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I'm working on a text in British English. Should I use 'International Maritime Organization' or 'International Maritime Organisation'?

Should proper nouns keep the original or can they be spelled differently depending on dialects?

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    Which spelling does the IMO itself use?
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 18 at 12:48
  • Both spellings are acceptable in BrE. Commented Mar 18 at 12:55
  • @tchrist IMO uses "Organization", but I want to use "Organisation". I want to learn whether this is alright or not.
    – Ali E
    Commented Mar 18 at 13:25
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    @AliE What kind of writing are you doing? Is this for personal writing, fiction, reporting? The default advice would be to use the official title used by the organization, but this is the kind of thing that would be covered in a style guide rather than a grammar textbook
    – YonKuma
    Commented Mar 18 at 13:58
  • It's actually a textbook, but everything is in British English.
    – Ali E
    Commented Mar 18 at 14:12

1 Answer 1

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In your specific case (International Maritime Organization), both spellings would be acceptable since:

  • the organization itself, like other UN agencies and organizations, uses the spelling "organization",
  • whereas "organisation" is an accepted prevalent spelling in British English, although "organization" is also an acceptable one (but not the prevalent one), and
    • the full name of the IMO is descriptive,
    • the organization is an international one.

Whichever you choose, you should generally be consistent about the choice, both with respect to the IMO, but also the treatment of other international organizations.


In general though, not all proper nouns are treated the same.

It is often recommended that you follow what a person, company, or organization uses themselves to refer to themselves. This is generally a good advice: it will generally not be wrong to respect the name used by the entity in question itself.

However, this is not a strict "rule" but mostly a matter of style and preferences. There is a spectrum of acceptability to deviate from "official" names of proper nouns, which can also include political considerations.

It is almost never acceptable to modify brand names or names that are not descriptive, e.g. United Airlines, British Airways, Canadian Tire or Pepsi, especially when they are generally not translated in another Latin-character based language. But for descriptive proper nouns, the rules can be more flexible, especially for international organizations.

For example, British legislation has used both "International Maritime Organization" and "International Maritime Organisation" (as used by the current legislation in force); the American government often uses the spelling "International Labor Organization" (http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=(title:22%20section:271%20edition:prelim) despite the ILO officially brands itself as the "International Labour Organization".

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    The spelling with 'z' is not 'wrong' in British English, though less common. Commented Mar 18 at 17:07
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    Yes, The Oxford dictionary used to prefer "z" except in specific words like "surprise". Inspector Morse, in one of his TV shows, called the spelling with "s" as "practically illiterate".
    – James K
    Commented Mar 18 at 18:45
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    Something that annoys me intensely is when I see US publications refer to the UK 'Labor Party'. It's a proper name. I note that the Australian LP uses the American spelling. Commented Mar 18 at 20:18
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    The OED still prefers -ize. According to Lynne Murphy, in The Prodigal Tongue, it was spellcheckers that crystallised -ise in the UK: They had to add -ise to their BrE dictionary, but then that ran the risk that the spelling might not be consistent in a document, so they wrongly barred -ize.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 18 at 20:20
  • @KateBunting Yes, it is not wrong, but not the prevalent one.
    – xngtng
    Commented Mar 18 at 20:48

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