If you had to create a list of currencies, how would you call the entry for the old Italian currency (now replaced by the euro): "Italian Liras", "Italian Lires", "Italian Lira", or "Italian Lire"? Or should it be a lowercase L? And if you picked the correct Italian plural, how would you justify this choice if other currencies in the list appeared with a well-known English pluralization, e.g. "German marks"? Or should it be "mark"? Or "Mark"? Fortunately, these currencies have now been replaced by the euro, but other currencies exhibit some of the same subtleties, and the euro itself poses its own style challenges, being a currency with no apparent "country" to list it under, and having an English plural that had originally been "banned", but which in practice is popular. Other currencies may confront a developer with similar puzzles...
Style and Consistency
Style and consistency are non-issues in the code internals of a currency-enabled system, which for example could simply use ISO currency codes for identification purposes. However, for the sake of quality and usability, when currency names are exposed in the user interface and documentation, support for more than one currency usually brings with it the need of choosing a uniform style.
- Deciding whether to use country adjectives or nouns (e.g. "Swiss franc" vs. "Switzerland franc")
- In languages such as English, deciding whether to use title style (headline style) or sentence style capitalization (e.g. "Swiss Franc" vs. "Swiss franc")
- Deciding whether to use the singular or the plural form (e.g. "Swiss franc" vs. "Swiss francs")
If the use of these different styles is not the result of a conscious choice, the resulting lists usually become more difficult to appreciate and to maintain.
In consideration of major style guidelines and common practices of some of the most reputable official sources, we decided that when listing multiple currencies, e.g. in a list box, in an English language context, we shall use the country adjective followed by the singular form of the currency name, applying title style capitalization. For example:
IMF Special Drawing Right
Luxembourg Franc Maltese Lira
New Zealand Dollar
Slovak Koruna Slovenian Tolar
South African Rand
South Korean Won
(Crossed-out names indicate currencies that ceased to be legal tender, having been replaced by the euro.)
The above is just one of several possible styles, which however can be applied very well to all currencies of the world. For a few currencies the country adjective is the same as the country noun. For some other currencies, the country or regime is referenced by a series of capital letters (e.g. EU, IMF, etc.) This same style is also used throughout the Currency System family of software and services.
Another "politically correct" option could be to list the country name followed by the ISO currency code. For example:
Australia - AUD
Austria - EUR
Belgium - EUR
Use of the currency code alone should in general be avoided, as it would not be easily understandable by many users.
Several countries use one or more local or otherwise non-ISO abbreviations and symbols for their currencies, like "US$" or "$" for USD, "L.", "£" or "Lit." for ITL, "UKP" or "£" for GBP, "DM" for DEM, etc. While these may be easily recognizable in a local context, we believe that their use is not ideal when addressing an audience that still has to choose a currency from a list, where in our opinion overall consistency, lack of ambiguity and equal respect of all currencies and readers are considerably more important issues.
In different languages, different capitalization rules may apply to the writing of the elements which may be used to form a complete currency name. These word elements include:
- Country name as noun (e.g. "Switzerland")
- Country name as adjective (e.g. "Swiss")
- Currency name (e.g. "franc")
Country names are usually always written with a capital initial (e.g. "Switzerland", not "switzerland"), but the corresponding adjectives are capitalized in languages such as English (e.g. "Swiss", not "swiss"), whereas they are in lowercase in languages such as Italian (e.g. "svizzero", not "Svizzero").
Currency names, like measurement units when written with their extended name, are normally always written with a lowercase initial in most languages (e.g. "dollar", "euro", "yen", "pound"). Two known exceptions to this rule are:
- Languages such as German, where all nouns have a capital initial, in which case the currency gets a capital initial (e.g. "Dollar", "Euro", "Yen", "Pfund") because it is a noun, not because it is a currency
- Languages such as English, where any word (other than prepositions and similar exceptions) in a title is capitalized, in which case the currency gets a capital initial because it appears in a title style (headline style) context, not because it is a currency
These rules are language-specific, not currency-specific or country-specific (a country may have multiple languages, and vice versa). This means that, for example, even the German "Mark" becomes "mark" in English (unless of course it appears at the beginning of a sentence, or in a title).
