Renamed Countries and Cities

Jonah Andersson January 18, 2012
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Names go in and out of fashion just like clothes, so it’s no surprise that even vast entities like countries like to change their name from time to time. We take the name of our country for granted, but tracing it back to its origins can take you on a fascinating voyage of discovery. Possibly even more fascinating is learning why modern states elect to renamed countries, or cities within.

Name changes can be motivated by many different factors be they political economic or religious, but whenever the change officially occurs, what follows is a long procurement period for the rest of the world to recognize and acclimatize with the name change. What follows is a list of recent name changes.

Original: Pretoria

New: Tshwane

Why? This name has not yet been confirmed but Kgosientso Ramokgopa, mayor of Pretoria insists that by the end of 2012, the name will be changed to Tshwane, and 21 of its streets named in accordance with the victims of the 1985 Mamelodi Massacre.

Original: Bombay

New: Mumbai

Why? Possibly one of the most famous instances of re-naming, ‘Mumbai was actually introduced in 1995 when the Shiv Shena party won the Maharashtra state elections and demand that Bombay be scraped because it had associations with British colonial rule.

Original: Peking

New: Beijing

Why? This one isn’t technically a name change, at least not to the Chinese. They’ve always pronounced their capital city in the same way, it’s just that Chinese words came to be spelled differently in English when the ‘People’s republic of China came into effect and a new ‘transliteration method was adopted in 1949. It was only in the 1980s when China began to push the ‘Beijing’ name around the world that it became widely recognized.


Original: Burma

New: Myanmar

Why? This is very similar to the Peking/Beijing case in that Myanmar has always been the name of the country as far as its inhabitants are concerned, having been spelled that way for decades, it is pronounced ‘Bama’ however hence why ‘Burma’ stuck as a name. Recognition of the Myanmar name is inconsistent however, and some countries such as the U.S and U.K still refer to the country as ‘Burma’. This is one of the renamed countries known today.

Original: Ceylon

New: Sri Lanka

Why? The Ceylon name is a hangover from British colonialism, and was in fact a modification of the name for the country originally coined by Portuguese explorers. Although Sri Lanka has held its name since 1972, the famous Ceylon tea brand from Sri Lanka remains since it is synonymous with quality.

Original: USSR

New: Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, etc.

Why? The USSR was a large socialist state which existed between 1922 and 1991. When the communist regime collapsed, different ethnic groups, all using different languages and alphabets, split into separate countries as the Russian empire struggled to implement blanket economic and social standards across the wide Diaspora of communities.

Original: Saigon

New: Ho Chi Minh City

Why? This city’s name changed after a new communist leader Ho Chi Minh, decided to name the city after himself, the boundaries of the city also expanded to encompass a much larger surrounding area. As with other entries on this list, the two names are interchangeable, and in some instances used alongside each other in guidebooks, but it is a generally accepted rule that in Ho Chi Minh city, some districts are referred to as ‘Saigon’.


Original: Hiroshima

New: Kitahiroshima

Why? Kitahiroshima is located on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan and was renamed from Hiroshima in 1996 to differentiate itself from then-identically named and more famous city of Hiroshima in southern Japan. Confusingly, Hiroshima also has a province called Kitahiroshima.




Joe is a travel blogger who has often been confused by re-named countries and cities. He hopes nothing’s changed when he goes on his Rome holidays later this year!

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