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Why Countries Struggle With Their Names: Political and Historical Factors Behind Name Changes

  Modi knows how to hype.
  On September 9, the G20 Summit was held in New Delhi. The first headlines had nothing to do with the content of the meeting, but “India is changing its name.” On the official invitation letter in English, it was signed “The President of Bharat”.
  Bharat, also translated as “Bharat”, is the self-proclaimed name of Indians in Hindi. In the Indian constitution, its country name is interpreted as “India, that is, Bharat”. In the United Nations, both words are the registered country names of India. Indian folk also use words such as “Hindustan” to refer to the country.
  However, does the use of “Bharat” instead of “India” in the official English text indicate that India intends to change its English name? The Modi government has yet to respond directly, leaving only confusion and heated discussions among the public, which looks like a skillful hype process.
  Modi is not the only one making a fuss about the country’s name. According to the official website of the United Nations, excluding the changes in country names caused by the merger or division of countries, there are still more than 20 examples of country name modifications. There are also some leaders who have thought about changing the name. For example, former President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev once thought of removing the suffix “stan” from the country’s name. Mongolia has no “stan”, so it attracts many foreigners – the reason he gave is very strange.
  So, what is the magic power of a country’s name?
Bye, turkey

  According to outside analysis, Modi used “Bharat” at international summits to promote nationalism. “India” is what he calls it, and it is reminiscent of India’s humiliating colonial history.
  Another country that changed its name due to “decolonization” is Sri Lanka, an island country across the sea from India. It was once called “Ceylon” by the colonists. The West African country of Burkina Faso is another example. Its original name, “Upper Volta,” came from French colonizers. In 1984, the country was renamed in the local language, meaning “the country of honorable men”. The Philippines, which was historically colonized by Spain and named after its King Philip II, has also considered changing its name. From the dictator Marcos Sr. to the previous President Duterte, everyone has proposed changing the name. One alternative is “Maharika”, which refers to “military noble” in the local language.
  If India wants to change its country name, one possibility is to directly use “Bharat” as an English proper noun, similar to China changing its English country name from “China” to “Zhongguo”.
  This is what Swaziland did. In 2018, because he disliked that its English name was too similar to Switzerland (Switzerland), the King of Swaziland announced at the United Nations meeting that he would change the English name to “Swazi” with a similar spelling. Eswatini”.
  The same is true for Turkey, which is the latest country to change its name. In 2022, its English name was changed from “Turkey” to “Türkiye”, which is consistent with the Turkish spelling. Turkey changed its name because “Turkey” also means turkey in English and has negative connotations such as “loser”.
  However, unlike Swaziland, English is not the official language of Turkey. To be precise, Turkey is not changing the name of the country, but asking other countries to change their names. Similar to Georgia, their name is written “Sakartvelo” in Latin characters, but it is called “Georgia” in English, which has the same name as the American state of Georgia. Internationally, the mainstream language name for Georgia is a variation of “Georgia”. After 2011, Georgia lobbied other countries to call itself with a spelling close to “Sakartvelo”. South Korea and Lithuania have already changed their names. The Lithuanian government will also change the name as “a gift to Georgians.”
Carving on country name

  The pronunciation and spelling of the same country name in different languages ​​are similar, which generally indicates that they have a common origin. Just like China’s English name “China”, it is generally believed to be derived from the name for Qin in Sanskrit, and the same is true for the French name “Chine”. However, the name of China in Russian comes from Khitan, and its etymology is different from that of English and French.
  The situation in Germany is much more complex. Perhaps because it is located in the middle of Europe, the name of Germany in English is “Germany”, which originates from the ancient Roman name for the northern barbarians. In French, it becomes “Allemagne”, which originally refers to the Arabs active on the German-French border. The Lemani tribe, German in Finnish, is related to the Saxon tribes that raided the coast. But the Germans call their country Deutschland. China translated it as German, which is more in line with the principle of “name follows the owner”.
  Because other languages ​​may have different names for their own countries, some countries want to unify them. The Chinese name of Côte d’Ivoire was once Ivory Coast, which is a free translation from its French name and is called “Ivory Coast” in English. In 1985, at the request of the Côte d’Ivoire government, the country’s name was changed to transliteration. Another country making this effort is Cape Verde. After 2013, the name of Cape Verde in mainstream languages ​​such as English was unified to “Cabo Verde” in the official language Portuguese.
  However, changing the country’s name in other languages ​​requires consensual consent. In 2018, Belarus sent a letter to China requesting that the Chinese translation of its country name be changed to “Belarus”, but China did not respond. In fact, the Chinese name of Belarus is a historical issue. After independence from the Soviet Union, Belarus began to lobby other countries to translate its country name from Belarusian instead of Russian. In 1991, its English name was changed from “Byelorussia” to “Belarus”.
  Unlike Belarus, the Czech Republic successfully changed its English abbreviation alone in 2016, from “Czech” to “Czechia”, because the former can also refer to Czechs or Czechs, which is prone to ambiguity, and the full name Czech Republic is too cumbersome. Another country that has considered changing its name because it disliked its name being too long is Mexico. In 2012, its president said that the official country name “United States of Mexico” was too long and “imitated foreign countries” and that Mexico should be used directly.
  Some countries have changed their country names to longer and longer lengths, using them as billboards to promote certain ideas. In 1999, the Republic of Venezuela was renamed the “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” to commemorate the South American liberator. Bolivia changed its name to the “Plurinational State of Bolivia” in 2009 to reflect the country’s respect for indigenous peoples. Guyana describes itself as a “cooperative republic”, with “cooperative” referring to the country’s implementation of a socialist system.
The battle between name and reality

  The struggle over the name of the country is not “carving on A4 paper”, it will directly affect reality – at least that’s what Greece thinks. In 2018, Macedonia changed its name to “North Macedonia” in exchange for Greece not blocking its accession to NATO and the EU. Greece asked its neighbors to change their name because they believed Macedonia was part of the “ancient Greek world” and that modern Macedonians have nothing to do with ancient Greek culture. The two countries argued over the country’s name for 27 years, which exceeded the number of years Alexander the Great ruled the Macedonian Empire.
  In Myanmar, real-world conflicts have made the otherwise neutral name of the country important. In 1989, after the Myanmar military government came to power, the country’s English name was changed from “Burma” to “Myanmar”. Opposition parties such as Aung San Suu Kyi insist on using the former, as do European and American countries that support the opposition. In 2011, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar. In order to avoid controversy, she could only use “this country” vaguely in her speech. According to a reporter from The Economist in Myanmar, the pronunciation of the two English words in the local language is similar, and ordinary Burmese people use them interchangeably. Only older and old-fashioned European tourists often correct others’ names. Act as a “national policeman”.
  Precisely because changing a country’s name is not a matter of wishful thinking, whether a new country name can spread depends on the user’s willingness to accept it. According to statistics from a Google database of more than 5 million English prints, it took 5 years for Zimbabwe to replace Rhodesia; 10 years for Sri Lanka to surpass Ceylon; and 20 years for “Myanmar” to catch up with “Burma”. Year.
  Therefore, even if India wants to change the country’s name to Bharat, it will take a long process before people around the world will accept it. Lawmakers from the opposition Indian National Congress said that “India” has been a brand accumulated for hundreds of years and should not be abandoned. On social platforms, some South Asian netizens said that if India does not want the name “India”, Pakistan should try to fight for it. After all, the Indus River that this word refers to is now flowing in Pakistan.

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