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2022-11-28 20:45:41

Why do countries change their established names?

Why do countries change their established names?

The Indigenous Maori People's Party of New Zealand (Te Pāti Māori) has proposed changing the name of the country to its original name, Aotearoa, and has already collected 70,000 signatures on such a petition. Where did such a proposal come from and why do countries change their usual names? Let's try to figure it out.


What's wrong with New Zealand

New Zealand was discovered by James Cook, he also proposed the name Nieuw Zeeland in honor of one of the Dutch provinces (actually, Zeeland). Then the navigators of the Old World did not bother with names at all: the same New York was originally New Amsterdam, and New York itself is only "new York" (a famous historical city in England).

The Maori, the indigenous people of Australia, called this land differently. True, they also did not bother too much about the names and tied everything to the local demigod Maui:

  • North Island - "fish belonging to Maui": Te Ika-a-Maui,
  • South Island - "boat belonging to Maui": Te Waca-a-Maui,
  • Stewart Island is the "anchor stone of the Maui boat": Te Punga o Te Waka-a-Maui , etc.

Ateoaroa is translated as "long white cloud": according to legend, the navigator noticed a large white cloud on the horizon, which foreshadowed close land. After the boat actually landed on the island, a satisfied sailor named the land after this cloud.

Now Ateoaroa, by the way, for New Zealanders the word is quite familiar: it is displayed on their passports along with the "global" name, is in the anthem, on banknotes, etc. The question here is rather in national identity. Maori now account for only 16.5 per cent of new Zealanders: they have declined dramatically since European colonisation, which brought alcohol and firearms to the islands. So the locals believe that they have the right to at least restore historical justice.

There are more European toponyms in the country than traditional Polynesian ones, but the latter hold firm and even win back their right in some cases. For example, the city of Wanganui became Whanganui – the difference seems small, but this is a more original pronunciation of the local indigenous people. In 2016, several "intolerant" names disappeared from the country – Nigger Hill, Niggerhead and Nigger Stream – which were replaced by national Maori specialties.

Why do they change the names of the city and the country at all?

For a variety of reasons, this is in short. In more detail, let's look at a few bright and original examples.

  • Swaziland. In 2018, the country was renamed Eswatini: they say, so Swaziland (Swaziland) will finally cease to be confused with Switzerland (Switherland). How can I tell you ... Countries are definitely not confused, there is a very different standard of living here: take at least the fact that Swaziland is the "leader" in the incidence of HIV. Rebranding is a very expensive thing, and even more so at the state level: it is necessary to change the constitution, official bodies and authorities, license plates, banknotes, national airlines, official government portals – and their representations in international organizations ... and even football uniforms! In short, it costs no less than $ 8 million (and then according to the estimate of 2018), so the question of approval of the rebranding by citizens has become unusually acute: they say, you have nowhere to put the money at all?

  • Myanmar. For a long time it was called Burma (this name was given by the British colonizers), and the locals originally called the country Bama. In 1989, there was a military coup and Burma became the Union of Myanmar – but foreign politicians would be wrong.
  • Macedonia. One of the countries formed after the collapse of Yugoslavia took the name macedonia - but then the Greeks loudly protested. They have the eponymous region, which borders on the "new" Macedonia. The Greeks prevented the Macedonians from entering the EU, the "new" Macedonia filed a lawsuit in the Hague court... In general, in 2018 they came to a consensus: the former Yugoslav republic is called North Macedonia.

  • Cambodia. Oh, she changed the name many times! When the country was ruled by the Khmer Rouge, it was Democratic Kampuchea, then Vietnam took control and called it the People's Republic of Kampuchea, then control passed to the UN, which began to call the country the State of Cambodia ... Finally, the "real" name returned in 1993: the Kingdom of Cambodia.
  • Burkina Faso. Here, a fly in the ointment was constantly put into the translation of the name: Burkina Faso used to be called Upper Volta. But for each language, such a name was translated, respectively, in its own way: in French - Haute Volta, in English - Upper Volta, in Spanish - Alto Volta. As a result, the country was called more unambiguously - Burkina Faso ("land of honest people" in translation). For the same reason, Côte d'Ivoire suffers (many do not use this official name, but translate "Ivory Coast" into their language), but Cape Verde once and for all declared - they say, we are Cape Verde, and period, no translations of "Cape Verde Island"!

There are also situations when the official name of the country does not change, but national representatives insist on certain exonyms. An exonym is the way a country and population are called by foreigners, in other languages. Finns and Finland live in Suomi. Japan themselves are called Nippon by the Japanese, etc. What exonyms do they plan to revise, change or ban?

  • Turkey. Turks are tired of the fact that the Latin spelling of their country coincides with the fat bird symbolizing Thanksgiving, and now instead of Turkey abroad they will be called Türkiye.
  • Georgia. In view of the conflict at the beginning of the XXI century, Georgia is not very positive about the fact that foreigners call it "Georgia". We recommend using the positive national "Sakartvelo". Lithuanians even adopted the country's spelling as Gruzija or Sakartvelas.
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Egor Eremeev
Current material has been prepared by Egor Eremeev
Education: Westminster University (Business & Management), London.
Egor studied and lived in the UK for 8 years and graduated from the university of Westminster. He is currently the co-founder and the director of business development at Smapse Education and personally visits foreign schools and universities, interviews students studying in those institutions.
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