Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Myanmar and Burma

Myanmar is a small country in South East Asia with a population of almost 55 million inhabitants. The young democracy is undergoing drastic political, social and economic changes. The country – once known as Burma – officially changed its name to “Myanmar” in 1989, following years of internal turmoil. However, both names continue to be used in different contexts.

The name Burma was imposed by British colonizers in 1886 and was slightly altered by Burmese citizens to adapt the English pronunciation. The colony gained independent in 1948 and changed its name in “The Union of Burma.” After the end of the war and the achievement of independence, the country experienced grave political and social turmoil and struggled to find a new national identity. A military junta took power in 1989 and appointed a commission to change the name of the country and of its capital. Therefore, Burma became Myanmar and Rangoon was changed to Yangoon. The names were changed for the following reasons:

  • Myanmar is the official name in the Burmese language (as the two versions have very similar pronunciations in the local language);

  • Myanmar” was believed to be a more inclusive and comprehensive name; in particular, it is believed to be more inclusive for minorities; and

  • The military wanted to eliminate all English-names adaptations. They believed that the name “Burma” – imposed by British colonizers – only referred to the Burmese majority and had ethnic-supremacist connotations.

To date, the official name of the country is “The Republic of the Union of Myanmar;” however, not everyone accepted the new nomenclature. In fact, most English-speaking countries (i.e. Canada, United Kingdom, United States, etc.) never recognized the change. As such, both names continue to be used, and it is believed that the choice of using “Myanmar” rather than “Burma” (and vice versa) largely depends on the context.

For years, Aung San Suu Kyi – first and incumbent State Counsellor and Leader of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar – insisted on using “Burma” rather than “Myanmar” as a sign of opposition to the military junta that changed the name. Yet, today the debate within the country has phased out, as the nation is facing more important and urgent problems. At an international level, the United Nations and other international bodies use the name “Myanmar,” whereas newspapers and media outlet tend to use both versions depending on the context – or even in the same piece, as not all readers are familiar with the change.


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References :


[0]Image Credit : CentreLeftRight, Aoetearoa [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

[1]Burma v Myanmar – what's in a name? The Guardian, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/19/burma-myanmar-obama-name-visit

[2]Should it be Burma or Myanmar? BBC News, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7013943.stm

[3]Should you say Myanmar or Burma? The Economist, available at https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2016/12/economist-explains-19

[4]Should you say Myanmar or Burma? The Economist, available at https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2016/12/economist-explains-19

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