14 July, 2011


A Bombay duck by any other name is still a fish

During the previous outbreak of violent unpleasantness in Bombay, three years ago, I watched and listened to the rolling news reports on Sky News and the BBC. The British reporters and presenters scrupulously referred to the Indian city as "Mumbai". The locals, whether high-status interviewees or voxpoppees on the street, were less righteously unanimous; many, perhaps most, called the place "Bombay".

People do get quite worked up about things like this. I recall many moons ago the then government of the Ivory Coast issued a proclamation through UN channels that henceforth the country was to be known as Côte d'Ivoire. Absolutely no other nomenclature would be countenanced. The instruction eventually filtered down to us for implementation, as if a corporate pronouncement had been made that henceforth all apples would be called Eric. A colleague of, shall we say, more recent African heritage than me, who was especially fastidious in matters of post-colonial pride and rectitude, became a bit of a pain over the issue. I'm afraid I was less than 100% sympathetic, and took to referring to Sri Lanka as Ceylon and to Zimbabwe as Rhodesia (or if sufficiently irritated, as Southern Rhodesia). This drove him apoplectic. I gave serious consideration to speaking of German East Africa rather than Tanzania, but decided that not only was this inaccurate but also medically dangerous.

In fact there is no justification for insisting on a particular naming convention, even within a single language. The Government of India may well declare that the "colonial" names Bombay and Madras are to be replaced with the proudly post-colonial Mumbai and Chennai. They may have some success in getting this convention generally adopted in India, though clearly in the present case it has met with some resistance. What the Indian authorities and the more self-righteously nationalistic Indians (or their White liberal proxies in the UK) are not entitled to do, however, is insist that we follow suit. If, in British English, it remains the common practice to refer to Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, then tough titty.

We may of course decide to follow their revised practice out of politeness or as a matter of general convenience, but that's our decision. If the Americans had responded to the pointless triumphalism of renaming Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City by collectively deciding to refer to the place as Gooksburg, that might not have done much for US-Vietnamese relations but there's bog all the Vietnamese could do about it.

And why do they insist on pretending they can pronounce Tbilisi, instead of settling for Tiflis as our forebears did? No English speaker has a hope of getting Tbilisi right.

Also let's not forget that they turned Camobodia into Kampuchea in obedience to Pol Pot's wishes.

On the other hand, the Welsh have reportedly agonised over renaming places like London for their own use, of course. In Welsh, naturally.

Fair enough, especially as I will always call Wales Sheepshag Alley no matter what they say.

I have no problem with the Welsh calling the city where I live Llundain among themselves, if that's what turns them on. It has Llareggub impact on me.

Mind you, their sheep are jolly pretty. (... ah, did I just type that out loud? ...)

It's snobbery or showing off.
Like people going out of their way to get Madrid or Valladolid or Happisburgh correct

It seems an affectation of the BBC peculiar to the places inhabitated by the effniks.
Never heard them refer to Wien, or München or Bruxelles - although the latter is not really Belgique any more judging my by recent visit. A shocking shithole of a place which is a portent of Britain to come.

Anon 23.39-

It is perfectly acceptable by the PC BBC rulebook to anglicise place names historically inhabited by northern Europeans, as in the cases you cite. They never refer to Antwerpen or s'Gravenhage either.

The Mumbai/Chennai two-step is simply a cultural cringe to peoples previously disparaged as Wily Oriental Gentlemen.

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