‘Türkiye not Turkey’: the countries that rebranded

Eurasian country changing name to better reflect ‘culture, civilisation and values’, President Erdogan says

Name change is part of a ‘national rebrand’
(Image credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Turkey has announced a “national rebrand” that will dispense with its 100-year-old anglicised name in favour of being known as “‘Türkiye”.

The move, announced by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month, will “primarily impact how foreign nations and publics address the country”, according to The i news site, “as well as the labelling of exported goods”.

It has been interpreted as a signal that the government in Ankara is “no longer trying to appease Britain” by altering its national title “for the ease of an English-dominated diplomatic landscape”.

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‘National rebrand’

Domestically, the country has already made the switch. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been renamed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Türkiye.

The Turkish government is now in the process of officially changing its internationally recognised name with the UN, which could be changed with a “simple notification to the UN registry”, Middle East Eye said.

However, the letter “Ü”, which isn’t in the nominal Latin alphabet, “could be a problem”, said the news site. A possible solution could be “using ‘U’ instead of ‘Ü’ in the new name”.

Erdogan said that the decision to switch names “represents and expresses the culture, civilisation and values of the Turkish nation in the best way”, the BBC reported. But some have said the change is part of an effort to “distance the country’s links to the bird”, reported the Daily Mail, as well as the “dictionary definition of ‘something that fails badly’”.

“The association with the bird genuinely annoys Erdogan and the people around him,” said Selim Koru, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “It’s not a surprise given the government’s sensitivity to how the country is perceived and fondness for nationalist rhetoric. That is at the centre of this policy as well.”

Turkey is by no means the first country to change its name. Here are a few of the other notable “national rebrands”.

Republic of Macedonia to Republic of North Macedonia

This one was not so much a rebrand as a way to end a three-decade diplomatic dispute with Greece. North Macedonia “finally assumed its place on the map of western Balkan nations” in 2019, reported The Guardian.

As the result of the name change the country could finally join Nato, “a long-held dream for the small, multi-ethnic country which only narrowly escaped civil war in 2001”.

Successive Greek governments “insisted the landlocked state’s determination to be known as Macedonia implied territorial ambitions against the Greek region”, leading to Greece vetoing Macedonia’s membership of Nato in 2008.

The dispute dated back to the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991 when Macedonia declared its independence, but Greece “objected to its new neighbour’s name”, the BBC said.

Both Northern Macedonia and northern Greece were part of the Roman province of Macedonia, both of which “claim the heritage of Alexander the Great two millennia earlier”, said the broadcaster.

But the name change ended the 27-year dispute, ultimately lifting Athens’s veto on the nation’s bid to join Nato, which it joined as the 30th ally in March 2020.

Kingdom of Swaziland to Kingdom of Eswatini

To celebrate the 50th birthday of Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III, the Kingdom of Swaziland became known as the Kingdom of Eswatini in April 2018.

King Mswati III had “long complained that people outside of Africa confused his country with Switzerland”, said National Geographic.

And there is at least one similarity – Eswatini “is also landlocked and has some mountains”. The southern African nation is “much smaller, smaller than Wales, and located on the eastern border of South Africa, just south of Kruger National Park”.

Czech Republic to Czechia

The country’s official name is still the Czech Republic, but “Czechia” became its shortened geographical name in July 2016.

The name was chosen by Czech leaders as a “one-word alternative name of their country” with the purpose of making it “easier for companies, politicians and sportsmen to use on products, name tags and sporting jerseys”, said The Guardian at the time.

But it’s fair to say that the new name hasn’t really caught on. At the time, critics of the name complained that it sounded “ugly”, while others said it was too close to Chechnya, “making it prone to confusion”, said the paper.

Cape Verde to Cabo Verde

In 2014 the nation made up of ten islands off the Western coast of Africa registered the new name of Cabo Verde with the UN. The move reverted the nation’s official moniker “back to its original Portuguese name”, according to National Geographic.

“Portuguese explorers came upon the peninsula now called Cap-Vert, the westernmost peninsula in Africa and a Senegalese port, in 1444”. They then “christened it ‘Cabo Verde’, which means ‘green cape’”, before using “the same name for the islands to the west, which became the country of Cabo Verde”.

The name eventually became anglicised, which created problems with “cumbersome” translations when the country sent official diplomatic cables or created tourism brochures, said The Boston Globe.

The name change was also part of a national rebrand. “When you say United States, people think: powerful, of the economy, the country of invention, of dreams,” said Mario Lucio de Sousa, the minister of culture for Cape Verde in 2014. “When you talk about Cabo Verde, people think of sun, the beach, nice people, smiles, working people, but, as of now, something intangible.”

Upper Volta to Burkina Faso

A former French colony, the landlocked West African nation gained independence under the name Upper Volta in 1960. In 1984 it was renamed Burkina Faso by president Thomas Sankara, becoming one of a host of nations that renamed their country in an attempt to break from its colonial past.

“We changed the name because Upper Volta was a colonial name not from us but from the French Government, and because we are more than just a location on the river Volta,” a spokesperson for the country’s Mission to the UN told The New York Times.​

Correction, 28 February 2022: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Czechia as a Balkan nation.

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