This article looks at the seemingly trivial dispute over the term “Persian Gulf”. It is no small mater on either the Iranian or the Arab side. As the article points out, Americans frequently use the term Gulf to avoid controversy. I can say from my own experience, that usually does not work. I referred to ‘the Gulf’ once at a talk in Tehran and I was corrected in no uncertain terms, by three separate members of the audience. I have seen a couple of other academics at conferences in North America meet the same fate.
“Analysts say the name can be a source of friction even in diplomatic encounters.
“It’s deeply emotional; it’s not simply semantic,” said Frederic Wehrey, an expert on gulf politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Mr. Wehrey recalled meetings that degenerated into shouting matches over the name. At the heart of the matter, he said, was “a geostrategic dispute about ownership of the gulf.”
Kenneth M. Pollack, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who served as the Persian Gulf affairs director at the National Security Council, said that the terms used by American officials had become more nuanced, and that more officials now say Arabian Gulf or simply “the gulf.”
The terminology shifted along with geopolitics, he said. While the close American-Saudi relationship dates to World War II, ties deepened between the United States and other Gulf Arab states after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and even more so with the 1991 war in Iraq.
The National Geographic Society found itself in the middle of the argument when it published an atlas adding the term Arabian Gulf in parentheses below the term Persian Gulf in 2004. After protests, National Geographic added an explanatory note to later editions.”