December 26, 2008

The place name that changed, then changed back

Which country is this?

It's almost forgotten now, but, in the manner of Bombay-->Mumbai, in the middle of the 20th Century, one well-known Western European state recurrently tried to persuade Anglophones to call it by a name almost unknown in English. I recall that many maps and globes I saw as a child in the 1960s used this obscure term as the main name for this country, with its famous English name in smaller type in parentheses below.

My cousins were attending school in this country when I visited them in 1965. They complained about having to take classes in the indigenous tongue, saying that English was the language of the future. Whiny snot-nosed teens they may have been, but they were right.

Got it by now?

Emphasizing the local name over the celebrated English name was an anti-English-colonialist gesture, same as changing Bombay to Mumbai (with, same as in India, the added bonus of pleasing some locals and displeasing others). But in this case, it didn't stick because it was too confusing and too inconvenient for foreigners, so the locals have largely given up on the name change, just as they have largely given upon the language. To this day, only this indigenous name appears on postage stamps, but the American media have largely given up using the new name and gone back to the more familiar old name.

Wikipedia gives an example of common-sense prevailing in this country:

From 1938 to 1962 the international plate on Irish cars was marked "EIR", short for Éire.[citation needed] In 1922-1938 it was "SE", and from 1962 "IRL" has been adopted. Irish politician, Bernard Commons TD suggested to the Dáil in 1950 that the government examine "the tourist identification plate bearing the letters EIR" "with a view to the adoption of identification letters more readily associated with this country by foreigners".[4] The amendment was effected under the Road Traffic Act 1961.

So, the lesson appears to be, once again, that non-Europeans get to change what Anglophones in the West call their historic places, but Europeans don't.

By the way, this is a different situation from the country on the opposite side of England insisting upon being called The Netherlands rather than the traditional Holland. Holland refers only to the culturally dominant coastal stretch that contains the big cities, but only 13% of the land area. It's the analog of using England to refer to Great Britain or the United Kingdom. It makes sense to choose a new name when incorporating a larger region or shrinking (e.g., Montenegro).

But, today, the main examples of European countries getting to change their placenames, following the dropping of some dictators' names at the end of the Cold War, is that Ukraine has talked the media into not referring to it as The Ukraine.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Ok, so Ireland beats Eire. Score one for the Luddites.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why some people are so resistant to new names. The world does change, and we need to keep up.

michael farris said...

It's not quite so simple with Ireland and Irish.

The prestige of English played a role, a very large one. But a lot also has to do with the structure of the independence movement.

Other European independence movements basically started with culture, cultivating the traditional language, granting academic status to studies of tradition and folklore and built the political movement out of that (like Catalonia at present).
Quite unusually for Europe, the Irish independence movement began with politics and only got around to culture a lot later (with mixed results).

And .... not to put too fine a point on it, but centuries of English misrule had effectively killed off most of the Irish speaking population. Up until the potato famine about half the population still spoke Irish as a first language but the Irish speaking areas were the hardest hit by the famine (and the least helped by outside aid). Irish speakers emigrated at far higher rates than the rest of the population. Had the famine not happened or relief been more efficient the base of Irish speakers could have been large enough to build upon and there could have been language shift to Irish (like the shift from Swedish to Finnish in Finnland).

English has always been a double edged sword for Ireland. At present it's probably one of the reasons that Ireland is one of the principle immigration goals in Europe. In a few years, your cousins (if they're Irish) may wish that they had an opaque language to discourage outsiders from settling.

michael farris said...

"There is also the language affinity between Ireland and many African countries.
English is Ireland’s most spoken language and the language of bureaucracy and
this fact motivates many English-speaking Africans to come to Ireland. Migration
scholars argue that people will most likely immigrate to destinations where the
same language is spoken as in their home countries."

Anonymous said...

I think the "Bombay -> Mumbai" analogy is incorrect. "Mumbai" isn't "Bombay" rendered in some other language, it's an entirely new name - the municipality didn't start insisting that people refer to it using their indigenous tongue, rather they up and changed the name of the city entirely.

