Countries Known by More Than One Name

April 20, 2018

Burma Myanmar
The Temples of Bagan, Mandalay, Myanmar. Or is it Burma?

The United Nations recognizes over 190 countries in the world, and most of those are known by only one name. There are, however, a number of countries that have more than one name.

In some cases, newly independent countries may have changed their names to reflect a new identity but may still be widely known by their old names. In other cases, a country may have multiple languages and be referred to differently by those different languages. Regardless of the reason, keeping up with the different names can be tough when you are trying to learn the countries of the world. We are here to help.

Burma and Myanmar

In 1989, the military government of what was at the time Burma officially changed the country’s name to Myanmar. They also changed the name of the capital city from Rangoon to Yangon. Those responsible for the name change reasoned that Burma was a name given to the country by the British colonial rulers, and that it was time to reclaim the country’s true identity.

When the change was first made, the use of the old name was a politically sensitive issue. These days the sensitivity has decreased, and most people have adopted the use of the name Myanmar. There are some, however, including the State Department of the United States, who still use the old name.

Czechia and Czech Republic

Czechoslovakia existed from 1918 until 1993, when the Czech Republic peacefully split from Slovakia. In 2016, politicians in the Czech Republic began advocating for a name change to Czechia.

The change was an effort to give the country an easier name to remember abroad. The Russian Federation, for example, is known as Russia, and the Slovak Republic is known as Slovakia. Although politicians hoped that Czechia would catch on, most foreigners still refer to the country by its old name, the Czech Republic.

Macedonia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

The Republic of Macedonia is a small Balkan country that gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. While the country’s name has been officially recognized by the governments of several major countries, it was admitted to the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and also competes in international sporting events, such as the Olympics, under that name.

Since the northern provinces in neighboring Greece are also referred to as Macedonia, Greece rejects the use of the name to refer to a country. The FYROM name, therefore, is a compromise for official international purposes.

East Timor and Timor Leste

The eastern half of the island of Timor, between Australia and the Indonesian archipelago, was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century. Today, the western half of the island is part of Indonesia, while the eastern half has been an independent country known as East Timor since 2002.

Timor Leste is its official name, which is how it was known during the Portuguese period. Today, East Timor is becoming an attractive destination for travelers who enjoy hiking and diving.

Ivory Coast and Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast, with a population of over 23 million, is located in Western Africa. During the time of European colonization, the Portuguese and the French divided the coastal region according to its local economic activity. The French colonist named the area Côte d'Ivoire, or literally, the coast of ivory.

The country kept the name during the French colonial period, which lasted until 1960, and in 1986 declared that it should be known internationally by the French version of its name. Despite their request, many governments around the world translate its name into local languages, including the English language Ivory Coast.

Holland and the Netherlands

The Netherlands is officially a kingdom that came into existence in 1830. That country has 12 provinces, including North Holland and South Holland, where the famous port cities Amsterdam and Rotterdam are located.

As the country spread its international influence during the 17th century, before the Kingdom of the Netherlands existed, most ships departed from those two provinces, which is how the name Holland spread. Confusingly, the people of the Netherlands are referred to as the Dutch, which is a different story entirely!

Great Britain and the United Kingdom

Even though Great Britain and the United Kingdom are often considered to be one and the same, that is not exactly true. Great Britain refers to England, Scotland, and Wales, which are connected on the same island. The United Kingdom includes those places plus Northern Ireland, which is not physically connected to the other three.

Until 1922, the United Kingdom also include what is now called the Republic of Ireland, but that is now an independent country. Confusingly, there are also crown dependencies, such as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, that are not part of Great Britain or the United Kingdom.

Swaziland and eSwatini

In April 2018, the king of Swaziland announced that his country's name has changed to eSwatini. It remains to be seen if the new name will be commonly used in English.