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Is it Chicken Kiev or Kyiv? A Scrumptious Spelling Problem – Lesson

Spelling might be a more important subject than you thought.

When was the last time you had a spelling test at school? Spelling may seem like a dull topic, but the way words are written can have a big impact on how people see the world.

In the United Kingdom, the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain recently vowed to rename all its Chicken Kiev products to “Chicken Kyiv.” Why does this store want to change the labeling on these chicken products? And should everyone change the way they write the name of this tasty meal?

Spelling Out Your Worldview

Ukraine was recently invaded by Russia, and now people are changing the way they spell certain words to do with the nation. English-speaking countries used to write the Ukrainian capital city’s name “Kiev,” but the more popular spelling has suddenly changed to “Kyiv.” Why?

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‘Ukraine’ written in both the English and Cyrillic alphabets (photo by Daniel Harvey Gonzalez/In Pictures via Getty Images)

The English alphabet is based on the Latin script used in ancient Rome. The Latin alphabet is common in languages that share the same family as English. However, many other languages around the world use their own alphabet – or no alphabet at all! Russia and Ukraine both use versions of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Before it became independent in 1991, Ukraine was ruled by Russia. The two countries have different, but related, languages. Since there is no exact way to write Ukrainian or Russian words for English-readers, we have to write them using English letters. When you change a word from one alphabet to another, it’s called “transliteration.”

When it comes to the name of Ukraine’s capital, “Kiev” follows the Russian spelling of the name, while “Kyiv” is based on Ukraine’s method. So, changing to “Kyiv” is a way people have expressed support for Ukraine’s independence.


View of Kyiv’s central Independence Square (Photo by Mohammad Javad Abjoushak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Chicken Kiev or Chicken Kyiv?

The Sainsbury’s supermarket said it would take a few weeks to switch the packaging of its Chicken Kievs. It also decided to stop selling Russian products.

Australian store Woolworths made a similar move, changing the name of its own-brand Chicken Kiev products. “Woolworths gets it – Ukraine is different to Russia. Ukraine has its own language, its own culture, its own history,” said Stefan Romaniw, chairman of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations. “That’s why using the Russian spelling for the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in ‘Chicken Kiev’ has always offended Ukrainians.”

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(Photo by Bob Carey/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Chicken Kiev is a dish made from a chicken cutlet wrapped around a piece of butter and herbs, before being coated with egg and breadcrumbs. It’s then fried or baked. Nobody knows the exact origin of the dish, but some say it was created by French chefs working at the Russian royal court in the 1800s. Others claim it was invented in the luxury Continental hotel in Kyiv during the early 20th century. Either way, the dish soon became popular across Europe and America. But does its name really matter?

According to some social media users, the answer is yes. Not every store agrees, though, saying the change in spelling is not needed and would cause confusion.

No matter the name, Chicken Kiev has suddenly become more popular as a lunch or dinner option. British chef Laura Leaver launched the “Kievs4Kyiv” campaign, encouraging restaurants to sell the dish to raise money for Ukraine. “We’ve had restaurants and cafes as far away as LA and Singapore who are currently putting items on their menu,” she said.

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(Photo by Bob Carey/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

While the spelling issue has gained more attention due to the war, attempts to switch from “Kiev” to “Kyiv” started a few years ago. Ukraine’s government launched the “KyivNotKiev” campaign in 2018 to persuade English-speaking countries to change how they write the word.

What’s in a Name?

In the play Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” He meant that a rose would still be a rose no matter what name we give the flower.

Maybe the question people are asking today is, “Would a Chicken Kiev by any other name taste as delicious?”