June 2015 – Oh please, tell me where I am!

A few days ago I came from Singapore and landed on the international airport of Yangon. The three-letter-code of the airport is RGN – just like SYD for Sydney, SIN for Singapore, HAM for Hamburg and VIE for Vienna. But why RGN for Yangon?

Yangon suburbThis town was founded under the name of “Dagon” in the early 11th century. In 1755, King Alaungpaya conquered Dagon, renamed it “Yangon”. Then, in 1852, the British Empire occupied the area, made Yangon the capital of “British Burma” and renamed it Rangoon.

Soon after Burma’s independence in 1948, many colonial names of streets and parks were changed to more nationalistic names. In 1989, the country was ruled by a military junta, the city’s English name was changed back to Yangon, along with many other changes in English transliteration of Burmese names. The three-letter-code of the airport (RGN) was introduced while the region was still under British rule and the capital was named Rangoon.

So what about the name of the country? Is it Burma? Is it Myanmar? Or are the Germans right, who named it Birma?

The name Myanmar was first used in the early 13th century. It exists in different spellings like “Mranmar”, “Myanma” or “Mirma”. The Chinese called it “Mian”. The language the majority of the people spoke was named “Bama” or Bamese”.

BaganAs a British colony the country was named “Burma” – Just during the Japanese occupation in the Second Word War the name of the state was officially “Bama” or “Birma”. Later on again “Burma”. In 1989 the military government decided to rename the state to “Myanmar” again. The United Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, endorsed the name change five days after its announcement. Americans often wrongly use the name “My-Anmar”. (No, it’s not your Anmar!)

But what really ist important is the fact, that nowadays the people in Myanmar use this name for their country and Yangon for their largest city. Some of the students I am working with do not even know, that their hometown was once called Rangoon.