Dating back to the use of the telegraph for communication, a need arose to abbreviate the names of towns and cities. It is just shorter to write Asd instead of Amsterdam, or Ut instead of Utrecht. A list of such abbreviations is still sometimes referred to as the list of telegraaf verkortingen (literal: telegraph shortenings). Here, we will refer to the list as plaatsnaam afkortingen (town name abbreviations).
The habit of abbreviating city names has continued for a long time, up to and including uses in:
- Telecommunication networks
- The Dutch KPN has an extensive list for their (e.g. the Dutch KPN uses a list for their telephony network). This list is still in use, and even used for contemporary networks such as the Dutch SURFnet. The list of KPN Nummercentrale (Dutch PTT telephony stations) contains 1360 locations.
- The railways were one of the first users of telegraphs, and still uses the abbreviations. The Dutch Railway published the Overzicht Geografische Verkortingen 1921-1987 and the Lijst van Verkortingen (1983). Al together, these lists of station abbreviations contain over 3000 entries, of which 1184 to 1532 are still current (in use after 2000).
- United Nations LOCODE
- The United Nation keeps a list of all communities worldwide, the United Nations Code for Trade and Transport Locations (UN/LOCODE). The list of Dutch UN/LOCODE contains 1239 entries.
- The IATA assigned 3-letter abbreviations to cities with an airport. Similarly, ICAO assigned 4-letter abbreviations to airports. IATA defines 14 Dutch airports and another 24 railway stations. ICAO defines 28 Dutch airports and airfields, as well as the Dutch meteorological institute.
Of course, despite the common descent (the telegraph abbreviations) of the list in use for computer networks and the railways, both lists differ. For example, the Dutch national airport, Schiphol, is listed as AMS (for Amsterdam) by the IATA code, as EHAM by ICAO, as Shl by the railways, as Asd-Spl by telecommunication networks, and as NL SPL by UN LOCODE. Five different names.