What’s in a name?
Many of us or our friends have studied in Bangalore, India’s hi-tech hub. And we’ve perhaps heard many people give a twist to the way ‘Bangalore’ is pronounced to make it sound more trendy. However, in a couple of months the Bangalore will no longer be Banglore but Bengaluru to reflect the local language Bengaluru means ‘the town of boiled beans’.
The city will officially use the local Kannada language name Bengaluru from now on, chief minister HD Kumaraswamy said. “As per the people’s aspirations the government has decided to change the name of Bangalore into Bengaluru. The legal process is on.”
City of boiled beans
Bangalore, according to state historians, got its name from Bendakalooru (the town of boiled beans) after a king strayed into the area during a hunting trip in the late 14th century. A woman offered him a meal of boiled beans which the king enjoyed so much that he named the town after the dish.
However, Bangalore is not the only city to be renamed. Several cities have been renamed since independence from British colonial rule in 1947 to reflect local languages and nationalist sentiments. The southern Indian state of Kerala changed the name of its capital from Trivandrum to Thiruvananthapuram in 1991.
In 1995 financial hub Bombay became Mumbai to reflect the Maratha language of Maharashtra state. The appellation Mumbai is an eponym, etymologically derived from Mumba or Maha-Amba — the name of the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi, and Aai — mother in Marathi.
In the 16th century, the Portuguese named the area Bom Baia (Good Bay) later corrupted to Bomaím or Bombaim, by which it is still known in Portuguese. After the British gained possession, it was anglicised to Bombay, though it was known as Mumbai or Mambai to Marathi and Gujarati-speakers, and as Bambai in Hindi, Urdu, and Persian.
The Tamil Nadu state capital of Madras was rechristened Chennai in 1996. The name Madras is derived from Madraspatnam, the site chosen by the British East India Company for a permanent settlement in 1639. Another small town, Chennapatnam, lay to the south of it. In due course the two towns were merged, and the term Madras was favoured by the British. However, locals used to refer to it as Chennapatnam or Chennapuri. The word ‘Chennu’ is a South-Central Dravidian word of Telugu origin, meaning ‘beautiful’ and therefore Chennapuri or Chennapatnam meant ‘beautiful city’.
The city was renamed Chennai in August 1996 as the name Madras was perceived to be of Portuguese origin. It is believed that the original Portuguese name is Madre de Sois, named after a Portuguese high authority who was one among the early settlers in 1500.
The names Kolkata and Calcutta were probably based on Kalikata, the name of one of the three villages (Kalikata, Sutanuti, Gobindapur) in the area before the arrival of the British. Kalikata, in turn, is an anglicised version of Kalikshetra (Land of the goddess Kali). However, other theories exist regarding the origin of the name.
The original settlement of the city was claimed to be located beside a khal, meaning a canal in Bengali. Khal might have given rise to the name. Again, the place was known for the manufacture of shell-lime and the name could have been derived from lime (kali) and burnt shell (kata). Alternatively, the name may have been derived from the Bengali term kilkila (flat area). West Bengal changed the official name of the city from Calcutta to Kolkata; the new name was legalised in 2001.
African and other tales
The history of the world is full of such changing of names of places.
There has been a long-running row over a move to rename the South African capital, Pretoria. Pretoria was named after a settler and folk hero from the Afrikaner group, which went on to create the apartheid system. It is now expected to take the name Tshwane, after a black tribal leader and means “we are the same” in the Tswana language.
The Zimbabwean capital Salisbury was renamed Harare. The Burmese government has ordered the capital be known as Yangon — and not as Rangoon, as spelled by the British.
Peking to Beijing
During 1928-49 civil war, the Kuomintang party decided to call China’s capital city Beiping, or ‘Northern Peace’.
However for years, the city had been known as Peking. From the 1950s on, ‘New China’ decided to standardise the transliteration of Chinese characters according to the Pinyin system, based on the northern Mandarin dialect, and hence ‘Beijing’ (Northern Capital) began to displace ‘Peking’.
The Japanese port city of Edo (Door to the Bay) was renamed Tokyo in 1868, when the city became the formal capital.
The Turkish city of Istanbul has seen many reincarnations. It was founded as the Greek city of Byzantium, becoming Constantinople under the Romans, and conquered by the Ottomans to be reborn as Istanbul.
And St Petersburg’s history reflects political twists in Russia’s past. It was founded in 1703 next to the river Neva on the order of Peter the Great and named it after his patron saint, Peter. The name was changed to Petrograd in 1914 to sound less German. Ten years later, the city was renamed Leningrad in honour of the leader of the Russian revolution. The city’s
inhabitants voted to revert to the name St Petersburg in a referendum in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. — Compiled