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Rhinoceroses in Hlane Royal National Park, eSwatini. Photo: Shutterstock

From Czechia to Sri Lanka: 7 countries that changed their names, when and why

  • Swaziland changed its name to eSwatini to stop it being confused with Switzerland. No, really
  • Some rebrands were driven by politics, others by pride, while some were about asserting a nation’s new-found independence

Countries change their names for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s for political purposes or to encourage a sense of national pride. The switch might be motivated by marketing considerations and occasionally it’s the result of a royal decree. A rebranding exercise also provides a clean start after independence – the decolonisation of Africa led to a flurry of name changes: Bechuanaland became Botswana, Nyasaland was renamed Malawi, Gold Coast converted to Ghana and the country formally known as Upper Volta emerged as Burkina Faso.

Here are seven other nations that have tinkered with their titles.


To celebrate Swaziland’s 50th anniversary of independence from British rule, in 2018, King Mswati III announced that southern Africa’s smallest country would now be known as the Kingdom of eSwatini, mean­ing Land of the Swazis. The monarch, who came to power in 1986, said that besides shedding traces of its colonial past, the name change would stop foreigners confusing the landlocked nation with Switzerland. Trivia buffs will be interested to learn that eSwatini is the only country that begins with a lower-case letter.

Visit: game parks are big business in tiny eSwatini. Hlane Royal National Park is home to lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras and hippos, and recognised for its record on rhino conservation. Mountain biking, horse riding, white-water rafting and hiking in the highlands are all popular pursuits. In fact, you could almost be in, er, Switzerland.

The botanical gardens in Pyin U Lwin, Myanmar. Photo: Shutterstock


In 1989, the military government changed Burma to Myanmar on the grounds that the former refers only to its largest ethnic group, the Bamar or Burmans, rather than embracing all 135 indigenous communities. Internal place names were also changed: Rangoon became Yangon and Irrawaddy is now Ayeyarwady, for example. In 2008, another tweak resulted in the country converting to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. State counsellor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi prefers to call her homeland Burma but says she uses Myanmar from time to time, to make others feel comfortable.
Visit: the temple-strewn plains of Bagan are becoming ever busier, as is Lake Inle, where tourists are herded to all the same sightseeing locations and souvenir craft shops. At 1,000 metres above sea level, the former British hill station of Pyin U Lwin (previously Maymyo) is refreshingly cool and uncrowded. Colonial-era churches stand toe to toe with Burmese temples and Chinese shrines, and the meticulously manicured botanical gardens are modelled on London’s Kew Gardens.
Saint Jovan Kaneo Church, in Ohrid, Republic of North Macedonia. Photo: Shutterstock

North Macedonia

After the break-up of Yugoslavia, Macedonia became the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in 1993. Next door neighbour Greece wasn’t too happy with this arrangement, as Athens views Macedonia as a region of its own country, entirely separate from the culturally, ethnically and linguistically Slavic state to the north. After decades of disagreement, and an ill-tempered vote in the Greek parli­a­ment, the Balkan nation was renamed the Republic of North Macedonia with effect from January 2019.

Visit: located on a lake of the same name, Ohrid is a high-season party destination that reverts to a peaceful retreat as soon as the summer crowds have gone. The charming old town, Byzantine churches, medieval castles and strikingly clear water make it a North Macedonian must-see.

A train on the Nine Arch Bridge near Ella, in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

Sri Lanka

The British modified the Portuguese colonial name, Ceilão, to Ceylon when they arrived, in the early 19th century. On becoming a republic, in 1972, the teardrop-shaped island became Sri Lanka, meaning “resplendent land”. The former name is still widely used, however, the Bank of Ceylon, the Ceylon Electricity Board and the Ceylon Tea logo all being examples.

Visit: take the train from Colombo into the Central Highlands as far as Ella, more than 1,000 metres above sea level. Use the town as a base from which to discover roaring waterfalls, tea plantations, the photogenic Nine Arch (railway) Bridge and Ella Gap, which offers sweeping views all the way back down to the coast.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Photo: Shutterstock


After independence from Britain in 1980, Rhodesia became Zimbabwe (in recogni­tion of the ancient ruined city Great Zimbabwe) and the capital, Salisbury, was switched to Harare. The southern Africa country, led by Robert Mugabe for 37 years until 2017, also saw the names of a number of other cities, towns and streets changed.

Visit: Hwange National Park, the largest in Zimbabwe, is home to the world’s highest concentration of elephants. The Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant) roam the savannah grasslands and wood­lands, along with 100 other types of animals and 500 species of birds. An hour’s drive away is Victoria Falls. The mile-long marvel of mist and spray marking the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe is one of the world’s most spectacular sights.

Cesky Krumlov, in Czechia, in winter. Photo: Shutterstock


Czechoslovakia was too long, but apparently Czechia is too short, so for now, the world will be sticking with the Czech Republic. Authorities hoped the revamped moniker, which became official in 2016, would be universally embraced, but Czechs are not convinced and the name hasn’t caught on. Some suggest it sounds similar to the conflict-wracked Russian republic of Chechnya.

Visit: instead of devoting all your time to touristy Prague, why not head to Little Prague? Cesky Krumlov is an enchanting medieval gem overlooked by a castle and enclosed on three sides by the Vltava River. A cross between a sightseeing destination and a screen saver, the fairy-tale town attracts its share of visitors but on nothing like the scale of the capital of the Czech Republic – sorry – Czechia.

Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo: Shutterstock

The Congo

The largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa has had its fair share of name changes. In the 19th century it was the Congo Free State as well as the Belgian Congo. At independence, in 1960, the Republic of Congo-Léopoldville became the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1971, it was renamed the Republic of Zaire before reverting to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997. To further confuse cartographers (and the rest of us), the country on its western border is called the Republic of the Congo and also Congo-Brazzaville. Got all that?

Visit: one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Nyiragongo looms over the Congolese city of Goma and Virunga National Park, home of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. The trek up to the planet’s largest lava lake takes up to eight hours but the views are certainly worth it, particularly after dark, when the boiling, bubbling beacon can be seen for miles around. Be sure to check the security situation before travelling – no one ever confused the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Switzerland.