What's in a name? For Iran, it seems, enough to warrant legal action over its absence.

The Islamic Republic threatened litigation against Internet giant Google Thursday over removing the label "Persian Gulf" from its maps. Arab countries surrounding the waterway refer to it as the Arabian Gulf, a point of contention for Iran's proud Persians.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that if Google doesn't change its labels, it could sustain serious damage, according to Iranian Press TV.

“Toying with modern technologies in political issues is among the new measures by the enemies against Iran," he said.

Google unwittingly sparked the conflict in early May, when it dropped the name “Persian Gulf” from the body of water separating Iran from the Arabian Peninsula. It declined to call it the “Arabian Gulf” or simply “the Gulf,” either, perhaps making its 250,000 square kilometers 97,000 square miles) the biggest landmark on Google Maps to go nameless.

Google’s decision came only days after Iran’s “National Day of the Persian Gulf,” which is marked April 30 to commemorate the 16th-century battle in which the Iranian Navy defeated the Portuguese. A spokesman for Google couldn’t immediately provide any comment on the decision or why it was taken now.

The dispute has taken on an added dimension as the two sides spar over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Saudi Arabia and most of the other Gulf Arab powers have sided with the West in seeking to rein in Tehran and have accused Iranian leaders of fomenting Shiite unrest in their Sunni-majority countries.

Iran framed the Persian Gulf name change as part of a bigger battle with the West and its Arab allies. “The efforts of the [global] arrogance and its Arab allies to remove the name of the Persian Gulf will result in its name becoming more durable,” said Dorri, using the government’s code word for the US.

The name-calling issue has put outsiders in an awkward position.

Tehran banned National Geographic from newsstands and barred its reporters in 2004 after it published a world atlas that called the waterway the “Persian Gulf” but added the words “Arabian Gulf” in brackets. Demanding a "correction", Tehran promptly banned the American-owned magazine from Iran. The magazine surrendered.

Even the US Navy has annoyed the Iranians. Before it dispatched the aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln to the area, the navy ordered all personnel in 2010 to call it the Arabian Gulf. When word got out, angry messages began piling up on its Facebook page.

Google seems to have taken a different tact on its Google Earth site, which shows the planet’s natural contours with an overlay of human borders and place names. As of Monday, the waterway was called both the Persian Gulf and the Arabia Gulf, the latter placed below.

The Media Line Contributed to this report.

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