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Myanmar: By Any Name, It is a Great Place to Visit 11 Sep 2013 Beginners Guide | 0 comments

Mischief and mystery behind what people call it

What’s in a name? In the case of “Myanmar,” the answer is confusion.

The formal name of the country is the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Not exactly lilting, but it’s a straight-forward-enough name. You have to wonder how people in Spain, Italy, and Portugal go from that to call the country—“Birmania.” What!? C’mon. You can do better than that.

‘Mianmar’ to Brazylyans

Meanwhile, Brazilian officials prefer to spell it “Mianmar.” (Maybe officials in Myanmar ought to turn around and spell the name of the South American country “Brazyl.”) I suppose it could be a linguistic problem, with Italian or Brazilian speakers unable to wrap their tongues around “Myanmar.” Yet the correct pronunciation is mye(rhymes with yeh)-an-mar, which is hardly a tongue-twister. Maybe if you are Brazylyan....

Anyway, most of the confusion is the result of political mischief. Because an unelected regime changed the name of the country to Myanmar from Burma, some democratic governments and UN functionaries arbitrarily decided the regime lacked authority to rename the country. Some still refer to it as Burma for that reason, though a reformist democratic government runs the country now.

The question is, what’s so special about “Burma” that global activists want to retain it? Do the freedom-loving peoples of the world think that Great Britain was asked by the people of Myanmar to invade and take over the country and to arbitrarily start calling the land “Burma?” Was the heyday of freedom in the world really the colonial period? We think not.

Myanma and Bamar

So how did the junta come up with the word, “Myanmar?” It looked at its roots. Specifically, it drew upon the word myanma, which is the formal name for the main ethnic group in the country, which is informally known as Bama or Bamar. The British mutated “Bamar” into “Burma.” The junta members just changed it all the way back to Myanma(r).

All of this spells confusion for people googling for information about the largest country in Southeast Asia—in a name, Myanmar. Their computers sometimes come up with “Burma.” Or they hear someone speak of “Birmania” and they wonder where that is. Or they see the word “Mianmar” in print and wonder if that is related to the country with a similar name!

Here’s a helpful hint: Just remember My, as in My Myanmar. Then pack a bag and come visit your Myanmar. It is a fascinating place to tour regardless of what people call it.


Check out more travel tips from our Beginners Guide.

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