Where is Myanmar Burma

Burma and Myanmar: what's behind the names

“The press” writes Burma, others say Myanmar. What is true?

With a coup and the establishment of a military government, a country has come back into focus that is known by two names: Burma and Myanmar. The naming is complex, and it should be said beforehand - both names are correct for the country in Southeast Asia.

“Myanmar” is often understood as the “modern” name of the country that was initially officially known as “Burma” under British colonial rule. Myanmar is therefore often perceived as the country's self-determined name.

Only: It's not that simple. Myanmar was introduced as a country name in 1989 by a commission of the then military government. There was no referendum or the like on the change. Myanmar was chosen at the time to find a broad term that should better encompass minorities in the country.

"Myanmar" has roots in "Burma"

Both the name Burma and the name Myanmar come from Burmese. “Burma” is a kind of abbreviation for the word “Myanmar”. Among other things, minorities perceive the name Burma as not inclusive. The same applies to the name “Myanmar” - before independence, left-wing groups suggested the name “Bama” around 100 years ago. In fact, Bama became the name of the state used by the Japanese for Burma during their occupation in World War II.

Both names originally get their meaning from the Burmese ethnic group. After Burma gained independence in 1948, the meaning of the words in official parlance developed to such an extent that “Myanmar” was considered a more inclusive name, including non-Burmese parts of the population. Both Burma and Myanmar are now used in everyday language.

Ambiguous decision

At the same time, "Burma" has been used as a country name by many minorities over the decades - they found the name Myanmar, chosen in 1989, to be a hypocritical decision, since it meant inclusiveness, but was chosen by the ethnically largest group, the Burmese. Long-time opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi also spoke out against the name Myanmar for many years.

While many countries began to use the official name in 1989, the US government, for example, continues to use Burma today (although not all US media; the New York Times, for example, use the name Myanmar). Some countries, such as Great Britain, pay attention to the preference of the elected government when naming the country. After democratic reforms were carried out in the 2010s, the name Myanmar became more popular. As head of government, Aung San Su Kyi declared that foreigners are free to name the country Burma or Myanmar - there is no constitutional stipulation.

So how do you deal with it? Former US President Barack Obama solved the name issue during a visit with his then Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, so that he simply used both names. “Die Presse” decided over 20 years ago to use the name Burma to reflect the naming “Myanmar” by the military government at the time.