Arabian Gulf or Persian Gulf?

By March 1, 2005Photo of the Day

It appears my humble website has caught the eye of people who are concerned with the historical and modern naming of the Persian Gulf, also known as the Arabian Gulf. Certain political interests would like to see the body of water bordering Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain referred to only as the “Persian Gulf”. However, National Geographic has updated their atlas to include “Arabian Gulf” as an valid alternate name. Apparently this development is threatening to Iranian interests. One group of interested individuals appears to be searching the web for references to “Arabian Gulf” and then contacting the authors of any offending pages to request that the term “Arabian Gulf” be corrected to “Persian Gulf”. I am one of those offending authors, by virtue of some entries in my photographic database that use the term “Arabian Gulf” as the source for some mollusk specimens.

The following three emails from arrived in my inbox last night in what seems to be a concerted effort to politely clear up my confusion on the matter of the naming of the “Persian Gulf”. I’ll try to correct the database soon, changing the reference to Arabian Gulf to Persian Gulf.

Dear Sir/Madam,
I noted that you have used the wrong term of “Arabian Gulf”  instead of the historical and internationally recognized term of the Persian Gulf in your Web site;

I would like to point out that according to all historical/geographical documents, also United Nations’ directives, the name of this waterway which separates Iran (Persia) from Arabian Peninsula is the PERSIAN GULF :

UN Links :

PERSIAN GULF is also the only term used by the U.S. Department
of State:

You can visit this page for some maps & documents and see even Arab scholars until 1960s used “Al-Khalij Al-Farsi” (Arabic name of the “Persian Gulf”);

“Arabian Gulf” in fact is the ancient name of the present-day “Red Sea” (located between Arabia and Africa).

Please imagine  that all nations start to rename the historical and legal names of seas and oceans: African people try to change the name of Indian Ocean to African Ocean, American people rename Gulf of Mexico to Gulf of America or Pakistani people try to use Pakistani Sea instead of the Arabian Sea !….

Also please be aware that Persian (Iranian) people never tried to use “Gulf of Iran”/”Gulf of Persia” instead of “Gulf of Oman” and never tried to chnage the name of “Arabian Sea” into “Persian Sea”.

May I ask you to kindly use the proper term in that article?
Thanks so much for your attention.

Dear Sir/Madam,

“The Persian Gulf” separates Iran(Persia) from the Arabian Peninsula.Please, use the proper name of this body of water.Unfortunately, you have used the ancient name of the “Red Sea” for the Persian Gulf:

I look forward to your positive reaction.

According to all historical, geographical and international documents, such as United Nation’s directives, the body of water between Iran and Arabian Peninsula is only called “Persian Gulf”.

For more information, please visit:

Let me remind you that “Arabian Gulf” is the old name of “Red Sea”:

Please only use its real and full name.

Thanking you in anticipation.

Here is yet another one that just arrived. It appears that once a web site has been identified that contains the term “Arabian Gulf”, many individuals associated with the Persion Gulf Task Force send emails to the website’s author to persuade him to change “Arabian Gulf” to “Persian Gulf”.

Dear Distinguished Members,

The reference to the invented term “Arabian Gulf” is historically and legally incorrect. The correct designation for the body of water is the Persian Gulf. The Arabian Gulf is the ancient designation of the present-day Red Sea:

The term “Arabian Gulf” is as arbirary and invalid as re-naming the English Channel as the “French Channel”, the Indian Ocean as “the Pakistan Ocean”, or the Thames River of London as the “Celtic River”. Think of the social, political, economic and historical chaos that would ensue from unwarranted actions, or should I say “arbitrary labeling”?

Iranians certainly do not refer to the Arabian Sea as “The Persian Sea”. This is as historically and legally invalid as using “Arabian Gulf” to refer to the Persian Gulf.

In legal terms, the United Nations has twice recognized the legality of the term “Persian Gulf” (UNAD 311/March 5, 1971 and UNLA 45.8.2 (c) on August 10, 1984). It is significant that all Arab countries have signed the UN documents. For further information consult the following links:

Note that U.S. Department of State also refers to the correct legal and historically valid term Persian Gulf. For reference please consult:

Arab scholars up to the 1960s have also referred to the body of water as per its correct name “Kahleej-ol-Faris” (Persian Gulf) (see George Hourani’s “Arab Seafaring: In the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times”, Princeton University Press, 1995). For further information you may consult:

As noted above, the “Arabian Gulf” actually referred to the present-day Red Sea in antiquity (see Herodotus). The invention of “Arabian Gulf” with respect to its historically incorrect reference to the Persian Gulf was initiated by Sir Charles Belgrave (advisor to the Emir of Bahrain in 1926) who made the formal proposal to change the name of Persian Gulf in 1937 – the initiative was rejected by the British government at the time. For a popular reference regarding Sir Belgrave’s activities, see TIME Magazine’s August 27, 1956 entitled “The Uncontrollable Genie). Sir Belgrave’s failure did not restrain Mr. Roderic Owen (an employee of British Petroleum in the 1950s) from reviving the project of name change for the Persian Gulf.

The misapplication of terms, such as using the old term for the Red Sea (Arabian Gulf) instead of Persian Gulf, was an ingenious step in creating geopolitical and popular friction between Arabs and Iranians.

The term “Arabian Gulf” is a geopolitical invention devoid of historical context or meaning; it is also illegal (see aforementioned UN actions). 

Note that the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has removed all references to “Arabian Gulf” and now correctly refers to the body of water as The Persian Gulf. This is the result of a contact made to Russ Germain (Broadcast Language advisor, CBC Radio Canada) almost 3 years ago. On Monday Feb.11, 2002, Mr. Germain recommended that all references to “Arabian Gulf” be removed from CBC broadcasts in favour of the legal and correct term, Persian Gulf. I can forward a transcript of that communication to you upon request.

To quote Russ Germain with regard to the aforementioned letter, the incorrect Belgrave-Owen term “Arabian Gulf” is mainly the result of a “successful public relations campaign undertaken in the name of geopolitical interests”.

It would be appreciated that the geographical error be rectified as soon as possible. Your attention to this matter is most appreciated.

About Phil Colla

I am a natural history photographer. I enjoy making compelling images in the ocean, on land, and in the air. I have maintained the Natural History Photography blog since 2005 and my searchable Natural History Photography Library since 1997. Here are some tear sheets and behind the scenes views. Thanks for looking!