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11 Countries That Changed Their Names

A look at why countries have changed their names will make you realize that it’s mostly due to land divisions, changes in government, independence, or simply to facilitate pronunciation abroad. The process of modifying a country’s name is neither simple nor economical. But despite it all, various parts of the world have dared to do it. Read this article to find out more details about it. Remember to read all the way through to the last country’s story — you’ll find a bonus there that explains how much it costs to make this modification.

1. Holland changed to The Netherlands.

As a marketing move, the government decided that from January 2020, the official naming of the Netherlands, would be used for promotional purposes instead of Holland, as the country is quite a popular tourist destination along with other European states. One of the reasons for this change is to “present the Netherlands as an open, inventive, and inclusive country.”

2. Ceylon changed to Sri Lanka.

Ancient Ceylon, modern-day Sri Lanka, eliminated its name that was given by the Portuguese when they discovered it in 1505. It later became part of the British Empire and gained its independence in 1948. However, it was years later that the island’s government decided to change its name. In 2011, all references to Ceylon, from official bodies to companies that still referred to the country by its previous naming, were removed.

3. The Republic of Macedonia changed to the Republic of North Macedonia.

The former Republic of Macedonia, a small European country located in Southeast Europe, changed its name to the Republic of North Macedonia in February 2019. The main reason for the change was to become a part of NATO, and also to distinguish the country from its neighbor, Greece, which has a region named Macedonia. The inhabitants will continue to call themselves “Macedonians,” and the official language will remain “Macedonian.”

4. Czech Republic changed to Czechia.

In order to facilitate the naming of the country at sporting events, as a part of companies’ marketing efforts, and in the rest of the world, the Czech Republic shortened its name to Czechia in April 2016. The measure had been discussed for 20 years until, finally, it was decided to shorten the naming so that pronunciation would be easier in each of the UN’s 6 official languages: English, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic. Although the official name will still be the Czech Republic, Czechia has become the shortened official naming of the country.

5. Swaziland changed to Eswatini.

In April 2018, the king of Swaziland, in Africa, issued a statement declaring that the country’s name would change to Eswatini. The modification didn’t surprise its people since that was the name they were already using. Eswatini is just the translation of Swaziland into the local language, which means “land of the Swazis.” Besides, the previous name was confusing, since many mistook it for Switzerland.

6. Upper Volta changed to Burkina Faso.

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its independence, the Republic of Upper Volta was renamed Burkina Faso, which, in the local language, means “upright fatherland.” The change was made in 1984, along with an alteration to the flag and the national anthem. The previous name referred to one of the main rivers in the region.

7. Burma changed to Myanmar.

In 1989, the country’s leading military government was determined to change the name from Burma to Myanmar in an attempt to preserve the way it’s written in the local language: Myanma. However, not everyone agreed with this decision. For this reason, some parts of the world still insist on referring to this Asian country as Burma.

8. Siam changed to Thailand.

Siam’s name change to Thailand didn’t happen recently. It was established in 1939 by the dictator who ruled the country at the time. In the local language, it is pronounced Prathet Thai, which means “Land of the Free.”

9. German South West Africa changed to Namibia.

The current name was decided in 1968, by the UN. But it wasn’t until the country became independent from Germany and South Africa, that it was officially renamed Namibia. This happened in 1990.

10. Cape Verde changed to the Republic of Cabo Verde.

Another recent change was the one from Cape Verde, which took place in 2013. The country’s name is now the Republic of Cabo Verde, or simply Cabo Verde, which is what the Portuguese sailors who discovered the islands called them, in 1444.

11. Irish Free State changed to Ireland.

In 1937, with the intention of removing all ties to the United Kingdom, the Irish Free State became Ireland, or Éire, in the local Irish language.

Bonus: How much does it cost to change the name of a country?

Most of the countries on the list changed their names as a way of erasing part of their past and getting closer to their true identity, while others did it to encourage tourism, like the Netherlands. However, not everything is as easy as it seems. And it’s not cheap to switch names, either. Each nation paid millions of dollars, or its equivalent, in their local currencies when it changed its name.

It is not a matter of having a clean slate. The Constitution, official stationery, and even money has to change as well. Everything that bears the country’s old name, like maps, flags, and hymns, must erase it and replace it with the new one. This, of course, takes time.

And then you have the citizens, who are used to calling their country by a certain name and have to become familiar with writing it and saying it in another. These switches don’t happen overnight, and although many people will still wonder if they were even necessary at all, they usually end up embracing them.

Would you change your name? Do you agree with what these countries have done? Tell us in the comment section! And share the article with your friends if you thought it was cool!

Please note: This article was updated in November 2022 to correct source material and factual inaccuracies.
Preview photo credit djedj / Pixabay
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