions to ‘Derry’ when using the name of the city.
It’s an interesting question which goes, I guess, straight to issue of the conflict of identities and loyalties that lies at the heart of the historical Northern Ireland question.
It also goes to the heart of this newspaper’s position in the community, but more of that later.
“What I would like to know,” the correspondent asks, “is why the paper uses both Derry and Londonderry? Is it an act of moral cowardice, a scrupulous dedication to fairness, or a canny political, or even commercial, calculation?”
Well, it’s certainly not the former, but it may well be a combination of the others.
This paper has always regarded itself as serving both Northern Ireland’s two main communities and takes immense pride in the legitimacy of both our cultural traditions. And so our solution to the issue would follow in that tradition.
I remember once, at a conference on conflict resolution in Sri Lanka, being asked to expound on some of the dilemmas faced by the Northern Ireland media when reporting the Troubles.
The issue that fascinated them most was the Derry/Londonderry controversy.
People found it difficult to understand that, broadly, the two communities often used different terms for the same place. (Yes, I know it’s not always that simple.)
In local newspaper terms, as everyone knows, the Irish News sticks doggedly to Derry and the News Letter soldiers on with Londonderry each and every time Northern Ireland’s second city (see what I did there) is mentioned.
I suspect woe would betide the editors of either of those papers if they took it upon themselves to change that stance.
So, what’s the Tele’s policy, or ‘house style’, as they say in the trade? Well, it’s a rational and fair solution — and it won the admiration of those Sri Lankans all those years ago.
The first reference in an article should use Londonderry and all other references afterwards should use Derry. Derry is also the style in headlines.
Where Derry or Londonderry are in the name of an organisation or thing, eg Derry City Council, or the Londonderry Sentinel — then that is used. Before you ask, the same style applies to the county.
That’s not to say that sometimes journalists forget and put things the wrong way around (the Telegraph’s North West edition is allowed a little more flexibility).
But there you have it: a commonsense solution to an age-old issue.