The British colony of South Rhodesia – today Zimbabwe – was named for the 19th-century English politician and entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes expected that it would always bear his name. “Did you ever hear of a country’s name being changed?” he once asked rhetorically.
If he only knew.
It’s one thing for a company to change its name and possibly risk confusing its customers, alienating its stakeholders, and raising questions among its employees. It’s quite another for a nation to do so. A country’s name is embedded in its identity, its culture, its history, and its place in the world. (These are some companies that changed their names after scandals.)
Nonetheless, many countries throughout history have acquired new names, many of them in the 20th and 21st centuries. To compile a list of countries that have changed their names, 24/7 Tempo reviewed materials from numerous online government sources, including the official websites of the U.K. government and the U.S. Department of State, as well as online sources including Britannica, National Geographic, Euronews, and The Guardian.
Nations change their names for a variety of reasons. African countries have done so to expunge monikers associated with their colonial past. Turkey switched its name to Türkiye for national pride and to disassociate the country from the bird that’s a symbol of Thanksgiving.
Commerce was the motivating factor for Holland and the Czech Republic to change names to the Netherlands and Czechia to better manage tourism and attract foreign investment. North Macedonia switched its name from Macedonia to settle a disagreement with Greece (where a region called Macedonia is located) and to smooth its entry into NATO. (These are the surprising stories behind 50 country names.)
Swapping a country’s name does not come without complications. Nations have to change the name on their currency, government letterheads, official signage, vehicle license plates, and countless other places. They have to make sure other nations and international agencies and organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, recognize the name change.
It’s probably best that the country’s citizens are onboard with the name switch. Many residents of Czechia had no problem with the former Czech Republic and at first balked at the name change. In Eswatini and Türkiye, detractors of those nations’ leaders believe the name switch was a way to divert people’s attention away from the real problems facing their countries.
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