Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Name changes

Beijing was Peking, but now it's Beijing. So what am I eating, Beijing duck?

One by one, the distinctive place names of the 19th Century are slipping away. Saigon had a better ring to it than Ho Chi Minh City. Bombay became Mumbai. Persia became Iran. Burma became Myanmar.

Congo declared itself Zaire, then changed its mind and went back to Congo.

A friend of mine in Calcutta tells me it's now Kolkata.

What's with all the name changes? Pick a name. Own it. Love it.

(formerly Ben)


John C. said...

One of my tasks as a copy editor at EB is to make sure that people's birthplaces and deathplaces accurately reflect the name of city and country at the time of birth or death. But we also like to let the reader know what the current name is, too, so you'll see entries like "Jan. 15, 1936, Gaberones, Bechuanaland [now Gaborone, Botswana]--Oct. 9, 1987, Leningrad, USSR [now St. Petersburg, Russia]." This also requires having a good familiarity with when a particular country may have become independent, since we'll use the designation "British India" or "French Sudan" before said time. It can seem pedantic, but in the course of my work I wind up reading about countries' colonial histories or why a city's name was changed, which is invariably interesting.

ckoh71 said...

hi ben, nice blog. jason topaz told me you had a blog too, so i thought i'd check it out. yours is rather well written and thoughtful - unlike my sloppy, half-assed one.
anyway a few responses:

1) yes, you are eating beijing duck. beijing kaoya to be precise. it was always beijing - peking is just some white guy's interpretation of what beijing sounded like i guess.

2) people in saigon still call it saigon. i don't know any vietnamese who call it ho chi minh city.

3) i think alot of these supposed name changes come from the fact that stupid americans or europeans impose some kind of romanization on foreign sounding names. how did firenze become florence? that just seems stupid to me. we'd be pretty pissed if foreigners started calling chicago "geekahgoh" or something silly & spelling it that way too.

hope that doesn't sound pissy - just an observation:)

keep up the blog!

chris koh