As an example, if Germans suddenly started insisting that non-Germans started referring to "Munich" as "Munchen", that would be an example of them insisting that English-speakers use the German-language signifier for the city. What's happened in Bombay/Mumbai is more akin to the city deciding to change the name of the city to "Merkelville".

Anonymous said...

The Ukraine, The Lebanon, The Argentine ... I remember them all. Perhaps we should reserve "Eire" for the reactionary, priest-ridden, third world little dump, and Republic of Ireland for the modern country? I don't think we should call it "Ireland": it only encourages them in their ethnic-cleansing ambitions for the North.

Anonymous said...

"Ukraine has talked the media into not referring to it as The Ukraine.

Makes no difference to the Ukrainians (or the Russians), since the Slavic languages have no definite articles.

Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken, the Ireland-to-Eire change was part of a nationwide campaign to make Gaelic a sort of co-equal language with English. That campaign was generally unsuccessful, and therefore "Ireland" remained as the country's official name.

Anonymous said...

My Anglo-American god-child is being raised in Ireland and learns Irish (gaelic) as a matter of course, along with her Irish classmates. Just as Welsh children take lessons in their language. It's considered culturally important, even though it isn't the language of common usage - or the future. But then Latin and Greek aren't, either.

I address my letters (from England) to Eire, not the Republic of Ireland. They get there.

Anonymous said...

Steve -

With all due respect, I'm getting tired of reading ancedotes about how the white European-derived men continue to relinquish their own power, birthrights, institutions to the "Other"'s double-standards.

Why? It has nothing to do with your reporting, or your own brilliant insights.

It has to do with the fact that white European-derived men in positions of power (the "white male" elite, if you will) are apparently ball-less, spine-less wonders who are never going to do anything about it. It's watching suicide in slow motion.

Please tell me where I'm going wrong.

Thanks, and happy new year

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but how about digging up some good info on another corrupt family of middle eastern extraction, Robert Toussie, who's son was recently pardoned, then unpardoned by Bush.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of this, I've learned (from someone just returned from there) that among politically correct Westerners, there's a return to the "Bombay" name, because "Mumbai" was the coinage of the Hindu nationalists.

Anonymous said...

To this day, only this indigenous name appears on postage stamps....

These more recent stamps (sadly) give an indication of Ireland's "multi-culti" future:

Chinese Year of the Rat 2008

(At least Éire was actually Irish.)

Average Joe said...

Actually Eire is the name of Ireland in Gaelic not in English. It was generally British people who used the name "Eire" in English as a way to distance it from Northern Ireland. Interestingly, many British people in Northern Ireland prefer to use the name "Ulster" for that region even though that is the Gaelic name for the area.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, what business do non-article-using Slav speakers have telling English speakers when and when not to use the definite article?

Anonymous said...

So Ireland is the Democratic Republic of the Congo of Europe, and Eire was its Zaire phase? Sorry, bad joke.

Anonymous said...

In choosing English over Gaelic, the Irish people proved they are interested in money, rather than tradition. So why not carry the principle over to labeling their country? There is a clear precedent in the selling of naming rights to U.S. sports stadiums. Given the major benefits Ireland has reaped from the location of high-tech firms in (the country formerly known as Eire), they could just rename the entire country "Microsoft," for the right price, of course.

Anonymous said...

Do you know where Alba is? The BBC has re-named its Scottish service BBC Alba to the bemusement of most Scots.

Especially those who, like me, did not know that Alba was the gaelic name for Scotland.

Today, speaking Scots-gaelic is strictly a Stuff White People Like activity in Scotland. It is a middle class lifestyle hobby for our doctors, lawyers and the growing army of administrators.

The language itself plays little part in the real lives of most Scots.

According to wikipedia it is spoken by 58,000 in Scotland. I would say that at a conservative estimate that is about ten times more than the case.

That probably includes all those who say Sláinte when sinking a glass of whisky.

In reality native speakers are located in a few scattered communities in the outer hebrides. Scotland today probably has more Polish speakers.

