Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Also Known As…

Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar has been in the news lately for several reasons, not the least of which is the recent election that signaled inroads to democracy by the election of Suu Kyi to their Parliament.  Suu Kyi had been under house arrest for more than a decade before being allowed to again be on the ballot and her election was a victory for her party and women in general.

But what bothers me about Myanmar is that in the news there invariably is a reference to “Myanmar, also known as Burma.”

My research provided some background, if not a clear explanation.  The name was changed by the country’s government in 1989, but that government was the result of a coup and the United States did not immediately recognize it.  In fact, until quite recently the U.S., in a pique of frustration because our banks and companies are forbidden from activity in the country, joined Great Britain and Australia in officially using the name Burma.

The British understandably preferred Burma, because it was they who named the country, choosing the dominant ethic majority, the Burmans, to establish their colonial power. Over the years her Asian neighbors, notable Japan, China and India, all accept Myanmar as the proper name, which causes friction and some confusion, especially now that the country is beginning to have a global presence.

So, my opinion is that we should get off our high horse and use the name preferred by the local residents.

Louis Prima had a hit tune in the 50s titled “It’s Istanbul, not Constantinople”.  Maybe we need a “Myanmar…” song.

I was reflecting on other alternative names, such as Prince, who in 1993 changed his artist name to “the love symbol”, and became the artist, formally known as Prince.  The symbol was a combination of the standard symbols for male and female.

Past sports figures, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mohammed Ali changed their names because of religious reasons and never were referred to as “also known as” or even “formerly known as”. Bob Dylan changed his name as many artists do, for reasons of personal preference.

A recent name change that baffles me is when Ron Artest legally changed his name to “Metta World Peace”.  Statement?  Perhaps a desire to shed his bad-boy image?  The sports world seems able to combine his stats without a decision from the Security Council.

All in all, I think the official position of the U.S. about Myanmar is a little foolish.  After all, The Bard really summed it up when he wrote, “What’s in a name?  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

What we are inside and how we act are better definers of ourselves than what we are called or call ourselves.

In my next post I’ll recount some of the exploits of a Civil War General, whose name I knew, but whose story I did not.

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