Saturday, June 7, 2008

Burma or Myanmar?

You may have noticed that US news media (CNN, the NY Times, etc.) continue to call the country located on Thailand's western border Myanmar, while the British media (BBC, etc.) opt to call that nation Burma. As Myanmar was the name given to the country by a kleptocratic military junta, I see no reason to respect the government's choice of name.

Nevertheless, much as a physician will refer to a patient by the name of her illness on some occasions, and by her own name at other times; at Jotman, I refer to "Myanmar" when I want to emphasize the disease, and "Burma" when I want to emphasize the identity of the patient. Accordingly, I have adapted the practice of using the word "Myanmar" mainly when referring to the military government of Burma (or, as in the previous post, Burma's form of government). Otherwise, when specifying the country, my preferance is to call the place Burma.


  1. Whether one uses Burma or Myanmar is of little importance in dealing with the problems there in the wake of the cyclone disaster. It is easy to debate side issues of this sort. The hard thing is to find an effective way to do something about the situation. That is what everyone should be focusing on rather than nit picking about the name of the country.

  2. Whether one uses Burma or Myanmar is of little importance. . .

    Among those not familiar with Burma (which is most people), the use of two names for the same country has been a source of some confusion.

    My purpose here was to clear up this confusion, while explaining to readers the reasoning behind my own preference for "Burma," and my qualified use of the word "Myanmar."

    For anyone interested in the debate, I recommend these sources:

    The question as to what we call Burma relates to the question of the legitimacy of the government of Burma. And the question of the legitimacy of the government may well have a bearing on how various countries respond to the cyclone emergency, how they direct their aid, and by what means.

    Ultimately, what we call Burma may not matter, but I think talking about what we call it serves to remind people about highly relevant political circumstances.


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