And yet, probably for the purposes of empire building, BBC Scotland insists on ramming it down our throats.

Take a look at the BBC Scotland pages and look at the programme titles in incomprehensible gaelic. A complete turn off for the 98% of Scots who don't speak it.

Barry Wood

Dennis Mangan said...

Then there's Switzerland, whose official name, Confoederatio Helvetica, is in a language spoken by no one in the country, and is not called that by any of the natives or anyone else either.

Anonymous said...

Steve. The only people in my lifetime, 43, to use Eire were the English Tory media, or rabid Unionists like Paisley. It was always a put down. Irish is now the language of the future here. The locals are increasingly sending children to Irish language schools (more opening every year) to avoid the huge African invasion of many areas. Changed, changed utterly.

Anonymous said...

This isn't exactly the same, but Cape Canaveral was renamed Cape Kennedy in 1963. The move was not popular in that heavily Republican area of Florida, and the name was changed back in 1973.

Jim O said...

I'm delighted about Ukraine. Now, if we can just do something about "The Bronx," all that is left in New York of the Broncke family.

Anonymous said...

"The locals are increasingly sending children to Irish language schools (more opening every year) to avoid the huge African invasion of many areas."

Heh. But as soon as the powers that be figure that out, they'll probably defund such schools as racist. Irish nationalism was only useful to such powers while it was only opposed to English nationalism. If it's mostly opposed to Third Worlders, or if its byproducts are used by the Irish to avoid Third Worlders, then it's not useful to these powers at all. It becomes the enemy.

When examined, many aspects of the PC universe reveal hierarchies of PC-ness. And of course these hierarchies are the same as the ones revealed by public stereotypes and by pre-PC anthropology. What a surprise.

Anonymous said...

Here in England I address mail to Ireland as Eire. But then Im of an age to remember thats what we were supposed to call it.

I believe that working knowledge of Irish is required for employment in the civil service. Thats handy for reserving jobs for the Irish also I suspect acts as something of an IQ bottleneck keeping out some of the riff-raff. As Latin did in the British civil service.

Anon's god-child may learn gaelic in school but said god-child will forget most of it due to lack of use - just like its classmates.

Slightly O/T I remember a friend from the Isle of Man laughing about a family member who was part of a manx language group. The group, who after they adjourned to the pub, would proceed to speak in english to each other.

Anonymous said...

they'll probably defund such schools as racist. Irish nationalism was only useful to such powers while it was only opposed to English nationalism. If it's mostly opposed to Third Worlders, or if its byproducts are used by the Irish to avoid Third Worlders, then it's not useful to these powers at all.

Spot on.

Such schools might well continue un-state funded or not. Since Irish/white children will continue outperform their vibrant classmates Irish lessons will be identified as the magic ingredient in their success. So look then for the state to impose Irish language teaching all the more in that case. That will be the cover for attacking academic white flight.

Anonymous said...

Irish speakers emigrated at far higher rates than the rest of the population.

Was there once a large Irish-only-speaking population in the US, or did most of the emigrants speak English as well, giving up Irish almost immediately upon arrival? There's not much evidence today that the US ever had a large Irish-speaking population. Not to say that there wasn't such a population; but, if there was, it seems to have disappeared without a trace in a way that other immigrant languages did not. Large-scale German immigration, for example, came only a couple of decades later but left a very visible legacy. Ditto immigration by Swedish-, Italian- and Yiddish-speaking groups.

The Ukraine, The Lebanon, The Argentine

"The Lebanon"? Do you mean the Levant? That was never a name for a particular country but rather for the entire eastern Mediterranean area, which included Lebanon but also all or parts of many other countries at various times. It's largely a historical term now.

Anonymous said...

"Was there once a large Irish-only-speaking population in the US, or did most of the emigrants speak English as well, giving up Irish almost immediately upon arrival? There's not much evidence today that the US ever had a large Irish-speaking population."

