Monday, November 2, 2009


                                                                                                                                                                                                       I recently found out that I was calling three big cities of India with their old names. I was using Bombay for Mumbai, Bangalore for Bengaluru and hell, I was even telling others that I study in Madras. 

Did you know you are supposed to call it Bangla and not West Bengal?

Nor did I, until I googled about this matter.

Recently, the Union Cabinet approved the Orissa (sorry! Odisha) state government's appeal to change the state's name from Orissa to Odisha. And what's worse, even the language name is changed from Oriya to Odiya.

While some cases of changing the names are simply the  corrections of the mis-spellings of the ancient names of the cities by Europeans, some others are the results of pure chauvinism of the local people. Let us travel in the imaginary expresses of a cities, through time, from past to present, and see what they got to show.

Bombay to Mumbai :      
       It is with no doubt, the most controversial and most brutally applied change of name in India. Recently Karan Johar was brought down to his knees by Raj Thackaray, to make a public apology for using Bombay instead of Mumbai in his film 'Wake Up Sid'.

       The name 'Mumbai' is totally the result of the Sarkar Raj of Bal Thackeray. Justification given to the name was that the initial name of the city was Mumbai, named after the goddess Mumbadevi worshiped by Koli's, who were nothing but a small Marathi sect. And that Bombay was just an anglicized name of Mumbai. 

        But truth is Bombay is not even an english name. It is actually the mispronounciation of the Portugese name 'Bom Bahia' meaning 'Good Bay', which was the name of the Portugese colony on the islands. This colony was given to King Charles II of England as his dowry for marrying the Portuguese princess Catherine de Braganza in 1661, at which point the name was anglicized to "Bombay".

Madras to Chennai:
        Soon after  'MUMBAI' our friends in Madras woke up from their deep slumber and changed both their state's and the capital's name. The 'state' Madras became Tamil Nadu and the 'city' Madras, Chennai. 

        Chennai originates from Chennapatnam, a Telugu usage, the name being given after Chennappa Nayaka who is said to have struck an agreement with the English handing over the villages of Madraspatnam, etc. or was the vassal of Chandragiri Raja who did the same.Whatever the history may be, there was absolutely no need to change the age old popular name MADRAS. And moreso, since MADRAS is not even an english name. According to experts Madras must have originated either from some Madiraju who might have been a fisher man community leader of the village or from Muttarasi or Mudiraj community name. It is wholly Indian name and for centuries in usage.    
Calcutta to Kolkata:
         There are many speculations about the origin of the name Kolkata. One belief is that it is derived from in the name Kalikata - one of three villages present in the area where the city is today before the British arrived. The name Kalikata itself is derived from the Hindu goddess Kali.

        In this case, the city was always called with the name 'KOLKATA' and it was simply a matter of correcting the mis-pronounciation of the English invaders.

Apart from these three big cities there have been many other cities in the recent past whose names were changed. Ex:- Pondicherry to Puducherry, Cochin to Kochi etc. In all these cases we see a more popular colonial name changing to a new regional name.

Often the change of name is done due to the pressure of some chauvinistic sects, like Shiv Sena in Bombay. Often it is done to divert the public attention from streamline matters. And often it is done before elections. 

Changing the name of a place is not as easy as changing one's email id. Crore's of rupees have to be spent on repainting every board on the street either directly by the government or indirectly by ourselves. Many a times the change of the name is not well publicized and the people from outside still identify the place with the old name.

While it is not a 'hell of a task' for the government, why take even that effort on such an unimportant matter, while there are more serious matters like poverty, terrorism etc. to ponder upon. After all, What's in a name?  


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