Sunday, November 30, 2008

Old names vs. new

When I first heard of the floods in Myanmar, I said... "WHERE?"

Then I read on Aftonbladet's Web site that the floods happened in Burma. "Aha!" I thought. "I know where THAT is!"

Our newspaper wrote about local reactions to the shootings in Mumbai, and I overheard editor Jordan ask someone about "Bombay." Wait a minute! That's the same town! Again, Aftonbladet wrote about Bombay.

Turns out, the city changed its name to Mumbai in 1995, but the name Bombay is "still popularly used in the West." Not in the United States, apparently.

While Myanmar has not officially been adopted as a country name by the U.S. government, according the CIA fact book, the United Nations approve of it since a country can be called whatever it wants to where they are concerned. The name is somewhat of a derivative of the full official name of the country, but because the military authorities are trying to promote it, most other countries deny its use. The U.S. media only uses the new name - Myanmar.

What does that say about the United States? What does it say about the media?

We should all use the name that is accurate, but at the same time, isn't it better to use the name that people know? People are caring less and less about the rest of the world, and if they constantly have to learn new names of countries and cities, they might just give up altogether. Especially when that country goes back to being called what it was called 10 years ago because a new ruler took over.


bl00m said...

I thought the press were split about using Burma or Myanmar. AP and reuter seem to use the latter and Washington Post the former.

Vickan said...

I haven't read the Washington Post, but that's very interesting! I'll have to check it out. AP definitely uses Myanmar, as do most of the newspapers then that use AP copy.

It is still fascinating to me that there is no universal decision on what towns or countries should be called - it can be different even in two newspapers in the same city, apparently.

bl00m said...

I think I first read about how the different decisions are made here

(does linking work in comments?)

BTW, wouldn't it be interesting to find out if people feel different about a country named Myanmar, compared to Burma? If the latter is more connected with dictatorship or something like that.