Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bone picking

With Obama visiting Myanmar, of course it’s going to be in the news once again. NPR makes a point every time they mention this country to say “Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.”
Now I sometimes find this helpful but also wonder why they do this? I can’t recall ever hearing them do this for any other country.
There’s along list of countries who have changed their names for a variety of reasons:
Serbia and Croatia – used to be part of Yugoslavia. I don’t hear them saying “The Czech Republic, formerly called Czechoslovakia.”
They don’t say Taiwan, formerly Formosa.
How about Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia?
We didn’t hear “Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan” when the Tsunami hit years ago.
How about Sri Lanka? Ceylon is much easier to say but nobody uses it anymore.
Unless you are familiar with the King and I, we forget Thailand used to be Siam. “We are Siamese, if you please.”
And let’s not even try to list all the countries that were “formerly part of the USSR.”
If we are going for accuracy then whether we like it or not, we should use their current names. I kept wanting to say Peking for years when the rest of the world moved to Beijing.
If the goal is to help people recall a little bit of history then lets teach some history.
Syria used to be considered a part of Egypt for a while. (some 20th century Arab alignment thing.)
Iraq and Jordan were a combined entity for a time. Anybody remember TransJordan?
Geographically and otherwise our world has changed a lot in the last century or so. Naming is just one part of it. Good luck if your World Atlas was printed last century. Good luck if you are still using a world atlas.
Anybody remember Guanahani? Me neither. In 1492 Columbus christened it Isla Juana. We now know it as Cuba.

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