Historically, the name "Persia" has been applied to southern Asia to disassociate that land from the people who inhabit it, who called themselves Aran. Similarly, the name "Palestine" has been applied to the Levant, to disassociate the area from Judea. To be clear, I understand that the names existed in a sense before the broad, official application to the land, however they were officially decreed as names for the land (by foreigners) to repress the people living in the land. I am not referring to recent political events so please no flamewars! I am listing those two as examples for the sake of explanation so no need for pedantry.

Of notable development in the past century have been the return to the ancient names to both these places: Iran and Israel. What other areas were named to disassociate the lands from their inhabitants? Are there any movements to restore other such lands to their former names?

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    The name "Persia" was definitely not originally "chosen" for the reason you assert it was here. Perhaps its continued use began to have that affect, but that's a very different thing. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_of_Iran#Etymology_of_Persia . Those who don't want flamewars perhaps should avoid posting flamebait...
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 25 '12 at 13:30
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    What makes you think "Persia" was applied to southern Asia to disassociate that land from the people who inhabited it?
    – Joe
    Jul 25 '12 at 13:38
  • 1
    (Did not downvote myself) I think I was a bit harsh there, actually. Still, if you read the Etymology, the name did originally describe the inhabitants. The Persians were an Iranian tribe that used to rule the area. After that, the name was mostly inertia. Geographic names tend to be very conservative things. Linguists often use them for clues as to what people used to inhabit areas before the current inhabitants took it over.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 25 '12 at 14:40
  • 3
    I don't think Persia is a good example, there're nations/lands with "many names": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_Germany, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology_of_Scotland and it has nothing to do with "disassociating that land from the people who inhabit it"
    – soliloquyy
    Dec 17 '12 at 10:20
  • 3
    The position has perhaps come full circle when Iranian students in western countries describe themselves as Persian in order to avoid opprobrium associated with identifying themselves as Iranian.
    – WS2
    Feb 25 '15 at 13:23

I think a complete reply here is impossible, because of the sheer number of such events in history. However, these events are more common after (I'd say) the French Revolution when the modern concept of "nation" was born.

The best such example (I think) is that of Turkey and Greece. Both these countries where multicultural and multilanguage in the eighteenth century. When the Greek people decided they wanted independence from Istanbul, they revived ancient history to mark their difference with Turkish speaking people, even though there is no substantial genetic difference, and most of today Turkish-speaker are in fact descendants of the Byzantine inhabitants of the same area. They went as far as trying to reintroduce Ancient Greek as the official language, but this attempt failed, for obvious reasons.

The same can be said of Turkey: Othman rulers did not view themselvs are Turks, but rather as Othmans. However in the XIX century a wave of nationalism hit Southern Europe and the Balkans, promptly inflaming the Othman Empire. The Young Turks were born, and they wanted the Turkish speaking, Sunni people to have a nation of their own - a nation as in "a culturally and ethnically homogeneous people living in a definite territory". A few decadel later we see the Greek speaking population of Anatolia "exchanged" for the Turkish speaking population of Greece: mission accomplished.

So modern Turkey was born and christened (yeah, cheap), to the detriment of most of its own non Turkish-Sunni population. They went as far as imposing to all people to adopt Turkish based surnames "Surname Law".

Notice that no judgement whatsoever is expressed in this comment.

Another modern istance is the traslation to the West of Poland after WW2. Poland lost its Eastern provinces to the USSR, and as a compensation acquired a big chunk of then Germany, promptly translating all place names in Polish.

  • Thank you, I was completely ignorant about that bit of Turkish and Greek history.
    – dotancohen
    Dec 17 '12 at 15:51
  • Are you implying that the names Helena (Greece) and Turkey are offensive to one another?
    – dotancohen
    Dec 17 '12 at 16:07
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    I'm not implying that they are offensive to one another now, because Greek speaking inhabitants of Anatolia have been deported to Greece (and vice-versa). If they were still living there, the name Turkey would certainly sound discriminatory: Turkey, the land of Turkish people. You don't belong here (anymore). Before it was the Ottoman Empire: still led by a Turkish class, but certainly not Turkish-only.
    – astabada
    Dec 17 '12 at 22:41
  • I don't think the description of West Poland is accurate. The cities were not renamed as much as having the official name changed from the German to the Polish version, and most other countries followed suit. The Polish names were not invented at that point (some might actually be older than the German names; the area was actually Slavic when we first begin to get written sources of it's history).
    – andejons
    Dec 28 '17 at 21:10

The best answer to your actual question I know of is Belgium. When the country was created, it was sort of a mishmash of different languages and cultures, which broke off from the Dutch because the rulers there couldn't stop themselves from trying to push their own religion and language on the inhabitants.

Given that history, they really needed a neutral name that didn't favor any one existing group. So they took their name from the Belgae, an extinct Celtic tribe that used to inhabit the area in the early Roman era.

Personally, I think it is probably a Good Thing™ to name your country geographically, rather than trying to name it after the inhabitants. After all, people move around. Naming your country after a language or ethnicity is bound to lead to people thinking that anyone who isn't of that ethnicity or language doesn't belong there. It's a short hop from that to thinking perhaps they should be gotten rid of somehow...

Let's compare this with the incident you describe about "Palestine". Originally Rome had the Jewish area as a single administrative district named Judea. This unified Jewish district revolted in 135 CE, and it took half of the entire empire's armed forces to put it down. From the Roman's point of view, this was seriously not cool.

