What’s in a Name? Changing Names of Cities

Changing a town’s name for a singular – even arbitrary – purpose, even if only temporarily, has a relatively long history. According to the Guardian, Hot Springs, New Mexico changed its name to Truth or Consequences in 1950 to win a radio contest and have that popular radio game show broadcast from the tiny community once a year for the next half-century. They even named a park after the host, Ralph Edwards. Google, Kansas adopted its new name for a month, in an attempt to woo the web giant to establish superfast internet connections in random American cities through its Fibre for Communities scheme. Wikipedia has a long list.

With the Uttar Pradesh government recently renaming Allahabad to Prayagraj and Faizabad district to Ayodhya, there is a chorus of growing ire over various cities being renamed. This is not the first time that a city name has been changed on the premise of historical legacy and cultural heritage. It’s not just in India, the names of cities have been officially changed in every continent.

In 2016, Queensland’s Stradbroke Island, named after British explorers, was renamed to its indigenous Australian name of Minjerribah (meaning Island in the Sun in the local Jandai language). A group of Australians now want to rename parts of Canberra. According to them some parts of the city are named after bad people and are hurtful to the victims.

Post-Independence the name of the cities was changed to destroy the British legacy and celebrate the Autonomy and Independence of the country. Several changes were controversial, and not all proposed changes were implemented. Each had to be approved by the central government in New Delhi. Names of cities were the identity for the people. There are many cities, which had their names changed ranging from Tiruchirapalli, Thiruvananthapuram to Visakhapatnam and Udhagamandalam.

Cities are the representation of the peak that a civilization can attain. It is not just the work of the people who dwell in that city, it is the work of the entire civilization, its people and the culture that shapes it. It happens to such an extent that cities have come to define empires whether it was the Roman Empire in the west or the Magadh Empire here. It is pertinent to say that the name of the city represents the people, the culture which made it what it is.

When should a public place be renamed? The debate is often complex. Change of names of cities in a certain situation may create continuity by reverting back to the original name that connects with the glorious past. It should be for re-establishment of the broken bond and not disturb the existing bond that exists between the people. Names of cities should not be changed for electoral gains by the party in government.

Changing names of cities also leaves with a few questions: What good did these city name changes accomplish? Do residents of these cities feel any prouder of their localities now than before? Have the changes resulted in better investment opportunities, infrastructure or living standards?

India should evolve from appeasement politics to a system in which progress is the main priority. There are so many larger issues and bigger problems prevailing in our country from lack of primary education, primary healthcare and rural infrastructure to diminishing job opportunities and growing economic irregularities, which the government should focus. It’s not the time to engage people and administration in any unproductive exercise.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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