Saturday 29 April 2023

What's in a name?


According to a report by the BBC, Rishi Sunak will continue to refer to Bannau Brycheiniog as the Brecon Beacons, regardless of the decision of the Park Authority to use only the Welsh name in future. He also thinks that “most people” will do so, because the name is internationally known and Wales will lose visitors by using only the original name. He’s obviously learned an important lesson from places like Beijing, where nobody goes any more because they can’t find Peking on the map.

Talking of maps, he probably has one of those maps, like the one I remember on the wall of my classroom in primary school in the 1950s, with great swathes of red showing the countries of the Empire, on which the island off southern India was called Ceylon, where Rangoon was the capital of Burma, and Salisbury the capital of Rhodesia. After all, he is literally a product of Empire, with both his grandfathers coming from Punjab province of British India (before the imperial power split the area between the two new states of Pakistan and India), and his own parents coming respectively from the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya and Tanganyika. (Try finding those on a modern map.) We know that his predecessor but one thinks the world was a better place when that map represented the reality of political power and England ruled both the waves and the naming of countries and places; it would not be a complete surprise to find that someone whose roots are deep in that world has a bit of a blind spot for that same era.

In the short term, he’s probably right in saying that “most people” will continue using the name with which they are familiar. Other places which have reverted to their original names have certainly found that it takes time for the reversion to be widely accepted and used. Apart from anything else, people continue to use old maps for decades – that map I referred to earlier was still on the wall despite being overtaken by events on a yearly basis. The problem isn’t with “most people”, though. It is with those in positions of power who insist on using a name which the relevant local authorities have dropped. It wouldn’t be good diplomacy for Sunak to tell President Xi that he lives in Peking not Beijing; and it isn’t particularly diplomatic to tell the Park Authority that he will deliberately continue to use the English name against their wishes. I doubt that he would do the first; it is telling that he is so unable to understand why he shouldn’t do the second either.


Robert said...

Absolutely! They will never understand.

Spirit of BME said...

I wonder if Little ‘Risky’ Sunak plans to visit India and see Bombay, Calcutta and Madras again.?