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Is there an official policy on whether places with Saint/St. in their name should be abbreviated, or does it go on local usage?

I ask this because in the UK, place names are almost never written as Saint, the St. has transcended merely being an abbreviation for Saint and has become part of the place name in and of itself, for instance nowhere will you find the town of St. Helens referred to as Saint Helen's (the apostrophe is another thing which is sometimes added by people thinking they are correcting a mistake), not even in the town's official documentation.

Occasionally I come across a road or place name written as like 'Saint Bees Road' in Whitehaven (which should be 'St. Bees Road', and wonder whether I should be correcting these or leaving them be if official OSM policy dictates St. should always be expanded to 'Saint'.

asked 06 Feb '13, 14:39

mcallisterw's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

I live near st ives or saint ives. When I searched for St Ives it was found but when I typed Saint Ives It wasn't in the list, but I found places in the USA. I suspect we need to guess what as been mapped either St or Saint. Perhaps the search engine needs to programmed to search for both options.

(18 Dec '22, 11:57) andy mackey


You are right. In British English orthography, phrase-initial 'St' is effectively a variant spelling for Saint, and the correct one in placenames. To quote the Cambridge Guide to English Usage (1994):

When saints' names are written into those of institutions, the shortened form St(.) is always used... Geographical names which honor a saint are likewise written with St(.): St Gotthard Pass, St Kilda, St Moritz, St Petersburg. Abbreviated forms like these are used in the gazetteers of world atlases published by The Times and Oxford, among others, and they reflect common usage... Use of full stop/period: The shortened form St is normally left unstopped by British writers and editors, because (a) it's a contraction rather than an abbreviation, and (b) it contains a lower case letter.

When mapping UK placenames, you should therefore use St rather than Saint.

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answered 06 Feb '13, 17:01

Richard's gravatar image

Richard ♦
accept rate: 18%

edited 06 Feb '13, 17:01

(06 Feb '13, 17:14) scai ♦
(06 Feb '13, 17:36) EdLoach ♦

@scai: no, that's the point. "St" is not a by-choice abbreviation in this case, it's the correct spelling in British English place-names.

(06 Feb '13, 17:46) Richard ♦

@EdLoach & @Richard thanks for the hint. This should be mentioned/linked directly in the Abbreviation (don't do it) paragraph and not (only) on a separate page (currently no page links to Invalid Abbreviation Expansion).

(06 Feb '13, 18:02) scai ♦

I am pleased to find that St Ives and Saint Ives both work the in the map search box, not sure it did when I tried some time ago.

(06 Feb '13, 18:36) andy mackey

The guide is an argument for teaching sophisticated renderers to always abbreviate "Saint" to "St". I do not consider it an argument for exempting this from the no abbreviation rule.

The list of exceptions quoted above is not linked from any other wiki site as of today, is not part of any category and has edits from all of two users. It comes about as close to a community guideline as some individual's blog (i.e. not at all).

(06 Feb '13, 18:54) Tordanik

@Tordanik: St is not a by-choice abbreviation. It is the correct spelling in British English. "Saint Ives" is always wrong as a placename in British English. It's lovely that "you do not consider [the guide] an argument" but, with the greatest respect, you're not a native British English speaker. Some of us are, and have qualifications and professional experience in the area.

If you don't believe me, then try the house style of every single UK newspaper, courtesy of Google News. Search for ' "Saint Ives" location:uk ': 0 results. Search for ' "St Ives" location:uk ': 4,260 results.

(06 Feb '13, 20:06) Richard ♦

@Richard: I don't doubt your authority as a native speaker and professional and accept that the unabbreviated form should never appear on a map. However, the content of the OSM database is input for software, it's not a finished map. And the knowledge about the unabbreviated forms can still be useful for applications for other purposes than display, e.g. for text-to-speech or more intelligent search. That's why I do not "consider the guide an argument" - it tells us what OSM-based applications should display in writing, not what should be in the OSM database.

(06 Feb '13, 20:27) Tordanik

Search isn't an argument: either you have to put specific logic in to say that "Saint" can mean "St", or that "St" can mean "Saint". Since most people looking for a British placename will type "St" rather than "Saint" (see 4,260 vs 0), a geocoder without either logic is more likely to produce the expected result if the object is tagged "St".

