Tehran Iran

Countries That Have Changed Their Names

Throughout history, many countries have undergone name changes for various reasons, ranging from political shifts and decolonization to cultural reclamation and modernization. Here are twelve countries that have changed their names, each with its unique story and significance.

1. Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon)

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Sri Lanka, an island nation in South Asia, was known as Ceylon during British colonial rule. In 1972, following independence from British rule in 1948, the country changed its name to Sri Lanka, which translates to “resplendent island” in Sanskrit.

Reason for change:

Decolonization: Reflecting a break from colonial past and embracing national heritage.

2. Myanmar (formerly Burma)

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Myanmar, located in Southeast Asia, was known as Burma under British colonial rule. In 1989, the military government officially changed the country’s name to Myanmar to better represent the diverse ethnic groups within the nation.

Reason for change:

Inclusivity: Acknowledging the country’s ethnic diversity beyond the dominant Burman population.

3. Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)

Mbabane Eswatini

In 2018, King Mswati III announced that Swaziland, a small landlocked country in Southern Africa, would be renamed Eswatini. The name means “land of the Swazis” in the local Swati language.

Reason for change:

Cultural Reclamation: Reflecting indigenous identity and reducing confusion with Switzerland.

4. North Macedonia (formerly Macedonia)

North Macedonia open to tourists

North Macedonia changed its name from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in 2019 after a long-standing dispute with Greece, which has a region named Macedonia.

Reason for change:

Diplomatic Resolution: Settling a naming dispute with Greece to improve international relations and facilitate EU and NATO membership.

5. Thailand (formerly Siam)

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Siam was the official name of this Southeast Asian country until 1939, when it was changed to Thailand. The name change was part of a nationalistic movement emphasizing the identity of the Thai people.

Reason for change:

Nationalism: Emphasizing the unity and identity of the Thai ethnic group.

6. Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia)

Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe
Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, located in Southern Africa, was known as Rhodesia during British colonial rule, named after Cecil Rhodes. In 1980, following the end of white-minority rule and the attainment of independence, the country was renamed Zimbabwe.

Reason for change:

Decolonization: Removing colonial references and embracing indigenous heritage.

7. Iran (formerly Persia)

Tehran Iran
Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran

In 1935, the government of Persia requested that countries with which it had diplomatic relations refer to it as Iran, the name used by its inhabitants. The name change was part of a modernization and national identity movement.

Reason for change:

Modernization: Emphasizing the local name and identity over the historically Western term.

8. Ghana (formerly Gold Coast)


Ghana, in West Africa, was known as the Gold Coast during British colonial rule. In 1957, upon gaining independence, it was renamed Ghana, inspired by the ancient Ghana Empire.

Reason for change:

Decolonization: Honoring historical African civilizations and cultural heritage.

9. Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

The country known as Zaire from 1971 to 1997 reverted to its original name, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), after the fall of President Mobutu Sese Seko.

Reason for change:

Political Shift: Marking the end of Mobutu’s regime and a return to historical identity.

10. Cambodia (formerly Kampuchea)

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Cambodia has undergone several name changes due to political upheavals. It was known as Kampuchea during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, before reverting to Cambodia.

Reason for change:

Political Transformation: Reflecting changes in governance and political ideology.

11. Belize (formerly British Honduras)

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Belize, in Central America, was known as British Honduras during its time as a British colony. In 1973, the name was changed to Belize as the country moved towards independence, which it achieved in 1981.

Reason for change:

Decolonization: Reflecting national identity and distancing from colonial ties.

12. Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta)

Burkina Faso, located in West Africa, was known as Upper Volta during French colonial rule. In 1984, President Thomas Sankara changed the name to Burkina Faso, which means “Land of Incorruptible People” in the local Mossi and Dioula languages.

Reason for change:

Cultural Reclamation: Reflecting the values and identity of the local population.

Name changes of countries often signify deeper cultural, political, and social shifts. Whether breaking away from colonial pasts, resolving international disputes, or embracing local heritage, these changes reflect the evolving identities and aspirations of nations.

Understanding these transformations provides insight into the rich tapestry of global history and the ongoing journey towards self-determination and cultural pride.

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