Monday, 26 May 2014

Call it what it is: Okęcie

Flying home to Warsaw yesterday, it occurred to me that there's still a huge gap between the official and the vernacular. Despite the fact that over 13 years having elapsed since Okęcie was officially re-named 'Warsaw Chopin Airport', hardly anyone not employed by Polskie Porty Lotnicze (Polish Airports) actually refers to the place as anything other than 'Okęcie' [pron. Ock-ENCH-yeh].

"Okęcie, OK!"
Taxi drivers, local residents, Poles from other towns and cities still say 'Okęcie' rather than 'Lotnisko Chopina' (the genitive form). And they insist on 'Okęcie' with a vengeance. Look up 'Warsaw Chopin Airport' on Wikipedia and you'll find the following words in the article's second paragraph: "Despite the official change, "Okecie" ("Lotnisko Okęcie") remains in popular and industry use, including air traffic and aerodrome references."

Actually, in 2001, Okęcie was re-named Międzynarodowy Port Lotniczy imienia Fryderyka Chopina, (official translation: Frederic Chopin International Airport; literal translation International Aviation Port in the Fryderyk's Chopin's name). This was a name so clunky it had to be changed to Lotnisko Chopina w Warszawie (official translation: Warsaw Chopin Airport; literal translation Airport of Chopin in Warsaw) in January 2010 in the hope of gaining in popularity - it did not.

Celebrating its 80th birthday last year, the airport's administration had to keep quiet about the fact that the airport's official name does not enjoy widespread use, or that for 67 of those 80 years it was officially called something else. Maybe its to do with Mr Chopin being the son of a bloody foreign migrant with a difficult-to-pronounce surname.

In general, the names of few airports named after people have gained traction. Flying to John Lennon? Er, no, Liverpool, actually. Naming airports after people is so un-British. Tel Aviv - Ben who? Toronto -Enough already! Few Poles can say who Kraków's airport is named after (Shame on you!). Two exceptions - Paris CdG, and above all New York's JFK. Globally recognised. Given that Fryderyk Chopin's middle name was Franciszek, maybe 'Warsaw FFC' might catch on? (Or not.)

Helping to make things difficult is the naming convention. In Polish, the genitive form is used - Lotnisko Chopina is literally 'Airport of Chopin' or 'Chopin's Airport'. Adding the extra 'a' to a name that is globally familiar can be disconcerting to foreigners in Warsaw for the first time and seeing the name spelt differently on signposts and stations.

How does one pronounce it? The British pronounce 'Chopin' in a manner approximating to the French way - SHOW-pan. Or Show-PAN if you fancy yourself as an intellectual. But then add the 'a' at the end and you get - what? 'SHOW-pannah', 'Show-PIE-ner' or 'Show-pan-AY'? And how do Poles pronounce 'Chopina'? - Shoh-PEN-uh... This is all very confusing when you're in a hurry to catch your plane. The railways do their bit too. The English language announcement at W-wa Śródmieście talks of the 'train to the Warsaw SHOW-pen airport arriving at Platform 3'.

I'm in a bind over this one. I can understand the authorities' reluctance to backpedal, but Poles are sticking to Okęcie. Maybe rename it after another famous Polish composer? Certainly Wojciech Kilar would not make the shortlist. Or simply rename the composer of the Etude Revolutionaire or Nocturne in E flat major 'Fryderyk Okęcie'. Which I've started doing.

This time last year:
Three stations in need of repair

This time two years ago
Late evening, Śródmieście

This time three years ago:
Ranking a better life

This time five years ago:
Paysages de Varsovie

This time six years ago:
Spring walk, twilight time


DC said...

Hi Michael -

Have you seen this?

It's not free, but I have a feeling you might find the Android app worth the small price. it works well for EPWA, among many others.

I have it on at the moment, and even Air France on approach calls "Okęcie tower..." :-)

You name list might need to be slightly larger. It's probably not heard often outside North America, but Canadians will sometimes say "Pearson" for YYZ now that Porter Airlines has proved staying power at the downtown airport (for which I've never heard "Billy Bishop" outside of official press releases and stuff like that.)

Likewise it's not unusual to hear "O'Hare" because of Midway. Certainly LaGuardia. I've not been to Taiwan, but i wonder what people say to distinguish CKS from TSA?

AndrzejK said...

The French refer to CDG airport as Roissy, Centre Pompidou as Boabourg etc.

Still Heathrow was once Heath Row!