In the aftermath they decided that it was probably a Bad Thing™ to leave the Jews in a unified province of just Jews. So they consolidated Judea with other nearby (non-Jewish) areas. They couldn't call this new heterogeneous district Judea anymore, as that would favor the Jewish residents over the non-Jewish (precisely what they wanted to avoid), so to be neutral they picked an old name name the Greeks had used for the area hundreds of years earlier. It may be true that this also ticked off the residents of the portion of the new district that used to be Judea, and it may also be true that the Romans didn't care that it did, but that was not their purpose in doing it.

Given that the new state wasn't entirely Jewish, and the intent was to govern it as a place of hetrogenious culture, I think the comparison with the choice of names for Belgium is quite apt. The only real difference is that it was imposed by a conquerer, rather than by a victorious group of local revolutionaries

  • Thank you. However, the name was not chosen with the intention of disassociating the people living there from the land.
    – dotancohen
    Jul 25 '12 at 14:25
  • @dotancohen - More like disassociating the name of the country from any actual people who might be living there. I'm not sure if this is a distinction with a difference or not.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 25 '12 at 15:55
  • Quite the difference! From what I understand, the name Belgium was used to not offend the people living within. The name Palestine was used specifically to offend after the Bar Kochava revolt.
    – dotancohen
    Jul 25 '12 at 19:53
  • @dotancohen - I have an involved two-comment answer to this, but decided that since a lot of it was about what your question was really about, it ought to go into my answer instead. See above.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 26 '12 at 14:38
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    @T.E.D.: I am not sure you are right about Judea being merged with other districts after the suppression of the Revolt. Most maps I've seen show just about the same borders, only with a new name - Palestine. So, your claim that the name change was something of a bureacratic procedure and not a very deliberate political message doesn't seem yo hold. Dec 17 '12 at 0:28

After annexing Poland in 1939, Nazi Germany administration renamed some of Polish cities: Łódź was renamed to Litzmannstadt, Gdynia was renamed to Gotenhafen.

After 1863 and January Uprising failure, Russian administration used name Kraj Privislansky (Vistula Territories) referring to territories of former Kingdom of Poland ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_Poland )

  • Thank you soliloquyy. It seems to me that the German intention was to Germanize the lands (make them seem German) rather than to disservice the Poles. Maybe a bit of both?
    – dotancohen
    Dec 17 '12 at 13:35

USSR was mentioned in another answer as related to Poland, but USSR - and Russian Empire before 1917 - had a strong habit of doing this. As a random example:

  • Kaliningrad was renamed from Königsberg after USSR annexed it from Germany following WW2

    Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 after the death of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Mikhail Kalinin, one of the original Bolsheviks. The survivors of the German population were expelled and the city was repopulated with Soviet citizens. The German language was replaced by the Russian language.

  • +1 I did not bring the USSR as an example because most of its renaming was not because of disowning any particular people. But this is exactly the same the Polish did, viz. renaming places to disown German people of their land.
    – astabada
    Dec 31 '12 at 15:15
  • @astabada - renaming in core Russia wasn't to disown. Renaming in Ukraine, Baltic republics, Caucasus (Chechnya, Ossetia, and Soviet Republics around) was to impose soviet/russian control
    – DVK
    Dec 31 '12 at 15:28
  • Arguable, when the Soviet government encouraged e.g. teaching of local languages as opposed to tsarist "russification". There might have been different phases though, I'm not an expert.
    – astabada
    Dec 31 '12 at 16:52
  • @astabada - that depended on the locality.
    – DVK
    Dec 31 '12 at 17:11

Named differently from original inhabitants: America, Australia, New Zealand

Changing names: Irish people & governments don't often use the term "British Isles" to include Ireland.

The city of Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland is another example of name changes. However each tribe wants to call it by their name.

Names are a complex issue, people really like some names and really really don't like when someone else wants them to call it something else, or conversely someone else calls something by some name (e.g. Greece & Macedonia naming dispute).

Names change aswell, what was once called one thing, now people want to call it another thing. Your example of Isreal is complex because some people living in that area want to call it Palestine.

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    Today some people want to call some areas Palestine, but I am referring to the specific case of renaming a place with the intention of disparaging the inhabitants. I don't think that any of the examples that you've mentioned were done with the explicit intend of disparaging the indigenous peoples.
    – dotancohen
    Jul 25 '12 at 14:24
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    Ask a nationalist in Northern Ireland if they are happy with the name "Londonderry". In their opinion it's a foreign country changing the name of a city to include a reference to a foreign city. Jul 25 '12 at 14:27
  • Yes, we were thought to say America (named after an Italian) and not Indiana: +1
    – Drux
    Jan 2 '13 at 7:37

Burma/Myanmar might be a case in point, but I'm not quite sure as to what was the motivation behind the renaming.

  • Not at all, both names derive from the same tribe from what I've understood. Neither are derogatory, but the local government feels that the Anglacized "Burma" is less preferable to the local pronunciation of "Myama" (hence, Myanmar: the 'r' is not pronounced like native English speakers expect).
    – dotancohen
    Dec 17 '12 at 15:57
  • @dotancohen: That's what I thought, but this wikipedia text got me thinking there might be more behind this: "Many political and ethnic opposition groups, and countries continue to use "Burma" because they do not recognise the legitimacy of the ruling military government or its authority to rename the country.". Note the ethnic. Dec 17 '12 at 15:58
  • That means that they do not recognise the ruling party's legitimacy and so accept no ruling by them as authoritative (culturally sensitive or not).
    – dotancohen
    Dec 17 '12 at 16:05
  • Perhaps. I said I am not sure... :) Dec 17 '12 at 16:07

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