I wasn’t aware of this but now that I am, the Dish will refer to Mumbai by its previous name. ~Sullivan
This is, if anything, even sillier than complaining about using the name Myanmar. Contra Hitchens, Myanmar is not a “fake” name. It is another name for Burma in Burmese, used when referring to the country in writing, and the fact that it was adopted as the official name by a military junta should not necessarily make it the “wrong” name. The name Bombay was itself the invention of the Portugese that caught on and became institutionalized in the colonial period, and the city has been called Mumbai by speakers of some dialects for quite a while. As Hitchens’ own colleague Chris Beam at Slate wrote a couple years ago:
Speakers of Marathi and Gujarati, the local languages, have always called the city Mumbai.
So really all one is doing by refusing to use the new name is to privilege other dialects over Marathi and Gujarati. Now that‘s a powerful statement.
What is sillier still is to act as if refusing to use Myanmar matters. You are not freeing one dissident or aiding one protester against the junta by doing this; it is a show of solidarity that doesn’t even express solidarity, but simply makes you feel as if you have taken a stand when all you are doing is continuing a habit. The same goes double for Mumbai. You are not making the BJP weaker by your refusal; Shiv Sena is not going to disband out of fear of your mighty refusal. No one is obliged to use the new names, of course, and many don’t, but could we at least not pretend that by refusing the new name we are doing anything meaningful?
Presumably Istanbul should remain Istanbul by Hitchens’ standards, since it was officially renamed by a secularist, despite the rupture with the city’s past the newer official name represents. The change was a symbolic break with the Ottomans, but simply formalized a colloquial name of the city, which is similar to what happened in India. Should we all go back to calling a certain famous city on the Volga Tsaritsyn rather than the neutral Volgograd to show that we are calling it by its “right” name? I doubt Hitchens’ great scruples over using “the right name” would apply here, nor would they have applied to any of dozens of Eurasian cities previously renamed for various thugs and partisans of Hitchens’ political persuasion.
Update: A Mumbai local sets Andrew straight.