Okay, so names are important in international politics. Different countries call geographical features different things to suit their own ends – take the
Persian Arabian Islamic Gulf as an example. Then there are the disputes over the names of nations themselves, as in the case of the Republic of Macedonia, which when it was admitted to the UN had to be called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia so as not to piss off Greece and Greek Macedonians. Then there are names in certain languages that get transliterated into English one way and then changed to another, like Peking/Beijing or Mumbai/Bombay, while in other cases the choice of when to accept local spellings and when not is weirdly ambiguous. I follow football and it always strikes me as odd that the team from the Bavarian city of Munich known as Bayern Munchen in German is rendered as Bayern Munich in English. Why? Shouldn’t it be Bayern Munchen or Bavaria Munich?
There is also the highly politicised argument about what to call various categories of nations based on their economies and politics. The old 1st world, 2nd world, 3rd world system lost its middle category at the end of the Cold War but is still commonly used. The “West” is a term often used to mean rich countries with a strong European influence on their politics but if that includes the North American and Australasian states then it pretty much encircles the globe so it is west of everything, including itself. The now popular term “Global South” for poorer countries is equally stupid in my opinion as I happen to live in the most southerly capital city in the world and I daresay my country is richer than say Afghanistan, Mongolia, or Haiti in the northern hemisphere, to name a few. I’d guess that Australians, and Brazilians feel the same way as well. The categories of “developed” and “developing” are too value-laden for a lot of people, as are industrialised and industrialising and unindustrialised so there isn’t really a way I know of to name these categories satisfactorily. Nonetheless I’m pretty sure there are at least some categorical differences between countries like Sudan, Congo and Somalia, and Sweden, Switzerland and Monaco.
Having established that names can be important, I think it’s also good to enjoy them for their merits. Not everything has to be a big serious issue all the time. Here’s a few of my favourites, with the reasons why I like them:
- Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Both of these disputed regions in the Caucasus (also a cool name) sound like settings from dungeons and dragons or a cheap fantasy novel, at least to my English-speaking ears. That’s pretty cool.
- The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Ironic. Like the Holy Roman Empire which was neither holy, Roman, or an empire.
- Kyrgyzstan. Just because.
- The Most Serene Republic of San Marino. A great use of an adjective in a country name.
- The Republic of China. Because when you talk about Taiwan you can say “The ROC”.
- The People’s Liberation Army Navy. Another good acronym. The PLAN. Good stuff.
- Boutros Boutros Ghali. Fun to say. It’s like a little poem.
- Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. I don’t think I have to explain the appeal of this name. The Welsh also have a ridiculously long place name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, but they just made there’s up in the nineteenth century as a publicity stunt. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu is actually what the place was originally called by the Maori (at least as far as I am aware).
Anyone else have any favourite names? Or have I just out-geeked everyone?