Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Name change politics for dummies…

A few months ago the Indian government passed a constitutional amendment to rename the state of Orissa to Odisha and its language Oriya to Odisha. It may sound like a profound change but there have been many such name changes in India. It is a popular stunt to gain political mileage. Yesterday I found the secret, yet unpublished edition of “Indian politics for dummies” book and here I present to you an extract on City/State name alteration for dummies:

(If your city name has c in it, simply replace c with k and start from step 3)
Find an obscure but Indian sounding name which a very small (0.0001%) minority of Indians and no foreigner will be able to properly pronounce.
TIP: Make it sound like the final word on spelling bee show.
Concoct some convoluted logic which indicates that your selected name was the original name or simply claim that the British named it wrongly because they cant pronounce Indian names.

Launch a grassroots movement to demand a name change. Make fiery speeches saying that anyone who does not accept your logic is the epitome of treachery and a British stooge. Useful tactics: Protest marches, burning buses, throwing stones at the state legislature
TIP: Make sure the press covers it. Give them prior notice. Don’t worry they wont stop you. They are always wishing more more mayhem to report.

Make it your primary election platform saying that people will lead better lives
in a city with an Indian name regardless of how decrepit the city and its infrastructure is.

Win the election and rename the city.

Spend your entire state budget in installing new road signs and billboards with updated addresses. (It does not matter if the road largely represents cratered moon surface and would be unidentifiable as a road for vehicular traffic in any other country)

Get your party cadre to threaten and attack any private businesses who refuse to change their names and addresses according to your newly designated name.

YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED! Now you can focus on renaming the streets in the honour of your party leaders and its fundraisers.

If you need help, take a look at previous successes
On a more serious note, these name changes represent the greatest time wastage exercise in history. Politicians spend immense time and effort in convincing the populace of the need for a name change and then a lot more to lobby, legislate and implement it. I am sure that all the man hours wasted in implementing these changes costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productive time.

Furthermore, the logic behind the name changes is hardly convincing. Just because some name has British origins is hardly a reason to change it. We would do well to remember that the world’s leading financial centre ‘New York’ is named after 'Yorkshire' in Britain while the newly renamed country of Myanmar (‘British’ name being Burma) remains one of the most terrible nations to live in.

Secondly, the name changes have not really been successful. It is rare to see a person pronounce Pune (पुणे) or Thiruvananthapuram by these new names while talking in English. The older versions are far more common amongst the English speakers. A compromise could have been reached by referring to the cities by their Indian names in official communication that is in regional languages while leaving the official names as they were.
Lastly, a city’s name has no impact whatsoever on its condition. Despite the name changes there remains much to be desired in terms of the infrastructure and the standard of living in Indian cities.

If you are one of those who believes that people of a place with a local name that they like will be happier and work harder (which is a corny, fantasyland argument anyway), you need to read this page here. Yes, there really is a neighbourhood in New York called “Flushing”. However, more importantly, this neighbourhood with its very ill conceived name that brings the accompanying picture to mind, also has five highschools, eight public libraries, is the home of a major league baseball team and also hosts the US Open Grand Slam Tennis tournament!
I strongly feel that politicians should now focus on the myriad of more important issues and give up this politics of name changes. Now that so many name changes have already been implemented in India, I do not advocate their reversal as it will only lead to more unnecessary expenditure. To quote Shakespeare (albeit with a local twist),
What's in a name? Bombay Pav Bhaji by any other name tastes just as good…

P.S. - I still have not understood the logic of simply changing the 'C's to 'K's. Please enlighten me if you know the reasoning for that...


  1. Changing city name with arrival of a new regime is a common practice in history of the world. Its kind of customization each new ruler does. Take Example of Istanbul http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_Istanbul

    With US cities, its a different scenario, early settlers got all the European names with them, sometimes as it is like Vienna or sometimes attaching 'new' to it, like new York or new Orleans, New Hampshire, etc. Since most of the cities were non-existent before, there were no local or original names to it, so no reverting back to old names or no enforcing new name by new ruler.

    With India, some cities existed long before British arrived, some of the cities were mere villages and developed into cities under British rule, but still were called something else before. So you can understand that people wanted to revert back to original names/ local names. Also in old days records were kept more for historic purposes than official/ advertisement purposes and thus changing name was comparatively simple as long as you know that both names are referring to the same city/state. But doing it now, especially more than 60 years after Independence is definitely for political mileage.

    With changing 'c' to 'k', I think its more of pronunciation, giving it a local language touch. 'c' sounds like 'k' when followed by 'a' or 'u' e.g. Carrot, camera, cup, Current but more like 's' when followed by 'i' or 'e' e.g. circle, citric, ceaser, cereal.

    btw, nice exercise, looking forward to you dishing out more of these...

  2. Interesting, interesting... Istanbul is really a very fascinating example with soooo many name changes over time. Thanks for that insight about 'C's and 'K's too, I hadn't thought about it that way... :)

  3. very well written. since you are into law too, hoping to communicate with you sometimes and talk about blogging.

  4. Woah! You are Ramanuj Mukherjee of 'A FIRST TASTE OF LAW' !! I have read quite a few of your posts there. I remember the John Grisham one because I am a big fan as well and Grisham novels definitely played a big part in getting me interested in law!
    Thanks a lot and I hope you find time to read my other, newer posts as well!! I would love to talk to you about law and blogging as well and will add you on GTalk if you dont mind.


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