“What’s in a name?”, naive Juliet asks. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, we all know some names can cause a lot of grief, as Juliet would find out, and as we all know from “the Wuhan flu”. That’s why since 2015, the World Health Organization has been urging global researchers not to name new viruses and diseases after nations, regions or people. They should be politically neutral but scientifically informative. But what about the variants of a disease such as Covid-19 , scientifically identified as SARS-CoV-2? Among others, the more lethal and contagious ones include B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1. Unless you are into medical nomenclature, you probably wouldn’t know what they are. But you would have heard of them if I had written, respectively, the UK variant , the South African variant and Brazilian variant. All those “politically incorrect” identifiers have been used in mainstream news outlets around the world, including this newspaper. WHO guidelines are pretty clear about not naming new diseases after countries or localities, but have been less explicit about their variants. The 2015 World Health Organization Best Practices for the Naming of New Human Infectious Diseases states that disease names may NOT include: Geographic locations in terms of cities, countries, regions, continents such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers), Spanish flu, Rift Valley fever, Lyme disease, Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever and Japanese encephalitis People’s names such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chagas disease Species/class of animal or food such as Swine flu, bird flu, monkeypox, equine encephalitis, paralytic shellfish poisoning Cultural, population, industry or occupational references, such as occupational, legionnaires, miners, butchers, cooks, nurses In the spirit, if not the letter, of the WHO guidelines, names such as the UK variant , the South African variant and Brazilian variant really should have been no-nos. When researchers in South Africa first identified an alarming variant last year, they avoided including the country in its name at the request of their president and health minister. To the chagrin of some health and Kent officials, “the UK variant” has been called “the Kent variant”, the county where it was first detected, in some British news outlets, including the BBC. Public health experts have long understood that geographical or national identification with diseases is counterproductive; by stigmatising countries and peoples, it discourages surveillance, full disclosure and international cooperation. China and the United States have been prime examples of how right those experts have been. Beijing has been accused of initially balking at full disclosure when SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in Wuhan. The US government under former president Donald Trump and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo has been blamed for fanning the current waves of hate crimes against Asian-Americans by insisting on citing “the Chinese virus” and the “Wuhan virus”. So far, though, the popular media identifiers of variants after countries have caused far less controversy than was the case with China. One reason is surely that the outbreak of the pandemic was played out in the context of rising hostilities between China and the US, leading both countries to heavily politicise what ought to have been a purely global public health issue. Their imbroglio is ample demonstration of the wisdom of the WHO guidelines. Sadly, powerful states won’t think twice about undermining or discrediting global organisations for their own national interests and priorities.