Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Gulf Name Disputing
Prior to Arab Invasion in 7th c. CE
Islamic map showing Persian Gulf, dated 320 A.H.
(seen Seas) map by Birun
Nations map of the Middle East
Nations Map of Iran
of the United Nations
name of the body of water separating the Iranian plateau and the Arabian
Peninsula has been disputed by some Arab countries since the 1960s. This body of
water is historically and most commonly called the Persian Gulf, after the land
of Persia (Iran). Rivalry between Persians and Arabs, however, along with the
emergence of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism in 1960s, has seen the name
Arabian Gulf become predominant in some Arab countries.
Names beyond these two have also been applied to or proposed for this body of
On almost all maps printed before 1960, and in most modern international
treaties, documents and maps, this body of water is known by the name
"Persian Gulf", reflecting traditional usage since the Greek
geographers Strabo and Ptolemy, and the geopolitical realities of the time with
a powerful Persian Empire (Iran) comprising the whole northern coastline and a
scattering of local emirates on the Arabian coast. But by the 1960s and with the
rise of Arab nationalism, some Arab countries, including the ones bordering the
Persian Gulf, adopted widespread use of the term al-Khalīj al-'Arabī
(Arab Gulf or Arabian Gulf) to refer to this waterway. This coupled the
decreasing influence of Iran after 1979 revolution in Iran on the political and
economic priorities of the English speaking Western World led to increasing
acceptance, in regional politics and the mostly petroleum-related business, of
the new alternative naming convention "Arabian Gulf".
Until the end of the 19th century, "Arabian Gulf" was used to refer to
what is now known as the Red Sea. This usage was adopted into European maps
from, among others, Strabo and Ptolemy, who called the Red Sea Sinus Arabicus
(Arabian Gulf). Both of these Greek geographers used the name "Persian
Gulf" to refer to the body of water between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran.
early Islamic era, Muslim geographers did the same, calling the body Baḥr Fāris (Persian Sea) or Khalīj Fāris (Persian Gulf).
Later, most European maps from the early Modern Times onwards used similar terms
(Sinus Persicus, Persischer Golf, Golfo di Persia and the like, in
different languages) when referring to the Persian Gulf, possibly taking the
name from the Islamic sources. For a short while in the 17th century, the term
"Gulf of Basra" was also being used, which made a reference to the
town of Basra (Iraq), an important trading port of the time. Basra, however, is
not on the shore of the waterway. The Times Journal, published in London in
1840, referred to the Persian Gulf as the "Britain Sea," despite the
Currently, the Google Earth application has included the term “Arabian Gulf”
on maps where the body of water, historically and contemporarily known as the
"Persian Gulf," is located. A similar mistake was made in 2004 by the
National Geographic Society. As a direct results of efforts by the National
Iranian American Council, in 2005 the National Geographic Society corrected
their 8th Edition maps.
In February 2008, The National Iranian American Council's Board of Directors
sent a letter to Google's CEO, Dr. Eric E. Schmidt, about the politically
divisive consequences of including the term "Arabian Gulf" as a name
for the body of water extending from Iran to the Arabian Peninsula.
Proposed alternative names
The matter remains very contentious as the competing naming conventions are
supported by certain governments in internal literature, but also in dealings
with other states and international organizations. Some parties use terms like
"The Gulf" or the "Arabo-Persian Gulf". After the Iranian
Revolution of 1979 some people in Islamic groups suggested the use of
"Islamic Gulf." The originator of the term Islamic Gulf is not known,
while some people suggest that prominent figures of the early years of the
Islamic republic including Ruhollah Khomeini, Mehdi Bazargan, and Sadegh
Khalkhali may have supported the idea. The idea was quickly abandoned after Iran
was invaded by its predominantly Muslim neighbor, Iraq. Possibly the most famous
person who has used the term "Islamic Gulf" recently has been Osama
bin Laden, who used the term as late as 1996
Viewpoint of Iran
Iran does not recognize the naming when it is referred to as just
"Gulf", or "Arabian Gulf."
Viewpoint of Arab states
Most Arab countries, including members of the GCC, endorse the name
"Arabian Gulf" and some including the UAE have even banned the use of
the term "Persian Gulf" across their country. In the UAE this ban
applies to textbooks, publications and newspapers among others.
