AP Style Geographic Names

The basic AP Style rules for geographic names are below.

Domestic

Do not use the postal abbreviations for state names. For the states’ acceptable abbreviations and when the abbreviations may be used, see our full page on AP Style states.

Abbreviate “Saint” as “St.” But, abbreviate “Sault Sainte Marie” as “Sault Ste. Marie.”

Foreign

The first source for the spelling of all foreign place names is Webster’s New World College Dictionary as follows,

  • Use the first-listed spelling if an entry gives more than one.
  • If the dictionary provides different spellings in separate entries, use the spelling that is followed by a full description of the location.
  • If the does not have an entry, use the first listed spelling in the Nation Geographic Atlas of the World (www.nationalgeographic.com).

New Names

Follow the styles adopted by the United Nations and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names on new cities, new independent nations and nation that change their names.

Datelines

See our page on AP Style Datelines.

Capitalization

Capitalize common nouns when they form an integral part of a proper name, but lowercase them when they stand alone. For example,

  • “Pennsylvania Avenue” -but- “the avenue”
  • “the Philippine Islands” -but- “the islands”
  • “the Mississippi River” -but- “the river”

Lowercase common nouns that are not a part of a specific name. For example,

  • the Pacific islands
  • the Swiss mountains
  • Zhejiang province

For more information, please see pages AP Style Addresses, AP Style Capitalization, AP Style directions and regions, and AP Style Island.

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