I believe in Michael Barone's book The New Americans, he noted that in the first waves of the Irish Catholic immigration which began in the 1830s and 1840s, up to a third of the immigrants spoke little or no English. That would seem to indicate if one went to Boston or NYC before the Civil War there would have been at least a noticeable Gaelic population.
You're right however, that population did seem to disappear quite rapidly.

Anonymous said...

Gaelic persisted more among Scottish Highland immigrants than among the Irish. The Scottish Highlands had not been under British rule as long as Ireland, and perhaps as a result the Highland Scots were even more isolated and less educated than rural Irish Catholics.

Anonymous said...

The Thai sensibly never made a point of ramming "Krung Thep", the native form, down our throats instead of the international "Bangkok".
(BTW, What's wrong with "Thailanders" instead of The Thai?)

michael farris said...

If I were Irish, I'd push for legislation making a working knowledge of Irish (including not easy exams) compulsory for naturalization along with strict limits on residency.

That wouldn't effect EU migrants (who don't need to be naturalized) but it could help put a dent in migration from outside Europe (esp if residency permits were enforced).

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, if the PC crowd is going back to "Bombay" then I'll stick with "Mumbai". And if "Mumbai" was coined by Hindu nationalists, so much the better. I'm not a Hindu but I sympathize with nationalist movements of many types. We need more of them in America.

I also admire the Hindus because they continue to proudly use the swastika (an ancient symbol of theirs), and they just don't care if it makes a bunch of silly westerners uncomfortable. That's the kind of attitude we need more of in this country.

Maybe I should move over there. I'm starting to think America is too far gone to be salvageable.

Anonymous said...

Next two on the list are Vlaanders and Wallonia which will go back to France. Can't wait for that EU poster-child, Belgium, to come apart.

Anonymous said...

When I started reading your post, I thought you meant Helvetia, or maybe Suomi.

michael farris said...

IINM the Mumbai-Bombay issue is a linguistic one. Basically in Hindi (national official language) it's Bambai (roughly) and Mumbai is the Marathi pronunciation. Bombay is in the Marathi speaking state of Maharashtra and it's one of the three main Indian languages in the city (along with Gujarati and Hindi).

I'll also say that this kind of thing is part of the price of the popularity of English. No one cares what the city is called in Swedish or Japanese but if English is used widely and internationally everywhere is going to want to import their own toponyms into it.
Not that big an issue overall.

Anonymous said...

When did Moldavia become Moldova?

James Kabala said...

Don't forget the gradual evolution of Roumania to Rumania to Romania. As late as the early 1990s Time (my only source for world news when I was a pre-teen) used Rumania until they were convinced to change by a stern letter from the Romanian embassy. Nowadays people regularly refer to "Ceausescu's Romania" even though English speakers still generally called it Rumania at the time.

Anonymous said...

We need the word Eire in English. In Gaelic it just means Ireland (previously Anglicised as Erin), but in English it means the actual national territory of the independent Irish nation. Otherwise we have to say "Republic of Ireland", as tho' the nation were defined by its form of government, or "the 26 counties". Eire can be applied retrospectively to the Irish Free State, as in "the population of Eire increased by X% between 1925 and 1975". It's a considerable inconvenience that the word Eire is not generally recognised.

"In choosing English over Gaelic, the Irish people proved they are interested in money, rather than tradition." Or perhaps that they have made English their own, with brilliant success. Ireland has probably produced more great writers (in English) than any other population of the same size; and now that English literature is the world literature (whatever Nobel judges may think) it would be perverse of the Irish to drop out of it. The great (and bilingual) Flann O'Brien referred to "the portion of the English language that the Irish people have taken under their management".

James Kabala said...

Another example of gradual evolution is White Russia to Byelorussia to (upon independence) Belarus. I think it was also independence that changed Moldavia to Moldova, as previously mentioned. So Eastern Europe is a fairly common place for small changes to be made and accepted (besides the aforementioned and the Ukraine, I think Jugoslavia and even Servia were once standard English spellings).

In Italy, Leghorn (which I think even the strongest defender of standard Anglophone terms would have to admit sounded silly) successfully became Livorno.