Is It Burma or Myanmar?

Is It Burma or Myanmar?

This is the country whose pictures prompted my desire to travel to SE Asia many years ago, but whose political situation kept me from visiting the country back in 2000-2001 when I traveled throughout the region.

So, what country am I speaking of? Is it Burma or Myanmar? Well, to answer that question, I will attempt to show why answering that question is more confusing than one might think.

After British colonial rule, and the dictatorships that followed, in 1989 Burma’s name was changed by the government to Myanmar. Apparently, the United Nations refers to the country as Myanmar for this very reason. However, the CIA World Factbook calls the country Burma.

NPR has this to say:

The U.S. is among the nations that choose not to refer to the nation as Myanmar. “Out of support for the democratic opposition,” and its victory in a 1990 parliamentary election — the results of which were annulled by the military rulers — “the U.S. Government likewise uses ‘Burma,’ ” the State Department says.

The BBC (which still refers to the country only as Burma) writes that:

“Burmah, as it was spelt in the 19th Century, is a local corruption of the word Myanmar. They have both been used within Burma for a long time, says anthropologist Gustaaf Houtman, who has written extensively about Burmese politics. … If Burmese people are writing for publication, they use ‘Myanmar’, but speaking they use ‘Burma’, he says. …”

What? Burma and Myanmar mean the same thing? How did the locals corrupt the word so much? Burma and Myanmar sound nothing alike.

However, I will take my cue from Aung San Suu Kyi who prefers Burma because it is a name that was changed without reference to its people. (According to Lonely Planet, who choose to use both names.)

So, which one is it? Now that you have some information, I’ll leave it for you to decide.

Regardless of what you call it, I just traveled there for 18 days. The next several blog posts will be dedicated to Burma (or Myanmar), Thailand’s neighbor to the west. In case you are wondering in Thailand they refer to it as pratet pama  ประเทศพม่า.


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