(07 Feb '13, 08:44) Richard ♦

Similarly text-to-speech. Firstly, as a non-native speaker, you may not realise that "St" (as used in phrase-initial form for placenames) is actually pronounced differently to Saint: St is sɨnt or sənt, Saint is seɪnt (see for example). Secondly, English pronunciation is rarely regular - cf "bough" (-ow), "cough" (-off), "dough" (-oh), "lough" (-och), "rough" (-uff), "ought" (or-) - and any engine will need to know many exceptions.

(07 Feb '13, 08:44) Richard ♦

Instead of creating an exception (which is not explained in the wiki), why not using "Saint" in the tag "name", "St." in the tag "short_name" and render the short_name when it exists ?

(07 Feb '13, 10:14) Pieren

@Pieren: Because as Richard has explained several times now, it is no longer a by-choice abbreviation. So like we don't expand all French names containing a ^ (accent circumflex) to their medieval long form, we shouldn't expand the St in English names.

(07 Feb '13, 12:24) cartinus
showing 5 of 13 show 8 more comments

The documentation says not to abbreviate names, ever. The difficulty is knowing when something that was an abbreviation isn't any more.

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answered 06 Feb '13, 15:04

EdLoach's gravatar image

EdLoach ♦
accept rate: 22%

edited 06 Feb '13, 15:52

Jonathan%20Bennett's gravatar image

Jonathan Ben...

"St." is a good example since it can be the abbreviation of "Street" or "Saint". Shortening names is always easier than expanding abbreviations. Alternatively, you can use the tag "short_name=*" which will be interpreted by nominatim (and might be used in renderers in the futur)

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answered 06 Feb '13, 16:33

Pieren's gravatar image

accept rate: 15%

edited 06 Feb '13, 16:35

Yes, but as pointed, out by Richard. St is no longer considered an abbreviation of Saint in placenames, but the actual name itself, before internet mapping, to write 'Saint Helens' next to the town on a map would have considered an error by all map publishers. Almost no-one will ever type 'Saint Helens' into a search box expecting to find the town because 'Saint Helens' simply isn't the town's name.

The style guide linked to here states that 'Apart from following the above rules, you should always enter the full name as it appears on the street name signs'.

I can pretty much guarantee you that you could travel the length and breadth of the UK and never see a sign for 'Saint Helens', or for that matter 'Saint Ives', 'Saint Bees', 'Saint Neots', 'Saint Albans' etc.

If abbreviations are truly never allowed then surely the biggest glaring error in OSM is that the capital of America should rightly be called 'Washington District of Columbia'.

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answered 07 Feb '13, 14:42

mcallisterw's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

edited 07 Feb '13, 14:49

The name of the district is indeed “District of Columbia.” The district’s informal nickname among locals is “D.C.,” just as San Francisco’s informal nickname among locals is “S.F.” and Los Angeles” is “L.A.”

The name of the capital city is just “Washington.” This is how maps universally label the city and it is the name in OSM.

Traditionally, when writing prose, the name of any American city is qualified by an abbreviation of the state it’s in, thus “Washington, D.C.,” “Sacramento, Calif.,” and “Albuquerque, N.M.” (Style guides such as the AP Stylebook exempt a handful of cities, such as Chicago.) For Washington, this traditional usage is especially common to distinguish the city from the state.

In these contexts, it’s semantically correct but poor style to expand the initialism “D.C.” to “District of Columbia.” At its heart, the guideline about abbreviations is not to use abbreviations that are only a matter of convenience or style.

(14 Dec '22, 00:46) Minh Nguyen

Even if all Englishmen understands what "St" means, not everybody on the earth knows it. Problems with abbreviations (in OSM) are bigger then just "St/Saint". Every country have their own specific common abbreviations. Which should not be used, even if most of the inhabitants knows what they mean.

Don't forget OSM is worldwide!

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answered 18 Dec '22, 08:15

Msiipola's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

There are many alphabets around the world where I personally cannot understand the value in the name tag, so can understand that some people won't realise that St is not always an abbreviation.

(18 Dec '22, 08:40) EdLoach ♦

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question asked: 06 Feb '13, 14:39

question was seen: 35,335 times

last updated: 18 Dec '22, 11:57

NOTICE: is no longer in use from 1st March 2024. Please use the OpenStreetMap Community Forum