15 November 2010
The re-branding of nationality: Burma or Myanmar? (And other country names...)
Here is one that is seen on a YouTube video:
“the one who drives when
he’s been drinking
depends on you
to do his thinking
There actually was a connection between the southeast Asian nation and the now-gone shaving cream. “Burma-Shave was introduced in 1925 by the Burma-Vita company, owned by Clinton Odell. The company's original product was a liniment made of ingredients described as coming "from the Malay Peninsula and Burma." When its products didn’t sell well, ad men came up with the roadside campaign.
Burma’s dictators, have been more successful than most, with only a handful of the major media, especially the BBC, standing up to them.
But for many journalists, the name of the country, though created by a military junta in 1962 that has spawned rebellions, crackdowns, and created refugees, exiles, the proper name of the country is the Republic Union of Myanmar.
It is no surprise that rebranding is so much a part of life these days, though it is interesting to see how the mainstream media plays the game. Journalists often take their lead from their governments -- otherwise North Korea would be more commonly called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the communist government there insists.
One problem for the junta is that the word Burma didn’t originate with British colonial rulers as did, for example, Rhodesia, which is now called Zimbabwe.
Perhaps the most artistic of the dictators was the late Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga, of the former Belgian Congo. He called his people “citoyens” and favored leopard-skin hats. He always carried a bit of the air of the French Revolution. The Belgian colonial rulers had called the country the Belgian Congo because its biggest river was the Kongo.
Under Mobutu it was called Zaire, a spin on another local name. The late president called it the country of the three Zs, the river (the river), the money (Zaireans) and the people (Zaireans).
After Mobutu was ousted, the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a real comedy much like a scene from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian.”
After asking around, the weirdest real name I found was Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. My favorite, though it sadly is fictional, is the Grand Duchy of Fenwick: a tiny nation that was show in “The Mouse That Roared” invading the U.S. Their goal was to lose and gain American aid. Unfortunately, the Pentagon wanted to surrender to them.