Why "Burma" and not "Myanmar"?

Why "Burma" and not "Myanmar"?

Postby Dave » Tue 18 Apr 2006 12:30

Essentially, for political reasons. "Burma" was the official English-language name of the country from independence in 1948 until SLORC (the military dictatorship, since renamed the SPDC) decided to change it in 1989 or thereabouts, claiming the name "Myanmar" was more inclusive of the ethnic minorities. In fact, the opposite seems to be true - the ethnic minorities are used to calling it Burma and saw the change as an attempt to reinforce the hegemony of the Burman (or Myanma) majority ethnic group.

The National League for Democracy (winners of the 1990 election, but never allowed to take power by SLORC) and Aung San Suu Kyi (the NLD leader, under house arrest) still call their country Burma in English, as far as we've heard, on the grounds that as the SPDC has no mandate from the Burmese people it doesn't have the right to change the name of the country. The British government also continues to use "Burma" and "Burmese", for the same reason. And until there's any significant improvement in the political situation there, we'll continue to take our lead from the NLD.

(There's no confusion in the Burmese language itself - the country's officially been Myanmar since 1948.)
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Postby Maung Maung » Tue 18 Apr 2006 14:02

I disagree with the post above.

"Myanmar" consists of 14 different races, amongst them are the Bamar (anglicised to Burma), the Shan, Karen, Karenni, Chin, Mon etc etc. If you refer to the country as "Burma" you are in essence ignoring all but the Bamars.

If you were Scottish or Welsh and I insisted on calling you "English", you might not be very impressed.

U.K. = Myanmar
England = Burma

If the United Nations can accept "Myanmar", then I would propose that this forum can do the same.
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Postby Kay » Tue 18 Apr 2006 14:31

If you were Scottish or Welsh and I insisted on calling you "English", you might not be very impressed.


Tell me about it! I am Scottish and despise being called English. I like English people well enough - and am married to one - but, yes, it's annoying to say the least.

I can't comment about the Burma/Myanmar thing, though, because I don't know enough about the situation. No doubt Dave (my husband), who wrote the original post, will be along soon with his point of view on the issue.
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Postby Dave » Wed 19 Apr 2006 06:40

It looks as if a couple of postings have been lost from here (because of an unannounced server shift by our hosting company) so I'll try to recap what I said in mine, at least:

I wouldn't set too much store by what the UN agrees to. Usually they'll go along with whatever a government says it wants the country it governs to be known as. (The only exception I can think of offhand is Macedonia, which agreed to be called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia because Greece threatened to block EU aid otherwise.)

I fully accept the point about England vs UK, being something of a mongrel myself (none of my grandparents were fully English). But as I understand it, in the original language "Myanma" means exactly the same as "Bama" - it's just that "Myanma" is the literary word whereas "Bama" is the colloquial one. So "Myanma" is no more inclusive of the minorities than "Bama".

So to use a similar analogy:

"Bama" = "England"
"Myanma" = "Anglia" or "Albion"
(Sorry, "Albion" maybe isn't an exact parallel because poets have also used it to refer to the island of Great Britain, or on occasion Scotland. But you get my drift.)

I'm open to persuasion (and confess that my main source for the language point above is Wikipedia). But for me the fact that the NLD are still using "Burma" is pretty persuasive.
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