Burma / Myanmar

Is the country called Burma or Myanmar? And what’s the difference between the two names?

Interestingly, the conflict between the two names is in the English version; there is no such conflict in the Burmese language. The official name of the country in Burmese is Pyidaungzu Myanma Naingngandaw, meaning Union of Myanmar (or Myanma), which is often shortened to Myanma Naingngandaw.

Myanmar has always been the official name of the country in the Burmese language and the Burmese use this word when they want to be official or literary. But since the 19th century, the Burmese have used the name Bama or Bamar in everyday, colloquial speech. This colloquial usage has been turned into Burma in English. In Burmese, both names coexist without conflict, each being used in its proper place. The ultimate etymology and what the name means is unclear, but both Myanmar and Bama ultimately come from the same root.

In 1989, the military junta that rules the country decided to change the official English version of the name from Burma to Myanmar. At the same time, they changed the official transliteration of several other place names to better reflect their pronunciation in Burmese, one of these being the English name of the capital, which was changed from Rangoon to Yangon. But in protest of the military government, which they considered illegitimate, several Western nations, including the US, Australia, Canada, and Britain, refused to recognize this change and went on calling the country Burma. Some Western news organizations follow the lead of their government and use Burma. Others use Myanmar. And other compromise and use both.

(Sources: BBC News; CIA World Factbook)

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