Myanmar vs. Burma. Which do you prefer?
“Even old New York was once New Amsterdam.
“Why they changed it I can’t say.
“People just liked it better that way.”
So go the lyrics, in part, to the old swing standard “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” a song that makes mirth of the human, and very political, tendency to rename cities and countries.
The reigning example of this fickle tradition is surely Myanmar. Or is that Burma?
The question remains more open than ever after opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi recently stated that she sees nothing wrong with calling her country Burma.
“I call my country ‘Burma’ as we did a long time ago,” Suu Kyi said in a July speech, as reported by Foreign Policy. “Because I believe in democracy, I’m sure that I can call it as I like.”
The country’s now-defunct ruling military junta officially changed the English name of the county from Burma to Myanmar in 1989.
Rangoon became Yangon at roughly the same time.
The difference in the names exists only in English, not the local language. Burma itself is likely a local corruption of the word Myanmar.
Which name do you use?
Changing brand names isn’t so easy. Myanmar was recognized by the United Nations, but not by the United Kingdom and other countries, which continued to use Burma.
Touring Southeast Asia this year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sidestepped the issue by conspicuously avoiding using either Myanmar or Burma in speeches and talks with regional officials, referring instead to “this country.”
Some have suggested that those who used Myanmar were being soft and too compliant with the country’s former oppressive military regime.
Burma -- which resonates with either romance or oppressive colonialism, depending on your point of view -- does tend to roll off the English tongue a bit easier than Myanmar.
For whatever reason, Burma has never fallen out of use around the English-speaking world, to the chagrin of Myanmar boosters.
Incensed over Suu Kyi’s repeated use of Burma during trips abroad this summer, Myanmar’s election commission ordered the activist and political leader not to use the name Burma.
“As it is prescribed in the constitution that ‘The state shall be known as The Republic of the Union of Myanmar,’ no one has the right to call [the country] Burma,” the election commission said in a statement, as reported by Australia Network News.
Not surprisingly, Suu Kyi remains unfazed by the criticism.
As Myanmar continues to open itself up to international tourism, the importance of the distinction will likely be brought into sharper relief.
We’d like to know which side you’re on.
Which do you use: Myanmar or Burma? Let us know in the comments section below, or go to our Facebook poll and cast a vote.