2020, Volume 17, Issue 2

Back to the Table of Contents

Elena V. Arutyunova
Elena V. Beshenkova
Olga E. Ivanova

V. V. Vinogradov Russian Language Institute of the RAS
Moscow, Russia

Uppercase and Lowercase Letters in Geographical and Administrative Territorial Names: Academic Rules of Russian Spelling

Voprosy onomastiki, 2020, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp. 256–277 (in Russian)
DOI: 10.15826/vopr_onom.2020.17.2.027

Received on 5 March 2020

Abstract: The article presents a solution to one of the pressing problems facing modern toponymy codifiers by introducing substantial updates to the current rules for using uppercase and lowercase letters in toponyms, supplemented by the relevant linguistic material. The proposed updates, reflecting the prevailing spelling norm, are based on the analysis of modern Russian spelling in the multiplicity of text forms, both official and unofficial. For toponyms, these are registers of geographical names (names of rivers, districts and cities), various classifiers with legal force, documents of national and regional levels, official websites of urban and rural settlements, as well as media and literary texts, paper and digital maps, guidebooks, spelling and toponymic dictionaries and reference books. The authors aim to expand the scope of the rules formulated back in 1956 through recourse to historical dictionaries and existing research, tracing the historical vector of change in spelling norms. In a retrospective view, the growing tendencies towards using more capitals and breaking the concatenated spelling of borrowed toponyms to emphasize the most meaningful units in the source language become more visible. Most importantly, the proposed updated rules cover the cases of spellings, previously overlooked by the academic spelling rules, in which the division between a generic term and the name is not obvious and allows for different interpretations. The published rules also contain extensive illustrative material and necessary comments on most complex cases of the use of uppercase or lowercase letters. The proposed rules were considered and approved by the Spelling Commission of the Russian Academy of Sciences at a meeting in February 2020.

Keywords: Russian language, spelling, spelling rules, codification, uppercase letter, place names, nomenclature terms, local terms.


The authors are grateful to Igor A. Dambuev, Dmitry Yu. Ilyin, Svetlana V. Naumenko for participating in the discussion of the rules.


Arutyunova, E. V., Beshenkova, E. V., & Ivanova, O. E. (In press). Propisnaia bukva v toponimakh: nereshennye problemy orfograficheskoi kodifikatsii [Capital Letter in Toponyms: Unresolved Problems of Spelling Codification].

Dambuev, I. A. (2014). O rezul’tatakh normalizatsii toponimov v Rossiiskoi Federatsii (2011–2013 gg.) [The Results of the Normalization of Place Names in the Russian Federation (2011–2013)]. Vestnik Kalmytskogo instituta gumanitarnykh issledovanii RAN, 2, 125–129.

Ilyin, D. Yu. (1999). Upotreblenie propisnoi bukvy v toponimii (problema sovershenstvovaniia orfograficheskoi normy) [The Use of a Capital Letter in Toponymy (the Problem of Improving the Spelling Norm)]. Volgograd: Izd-vo VolGU.

Murzaev, E. M. (1966). Mestnye geograficheskie terminy i ikh rol’ v toponimike [Local Geographical Terms and Their Role in Toponymy]. In Mestnye geograficheskie terminy v toponimii: tez. dokl. i soobshch. [Local Geographical Terms: Abstracts] (pp. 3–6). Moscow: [s.n.].

Reformatsky, A. A. (1965). Orfografiia sobstvennykh imen [Spelling of Proper Names]. In A. A. Reformatsky (Ed.), Orfografiia sobstvennykh imen [Spelling of Proper Names] (pp. 5–11). Moscow: Nauka.

Superanskaya, A. V. (1965). Propisnaia i strochnaia bukva v sobstvennykh imenakh razlichnykh kategorii [Uppercase and Lowercase Letter in Proper Names of Various Categories]. In A. A. Reformatsky (Ed.), Orfografiia sobstvennykh imen [Spelling of Proper Names] (pp. 25–43). Moscow: Nauka.