'It's called Gothenburg, not Göteborg'

The Local Sweden
The Local Sweden - [email protected]
'It's called Gothenburg, not Göteborg'
A tram in Gothenburg. Photo: Rafael B. da Costa/Flickr

The Local's Oliver Gee is vexed about the only Swedish city with a name in both English and Swedish. And he wants you to say it correctly, please.


I have a minor quibble. 
It is very minor and I hesitate to even bring it up. So minor, in fact, that you might think it's a bit silly, but I can't hold it in any longer. 
I don't like when English speakers use the word Göteborg. I hate it, in fact. 
Göteborg, for those of you who don't know, is the Swedish name for the city of Gothenburg on the country's west coast. It's the only city in Sweden with an English "translation". Swedes and foreigners alike call Stockholm 'Stockholm' and Uppsala 'Uppsala'.
So why is Gothenburg any different?
I asked the Language Council of Sweden (Språkrådet) and it said big cities with foreign trade often got English names. 
"If Stockholm were a hard word to pronounce then it would even have an English equivalent too," they added.
The word Gothenburg has been around since 1621 - but in 2003 officials called for Göteborg to be used as the official title in English-language literature about the city.
They changed their minds and officially picked up Gothenburg again in 2009, for all international material on the place.
Talk about an identity crisis.
I think it's all because the word Göteborg is quite hard to pronounce (try "yeh-teh-BOR-ee"). Gothenburg, meanwhile, is not only easy to say but it sounds like something from Batman (although as far as we know it isn't home to any superheroes, unlike Gotham City).

Gothenburg's Älvsborg Bridge. Photo: Erik Söderström/Flickr
But despite this easy alternative, English speakers often use the word Göteborg when they're speaking about the Swedish city in English.
"What are you doing next weekend, Steve?" 
"Oh, I am going to "yeh-teh-BOR-ee" with my girlfriend."
Ugh. It sounds horrible. Especially compared to the lovely sing-songy way that native Gothenburgers describe their home town.
As far as I'm concerned, Göteborg is the ugliest word to mispronounce in the Swedish language (although Migrationsverket, Arbetsförmedlingen, and the one time I heard an Australian say "La dingo" instead of Lidingö come close).
But it's not just the ugly sound. People who say Göteborg are, dare I say it, a little bit pretentious. Like those people who enjoy a "krrwahsohhn" (croissant) or spending a weekend in "Barthelona" (Barcelona). 
It drives me nuts. 
The solution? Stick to the word Gothenburg. It was invented for us, for a reason. 
But if the Swedish language police are reading this, I have a backup solution. Make new English names for all the Swedish towns with weird names - thereby encouraging us to use them all (including Gothenburg). 
Who needs Växjö ("VECK-hwer") when no one can say it? Or Skellefteå which sounds like someone coughing while they blow out a candle. 
Forgive my rant, but someone had to say something, and I thought I'd say it in my mother tongue.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also