Changing the name of a city or a country is all the rage. Is there more to it than post-colonial rebranding?
There is a word for changing a place name. It’s toponymy and it’s all the rage.
This is something we’ve been debating here, as the government and tourist board of St Lucia has renamed itself in full as Saint Lucia.
Which spelling should we go for? Are we duty bound to follow by changing our long-established house style and jettisoning the abbreviated ‘St’?
Funny enough, this is a debate that recently ran in the Guardian newspaper and I’m sure is the subject of regular discussion at the BBC, which famously issues spelling and pronounciation diktats.
The Guardian concluded that some countries and cities had an Anglicised equivalent that had stood the test of time and therefore need not be changed – for example, Munich instead of München and Lisbon not Lisboa.
That’s logical and follows the example of country names. After all, we don’t call Germany Deutschland, or Finland Suomi. We – and the BBC – pronounce the French capital Paris, not Paree, and we wouldn’t expect the French to refer to Londres as London. As if.
Yet with post-colonial sheepishness we’ve changed from Peking to Beijing and Bombay to Mumbai. Why’s that?
Bombay and Mumbai were interchangeable in the media until the hotel bombing in 2008. The Times newspaper formally made a change a month later, following the BBC’s lead and informing readers that since they had been sufficiently exposed to the new name ‘it would be foolish to ignore that context. We have a global online audience to consider.’
Still, like most others, they have stuck with Calcutta rather than Kolkata and Madras in preference to Chennai. The media has also ignored the renaming of Tashkent as Toshkent and Samarkand as Samarqand.
Nevertheless, St Lucia – or Saint Lucia – is really on trend here. And in a way they get the last word because they’ve updated the spelling on Wikipedia, which goes a very long way to rotivating all the top search results that appear on Google.
And as we know, when something is online consistently in enough places, it’s a true and indisputable fact.