VOA Burmese Blog

August 2, 2010

What’s in a Name? Burma or Myanmar

Shakespeare once said, ” What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”.  Shakespeare is saying that it is not in a name that matters, but the substance that matters. Is Shakespeare right?

How do you think Shakespeare will react when people today have trouble referring to the country, Burma – Myanmar?

” Burma” or “Myanmar”, would the country still be just as sweet?


I have friends who ask me why Burma has 2 names. Well, I would say, many people do not agree with the current regime and they associate the new name of ” Myanmar” with the military regime. In 1989, Burma’s official name was changed from the “Union of Burma” to the ” Union of Myanmar” by the military government. Since then, controversy remains.

The military regime had said that the name ” Myanmar” is inclusive of all of Burma, however, it had the opposite effect. Human rights groups and ethnic tribes in Burma, ( of which many do not speak the official language Burmese) said that ” Myanmar” excluded them from the country. The ethnic communities adjusted to the English name ” Burma” for the country, and thought that the name ” Myanmar” inflicts domination on the tribes in the country.

So the question remains, do we call the country Burma or Myanmar? Is it politically correct to call the country ” Myanmar” or ” Burma”?

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12 Comments »

  1. The name Burma comes from the Barmah people who live in the south of the country. They were traditionally the allies of the British colonialists and as such helped subjugate the other peoples to the north.

    Comment by Peter Martin — August 3, 2010 @ 7:56 am | Reply

  2. မဂၤလာပါ

    Comment by lucky october — August 3, 2010 @ 2:00 pm | Reply

  3. Myanmar is not a new name. We call our selve as Myanmar or bamar since long.The Indian people call us as “Barmar”, so the british call us BURMA.It has become official name since then. Now , as the china changed peking to Bejin because it is a correct name, Myanmar government correctly and (darely changed) Burma to Myanmar because it is the correct name. I am not at the side of Janta nor surely at the side of Su Kyi. I recommend whoever do right things.

    Plote Byone

    Comment by Plote Byone — August 4, 2010 @ 10:07 am | Reply

  4. Dear Peter Martin,
    Your information is totally wrong. There are no ethnic in the name of
    Barmah living in the southern area in our country who helped british to occupy Myanmar( in 19 century.)Actually the Bamar or Myanmar is the majority in this country who are all patriotic.

    Plote Byone

    Comment by Plote Byone — August 4, 2010 @ 10:19 am | Reply

  5. The coastal state bordering the Gulf of Bengal is about to be the source of electric power for Bangladesh to the North. The dams that will supply that power supply only a small bit of power to local peoples who live in a state renamed as was Burma where many indigenous are not even counted as citizens.. Remembering names isn’t a strong point for me but I do remember the history of the brave Burmese people who helped my country fight the axis powers of WW2.

    I know what is in a name if it helps me remember.. Last evening I went riding an electric bike with my wife to go past our city’s rose garden and then to cruise some alleys. The garden has hundreds of varieties and thousands of flowers in bloom. Each was separated by trails of grass in raised beds neatly curbed. The flowers were illuminated by the sun from behind. Some were young and ready to open, some with pedals ready to fall but what I wanted to do was count to see if each who had fallen in the conflict of Iraq would have a flower in bloom. Didn’t count far before it was obvious there were more than the number of US service people who had died but that wasn’t the point. The meaning of the beauty behind those flowers was not something that could be counted nor apportioned. The meaning wasn’t in a name; it was in that it helped me remember. It helped me remember all those who came before and all that is happening in the world today and particularly that I did not stand alone in wanting to make things better.

    Comment by Dale Lanan — September 3, 2010 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

  6. Thank you Dale. That you stood with others and wanted to make things better is what real humanity is.

    Comment by Rob — October 6, 2010 @ 11:30 pm | Reply

  7. @Dale

    The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.
    John Burroughs

    Comment by Andrew - UK — November 4, 2010 @ 11:47 am | Reply

  8. [...] The busiest day of the year was November 13th with 3,392 views. The most popular post that day was What’s in a Name? Burma or Myanmar. [...]

    Pingback by 2010 in review- Thanks for Your Comments and Visits! « VOA Burmese Blog — January 6, 2011 @ 5:32 pm | Reply

  9. please tell me if you got the right answer

    Comment by dr. wasim ahmed — March 19, 2011 @ 5:32 pm | Reply

  10. i don’t know it is right or wrong but since one month i received a lot of barman Muslim dead body pictures which are killed by local military or people if you have information about these please inform us what is the reason why they kill child women men and other civilian Muslim if it is right i strongly condemn these action

    Comment by noorgul — July 18, 2012 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

  11. I am born in Taunggyi, Burma and stayed there till I was 20 years old. I know that Burma was called Myanmar by the Burmese people or Bama people. Myanmar and Bama are Burmese pronounciations, like Bengali people call themselves Bangali and Kolkata to Calcutta. Now the world know that Calcutta has become KOLKATA, but it is KOLKATA to the BANGALEE people from the very begining.

    Comment by Devesh Das — November 26, 2012 @ 12:31 pm | Reply

  12. I agree with the great bard Shakespeare that you can call a Rose by any name and it would smell as sweet. But, Shakespeare wrote this a long time ago, and the whole world has changed since he wrote it. I like the name Burma and Rangoon more. I grew up hearing about Burmese Teak, Burmese rice and Burmese Rubies and Burmese refugees. I had a teacher friend who had crossed into India and was welcomed with open arms. She was given a job, a tiny apartment and papers to reside in Bangalore, Karnataka. She is no more. But, I would love to travel to Burma and see for myself this unspoilt Burmese country my friend had described to me in detail not so long ago. I hope my dream comes true.

    Comment by Nisha Dev — November 27, 2012 @ 9:04 am | Reply


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