Notes on spelling and accents in proper names.

During the 18th and 19th century there were no established or accepted rules for how the names of Indian places and people should be transliterated into English.

An attempt to standardize was made by Sir W. Jones as described in Mountstuart Elphinstone’s preface to his History of India, but it is clear that even after that time the supposed standard was not universally followed.


Accents on vowels were often used in these works, to aid readers in pronoucing the names. But the accents were used inconsistently, even within the pages of the same work.

Todays OCR software has some difficulty recognizing accented characters consistently, particularly where the original is a PDF scanned from a faded volume that has sat on a shelf for more than one hundred and fifty years. Even if it were reliable, proofreading HTML documents with large numbers of á, é, í, ó, and ú characters in the names is likely to be almost as error-prone as was the proofreading process used by the authors of these original works.

For the reasons cited above, and that fact that today’s accepted spelling of these proper names in English does not include accents, they have been removed everywhere.


In many cases however the spellings are still inconsistent across authors, for example Elphinstone uses the name Shahab u din, Malleson uses Shahab’udin and Marshman uses Shahab-ood-deen all for the same person. Similarly Aurangzib and Aurungzebe are found as variants.

I have noticed that Colonel G. B. Malleson did not hesitate to “correct” the spelling when he took over responsibility for editing and completing Sir John Kaye’s Indian Mutiny after his death. Malleson justified his changes in the Editor’s Preface as follows:

The spelling of the past, based upon the impressions made upon men, ignorant of the Native languages, by the utterances of the Natives, a spelling based upon no system, and therefore absolutely fortuitous, has in these latter days given place to a spelling founded upon the actual letters which represent the places indicated. In its General Orders and in its Gazettes the Government of India of the present day adopts the enlightened system of spelling drawn up by Dr. Hunter, and this system has been adopted generally by the Indian Press, and by residents in India. Between the alternative of adhering to a barbarous system, fast dying, if not already dead, and the more enlightened system of the present and of the future, there could not be a moment’s hesitation. I have adapted, then, Sir John Kaye’s spelling of Indian proper names to one more in accordance with modern usage, and in every respect more correct. In the text, I need scarcely say, I have not changed even a comma. That text remains, in these volumes, as he wrote and published it.

I am undecided as to the best approach to take with this issue, and so far have decided to leave the spellings alone. I am tempted to follow Malleson’s example, and would appreciate learned advice as to what would be the best thing to do.


Chris Gage

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
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