Viewpoints of third parties
The United Nations
The United Nations on many occasions has requested its secretarial staff to use
only "Persian Gulf" as the standard geographical designation for that
body of water. Most recently, the UN Secretariat has issued two editorial
directives in 1994 and 1999 affirming the position of that organization on the
The group of experts on Geographical Names was set up by the secretary-general
of the United Nations in pursuance of economic and Social council resolution
715A(XXVII) on April 23, 1959 and has endorsed 'Persian Gulf' as the official
name for this body of water.
The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names was set up by the
secretary-general of the United Nations in pursuance of economic and Social
council resolution 715A(XXVII) on April 23, 1959. The group discussed the naming
issue during its 23rd session, held in Vienna from March 28th to April 4th,
2006. According to the report of the meeting, the Convenor "noted that
countries could not be prohibited from using or creating exonyms."
The use of the name 'Arabian Gulf' was described to be 'faulty' by the Eighth
United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, Berlin,
27 August September 2002.
The United States
In the United States, Persian Gulf has been the label sanctioned for U.S.
government use  since a decision by the State Department's Board of
Geographical Names in 1917: As recognized by the United States Board on
Geographic names, the name of the body of water that lies between Iran and the
Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council is the Persian Gulf. For political
reasons, Arabs often refer to it as the Arab or Arabian Gulf. The NGA GEOnet
Names Server (GNS), maintained by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency,
is the "official repository of standard spellings of all foreign place
names" sanctioned by the Board of Geographical Names. The GNS lists
"Persian Gulf" as the only "conventional" name, along with
fourteen unofficial "variants" in different languages, such as
"Gulf of Iran", "Gulf of Ajam", "Gulf of Basra",
"Arabian Gulf", "Persian-Arabian Gulf", "Gulf of Fars",
and "Farsi Gulf".
In recent years, due to increased cooperation with Arab states of the Persian
Gulf, various branches of the U.S. armed forces have issued directives to their
members to use the "Arabian Gulf" when operating in the area
("Persian Gulf" is still used in official publications and websites),
partially to follow local conventions, or simply to follow local laws that ban
the use of "Persian Gulf", e.g. in the United Arab Emirates. Also for
similar reasons, branches of American universities in the region have also
dropped references to "Persian Gulf" in their teaching
All multinational naval forces (including Australia, the US and UK) refer to the
area as 'Arabian Gulf' during operations, and their naval charts reflect this.
The area is nominally divided into three areas: Northern Arabian Gulf (NAG, with
principal focus around the Kwahr Al Amaya and Al Basra Oil Terminals), Central
Arabian Gulf (CAG, around Saudi Arabia and Bahrain) and Southern Arabian Gulf
(SAG, around Abu Dhabi and Dubai).
The United Kingdom government's Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for
Official British Use (PCGN) endorses 'The Persian Gulf' as the correct name for
this body of water .
Atlases and other media
In 2004, the National Geographic Society published a new edition of its National
Geographic Atlas of the World using the term "Arabian Gulf" as an
alternative name (in smaller type and in parentheses) for "Persian
Gulf". This resulted in heavy protests by many Persians, especially the
Internet user community, which led to the Iranian government acting on the issue
and banning the distribution of the society's publications in Iran. On December
30, 2004, the society reversed its decision and published an Atlas Update,
removing the parenthetical reference and adding a note: "Historically and
most commonly known as the Persian Gulf, this body of water is referred to by
some as the Arabian Gulf." It also removed the alternative Arabic names for
certain islands and/or replaced them with Persian ones 
The 2000 Associated Press manual on usage elaborates: Persian Gulf is the
“long-established name” and the best choice. “Some Arab nations call it
the Arabian Gulf. Use Arabian Gulf only in direct quotations and explain in the
text that the body of water is more commonly known as the Persian Gulf.”
Some atlases and media outlets have taken to referring to "The Gulf"
without any adjectival qualification. This usage is followed by The Times Atlas
of the World.
Iran does not consider this an impartial usage and views it as an active
contribution to abandonment of the historical name. In June 15, 2006 Iran banned
the sale of The Economist for the above reason. A major map in an issue labeled
the Persian Gulf as 'The Gulf'. As of the December 22, 2007 issue the magazine
has continued to use "The Gulf".
is the Light on the Path to Future"
British Institute of Persian Studies