Renaming States and Cities- What’s in a Name?

“…What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

– William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet

The point that Shakespeare wanted to make was that there is nothing special in a name; what makes something special is its inherent values and quality. Since the time of independence, several cities across the country got rechristened. Madras to Chennai, Trivandrum to Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore to Bengaluru, Bombay to Mumbai etc. are some of those places which have already got renamed from their old-colonial legacy names into that of more ‘Indian’ names. While some of these changes are meant for administrative convenience, a majority of them were done to favour the vote bank politics and ignite the rigour of regionalism and cultural pride. While there is no harm in taking pride in one’s own culture and ethnicity, a mere change in the name of the cities or towns will add no value to the heritage.

In some worst cases, such changes in the names can be used by certain segments of the polity to ignite divide and friction between various cultural and religious groups, which in turn can lead to a situation where people end up fighting each other in name of cultural diversity. What good can a mere change in the name bring to the society? Or what development and growth can such a change bring to the people residing in those places? Maybe the ego might get satisfied, but ego cannot feed poor or resolve the socio-economic problems that these societies face.

Changing the name of the locality/town/state can be sometimes justified as was the case with several roads and junctions in Delhi, which were renamed after several foreign dignitaries to show the gratitude and respect of the country towards them. This token of gratitude often helped India to create a positive impression in front of fellow nations and held the nation’s interest in international unity and cooperation at several forums. Tolstoy Marg (Delhi), Richmond Town (Bangalore), Coles Road (Bangalore), and Santa Cruz (Mumbai) etc. are some of such areas and localities in India which carries a legacy, from an individual who contributed for the welfare of the society or the eminent personalities or leaders. There is even a village called ‘Moscow City’ named after the USSR capital to commemorate the revolution of 1917. So the next time you really want to visit Moscow but don’t have the budget or time for the same, get a bus or train to the Indian Moscow City.

Now, West Bengal (Bengal, now) wanted to have a second name change; the State plans to change its name from Bengal to Bangla. Several memes have popped up regarding this recent decision, and evidently, the entire idea of replacing and modifying names is gaining traction, negatively and positively both, among the public. The underlying reason behind a majority of such renaming processes is emerging out of a meaningless sense of egoism and regionalism. It is a well-known fact that West Bengal got renamed to Bengal because the state administration felt that they were always positioned last in the rolls of several national events and important meetings, making the Bengal bureaucrats and politicians to be the last everywhere. Leapfrogging from W of West Bengal to B of Bengal may have helped the state to advance in the lists with state names but it will not help the state to advance in terms of development or welfare. Similarly, renaming a city from its English name to an indigenized name may help the regionalist pride to advance and will do no good to the welfare of the concerned population.

Personally, I often find myself attached to several ‘old’ names; I love Bangalore over Bengaluru, I prefer Trivandrum over Thiruvananthapuram (a rather long name) or Bombay over Mumbai. Rather than a mere change in names or alphabets, what political leadership must aim for should be a change in terms of living standards; a change in terms of health care; a change in terms of literacy; a change in terms of liberty, harmony and peace. The change must be in the in the form of the quality of human life. After all, what is there in a name?

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