User Interface Styles
Software and web user interface components such as menus, list boxes, combo boxes and drop-down items generally follow the so-called title style, or headline style. Depending on the language, this style may have different capitalization rules than normal sentence style.
In English, the generally accepted rules for the capitalization of words in titles and lists specify that the first and last words and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs and subordinating conjunctions are capitalized. Cloanto follows this style when listing currencies in functional user interface components in software and on web sites, where currency names appear with a capital initial: (e.g. "US Dollar", "Japanese Yen" and "German Mark"). But in regular English body text these would be written as "US dollar", "Japanese yen" and "EU euro".
The European Union and the Euro
When listing currencies by country, a few currencies will always tend to be treated as special cases, e.g. because they are used in multiple countries that are part of a currency union or agreement (e.g. the CFP franc), or because they reference funds or other units of account issued by an institution (e.g. the IMF special drawing right).
Country names are also often abbreviated. For example, also for historical reasons, it is relatively intuitive to list and refer to the United States Federal Reserve System dollar as "US dollar".
Agreeing on a region or institution prefix for the euro, so as to consistently include this currency where other currencies are listed, for example, as "US Dollar" or "Japanese Yen", is not as immediate, last but not least because the euro itself is a relatively new currency.
On December 1st, 2009, when the Treaty of Lisbon came into force, the euro formally became the official currency of the European Union.
While acknowledging that, also because of the fact that the EU is a dynamic institution, a few EU countries do not currently use the euro as their official currency, we also recognize that the euro itself is the official currency of the EU. We have therefore chosen, and we recommend, to use "EU Euro" (English title style) or "EU euro" (English sentence style), wherever the euro appears in a list of currencies that are preceded by a country or institution name. This is, in our opinion, the best long-term solution, and it also best fits a context where most other currencies are defined by a geographical entity.
Singular vs. Plural Form
In Italian, the plural of the old "lira" used to be "lire". In German, the plural of "mark" was... "mark". But Italians referred to the German mark as "marchi", and Germans wrote "Lire" to mean Italian lira. The singular vs. plural, original vs. translation issue is potentially much more complex, and includes local rules about the pluralization of foreign words and countries having one currency but multiple official languages. The transition to the euro did not necessarily make things easier.
Some languages have a tradition of translating foreign currency names, as they do with country and city names, yet they don't have easily recognized translations for less-used currencies. For plurals, some languages accept the original plural of other languages, while others prefer to apply local pluralization rules, and other languages instead use the singular foreign form both for the singular and the plural. This gets even more tricky when the names of major currencies have a local translation, but "minor" currencies have no reference translation, potentially leading to a combination of singular and plural, and local and original names, all in the same list.
Where language rules are not enough to make things difficult, politics sometimes add their voice. According to the original guidelines of the European Commission, the plural of "euro" should for example have been "euro" in all languages. Instead, the plural "euros" quickly became more common in languages such as English and Spanish.
These examples of extreme diversity and difficulty to achieve consistency explain in part why we too recommend to list currency names in the singular form, like several other official sources do. This possibly also was one of the reasons for the European Commission to choose "euro" and "cent" as a consistent and cross-language plural form of the euro currency unit and its cents. While this provides consistency when listing multiple currencies, and it allows euro notes to be uncluttered with strings of plurals, this is not fully adequate in everyday language, as is confirmed by the European Commission's own Translation Service, which recommends that in all texts issued by the Commission for the general public, the "natural plurals" of each language be used.
Redenomination of Currencies
Sometimes during the lifetime of a country it becomes necessary, usually after years of high inflation, to redenominate the currency. This means that the currency changes from the"old" currency to a "new" one, the units of which are often worth 100, or 1000 units of the old currency. In order to minimize the risk for confusion, a new ISO currency code is introduced when this happens. Similarly, when referring to the currencies in everyday language, the words "old" and "new" are associated with the currency name (which usually doesn't change). At some point, usually after at least one year, the old currency ceases to be legal tender. From that point onwards, it is in theory possible to drop the "new" prefix from the new currency. In practice, this often takes longer.
Information about currency redenominations is included with the Currency World Monitor service. Whenever a currency is redenominated, and unless indicated otherwise, we recommend to add "old" and "new" prefixes to the currency names as soon as the new denomination is introduced, and at least until the old currency ceases to be legal tender.