February 20, 2007
When Name Changes Are Not So Good
Imagine the U.S. Federal Government deciding to unilaterally change the names of Atlanta, Fredericksburg and Richmond because of their associations with the Civil War.
Now imagine the proposed alternatives being names like Grant City, Lincolnville and Yankee Town.
You get the idea.
Changing place names can be a tricky business, as people in St. Arnaud in New Zealand and Potchefstroom and Pretoria in South Africa are discovering.
A town council meeting in St. Arnaud was almost evenly split on the decision to change the lake town's name to Rotoiti, with a slight majority favoring the name change. If the area is named Rotoiti, it will be a reversion back to the town's original name before it was changed in 1951 to avoid confusion with Lake Rotoiti near Rotorua (say those names ten times fast!).
Those opposed to the name want to see a clearer mandate before it goes ahead, but it looks as if the change will happen.
In South Africa, however, tabled plans to change the Afrikaans names of Pretoria (the capital of the country) and Potchefstroom have met fierce resistance from Action Group Potchefstroom and AfriForum, who plan on pooling their legal resources to fight the changes tooth and nail.
Last year nearly 5,000 Potchefstroom residents took to the streets against changing the name and a petition opposing it went to the mayor. A serious debate was held over threatened changes to another well known name of a town close to the heart of every Afrikaner: Lydenberg. These are slated to be named Tshwane, Tlokwe and Mashishing respectively.
Many other South African place names are facing a change, including Pietersburg, Louis Trichardt, Potgietersrus, Nylstroom, Warmbad, Ellisras, and Duiwelskloof. This occurs on the heels of dozens more name changes across the country that seem aimed at dispensing with Afrikaans names.
We have colleagues in Cape Town, and they remind me that many South Africans today see Afrikaans names as a hangover from the country’s colonial and apartheid past but it should be noted that not all Afrikaans names have Apartheid's taint upon them and many thousands of Afrikaans people still live in the country.
Few of the names I have listed have any relation to the National Party government that ruled the country from the end of WWII until 1994 and was instrumental in the institution of apartheid. For this reason, President Thabo Mbeki is well advised to rethink these name changes that seem designed to irritate residents of these places.
Tread carefully, South Africa.
TrackBack URL for this entry: