A map label, politics and a pickle

“Can we change Arabian Sea to Persian Gulf?” the copyeditor asked. A simple question, right? Not so simple, it turns out. The body of water was labeled on an illustrated map of the UAE within a story on Abu Dhabi I was editing.

I did a little search to get up to speed and learned there is a politically sensitive controversy surrounding this. In a nutshell, many Arab countries (such as the UAE) prefer now to call this the Arabian Sea because it abuts the Arabian Peninsula. Between the lines, the dispute also plays into a growing rivalry these countries have with Iran. The name puts a stake in the ground–or in this case, the sea–for the Arabs.

How to handle? Executive Travel uses a modified AP style, and AP suggests Persian Gulf, except in direct quotes. But it has always been our policy to use local writers for travel pieces and to reflect an insider’s view of a city or country. After some discussion, we decided to stay true to our “local insight” approach and go with Arabian Sea. It’s a small matter–just a label on a map–but this pickle is an example of what makes travel writing so interesting. What would you do?

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