Posts Tagged ‘international relations’

Foreigners Have a Different Name for Your Town

21 October 2011

You’ve heard of Calcutta, right? What about Kolkata? It’s the same place, pretty much the same name, but spelled differently. Indians didn’t think “Calcutta” was a cool name, so they changed it. “Calcutta” was what the British Empire called the city, and the masses of actual Indians who live around there want to assert their ownership by giving it a home-grown name.

I can understand that. The thing is, I don’t have any problem with the name “Calcutta”. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a British rendition. The British did invent English, and that’s the language I know best, so I’ll go with their choice. It’s not a political decision, just a natural linguistic leaning. Anyway, we’ve been calling it “Calcutta” around here for a long time now, and I’m going to keep calling it that. If you know what I mean when I say “Calcutta”, then the name works fine. If you know what I mean but you also think I’m wrong not to call it “Kolkata”, then that’s your problem.

Likewise, “Bombay” is a good enough name for what Indians now call “Mumbai”, and “Peking” was a good enough name for “Beijing”. Why should I let China tell me what to call their city when I’m speaking English to Americans, and we all have been saying it our way all our lives? When I learn Chinese, then I’ll listen to what Chinese people tell me about pronunciation.

No one ever tries to get English speakers to call Vienna “Wien”, and, Olympics aside, we don’t feel the need to call Turin “Torino”.

I do think BBC newsreaders sound funny when they say “Mary-land” for the state we call “merrilind”.