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Belgium is a trilingual country and language politics is an extremely controversial issue locally. This can lead to some difficulties for neutral parties: road signs generally only use the local language of the location of the sign , not that of the destination (e.g. directions on the Brussels Ring orbital motorway are given exclusively in Dutch), while translators (particularly into English, which is itself used quite a lot as a neutral language) have to be careful not to offend local sensibilities. Some of the different language versions of place names are less than transparent, being translations rather than orthographic variations (e.g. Rijsel = ter ijsel for Lille, l'Île). So, to sum up, officially:

  • Brussels is bilingual French/Dutch
  • Flanders is monolingual Dutch ("Flemish" is a misnomer for the language; many dialects of Dutch are spoken in Flanders).
  • Wallonia is mainly monolingual French with a small German-speaking enclave in the East.

In general, when speaking or writing in English it is most advisable to use the local name if there is no appropriate English name. Historically, particularly in the 19th and early 20th century when French was the language of government and civic life throughout Belgium, English speakers and writers tended to use the French names, so watch out if you are referring to old material (and, of course, use a form appropriate for your particular context; a few cases in hand are mentioned below). In the following lists, the bold forms are those which should be used in English. Places where the name is the same in French and Dutch are not listed.

Brussels

Local English-speakers tend to use the French names for the local place and street names - more anglo residents will be able to find the Chaussée de Mons than the Bergensesteenweg. However, the choice is pretty open; depends on your audience and need for political correctness.
Streets have two names; the French and Dutch versions can often be run together or else both should be given either side of the street number in an address in an English text:
Boulevard Adolph Maxlaan 123 (for FR "Boulevard Adolph Max", NL "Adolph Maxlaan"), or Rue de la Loi 200 Wetstraat. The canonical forms are FR "rue (de) X" => NL "Xstraat", "Avenue (de) X" or "Boulevard (de) X" => "Xlaan", "Place X" => "Xplein", "Chaussée de X" => "X*steenweg" or "Steenweg op X", all with X translated where appropriate (* with the adjectival form); there are of course a few weird and less than transparent cases such as "Place du Jeu de Balle" => "Vossenplein" (good flea market) and "Rue du Montagne du Parc" => "Warandeberg".

(FR/NL/EN)
Bruxelles/Brussel/Brussels
(Region de) Bruxelles-Capital/Hoofstad Brussel (hoofstedelijk gewest)/Brussels Capital Region
Ixelles - Elsene
Auderghem - Ouderghem
Saint-Josse - Sint-Joost-ten-Noode
Saint-Gilles - Sint Gillis
Schaerbeek - Schaarbeek (Dutch has undergone a spelling reform or two, so the French version is the outdated Dutch name)
Forest - Vorst
Uccle - Ukkel
Berchem Ste-Agathe - Sint Agatha Berchem
Woluwe-St-Pierre - Sint-Peters-Woluwe
Woluwe-St-Lambert - Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe

The area strictly within the borders of Brussels Capital Region is often referred to as the "19 communes/gemeenten/municipalities", by contrast with the suburbs in Flemish Brabant (a site of linguistic conflict due to their large and growing francophone population) and to a lesser extent Walloon Brabant. The unbroken ring of Flemish municipalities around Brussels - dear to the hearts of Flemish nationalists - is sometimes referred to as the Gordel (belt).

Flanders

provinces of East and West Flanders, Flemish Brabant, Antwerp and Limburg

(NL/FR)
Vlaanderen - Flandre (les Flandres) - Flanders
Gent - Gand - Ghent
Antwerpen - Anvers - Antwerp (city and province)
Brugge - Bruges - Bruges This is somewhat contentious; it can be argued that Bruges is the English name which happens to have the same form as the French, although use of Brugge in English is gaining ground; if dealing with the locals, there will be far less friction if you stick with the Dutch form. Certainly refer to the Bruges Group in UK politics.
Zeebrugge - Zéebruges
Oostend - Ostende - Ostend
Kortrijk - Courtrai
Leuven - Louvain (note that Louvain-la-Neuve in Wallonia is a different place, founded after the university of Leuven was split up on language lines)
Mechelen - Malines
Ieper - Ypres*
Passendale - Passchendaele*
Mesen - Messines*
Menen - Menin*
*For clarity and consistency with tradition, use Ypres, Passchendaele, Menin Road, Messines Ridge for historical references to the First World War battles, and Menin Gate for the monument.
Roeselare - Roulers
De Haan - Le Coq (a bizarre sex change in that one)
De Panne - La Panne
Tienen - Tirlemont
Tongeren - Tongres
Sint Truiden - Saint-Trond
Geraardsbergen - Grammont
Ronse - Renaix
Oudenaarde - Audenarde "Audernarde" is sometimes used for the Marlburian battle
Sint-Genesius-Rode - Rhode-Ste-Genèse (generally, saints' names change ends at the language frontier).
Jesus-Eik - Notre-Dame-du-Bois

Wallonia

provinces of Hainaut, Namur, Liege, Luxembourg and Walloon Brabant

(FR/NL)
Wallonie - Wallonië - Wallonia
"Wallonia" appears to be the preferred form in English of the regional government and the like.
Namur - Namen (city and province)
Liège - Luik - Liege - also German Lüttich) (city and province)
Mons - Bergen
Tournai - Doornik
Mouscron - Moeskroen
Huy - Hoei
Bastogne - Bastenaken (The trend in certain quarters to use "Luik-Bastenaken-Luik" in English for the Liege-Bastogne-Liege cycle race is a solecism)
Arlon - Aarlen
Soignies - Zinnik
Lessines - Lesen
La Hulpe - Terhulpen
Nivelles - Nijvel
Halle - Hal
Waremme - Borgworm

Fourons/Voeren

A small area between Liege and Maastricht which is mixed French/Dutch and inclined to move from side to side of the taalgrens from election to election; it is the site of much bitter linguistic conflict. For safety's sake, just avoid mentioning it.

Ostkantonen

Local placenames in the German-speaking areas (Eupen, Malmèdy, Sankt Vith) are used as is in the other languages apart from:
DE Waimes - FR Weismes
DE Büllingen - FR Bullange
On road signs, note that Lüttich is Liege.

Abroad

These are just over the border and may be seen on road signs:
Lille (France): NL Rijsel. Confusingly, there is also a small town in Flanders called Lille (pronounced as a disyllable).
Dunkerque (France, English Dunkirk): NL Duinkerken
Aachen (Germany): NL Aken, FR Aix-la-Chapelle
Köln (Germany): FR Cologne, NL Keulen.
Trier (Germany): FR Trèves
's Hertogenbosch (Netherlands): FR Bois-le-Duc
Den Haag ('s Gravenhage, English The Hague) (Netherlands): FR La Haie
For additional international roadsign confusion, note that references to "Essen" are probably to the small town north of Antwerp rather than the German city of the same name.


Work in progress: /msg me with errors, omissions, suggestions, or just because you feel like it.

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