What’s in a name?

Georgetown, Malaysia (Photo courtesy: Poh Wei Chuen via Unsplash)

I’ll begin with say that there is a lot to learn from Malaysia. It might be a relatively tiny country but there are always lessons to derive from all geographies, be it East or West. One of them is their penchant to not rename cities and towns. So you have a Georgetown in Penang. And then you have Port Dickson in Negeri Sembilan. By the way, this is the same town which recently elected Anwar Ibrahim (the half-term future Prime Minister of the Pakatan Harapan alliance) to the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of their parliament.

Time for a disclaimer here because there is something else they have changed though. Not just changed, rather added an extension, to the existing names of the states. So, you have Darul Ehsan for Selangor and Darul Aman for Kedah. To my mind, these Arabic honorifics attached to some of the state names (eight of the 13 states to be precise) are a delicate balance that Malaysia has committed to swing between the Islamic (read: Arab) linkage and the visible diversity that prevails. Prime Minister Tun Mahathir recently mentioned that many countries like Malaysia across the globe soon will or already have demographic diversities to manage.

Maybe there is a lesson there. Lots and lots of them.

We have our own diversity or mess to deal with, depending on what you’re looking at. Coming to name-change, we in India have done quite a splendid job. Agreed, I can’t make a judgement for sure, to view all name-changing with the same lens and treat them all as acts of desperation. But aren’t we making this whole exercise banal of late?

Can the Malaysian experiment hold some tactics worth emulating here? We all have our own means to deal with diversity, particularly given the lingual similarities between the two nations. For instance, a trivial but legit resemblance could be the nomenclature of the Prime Minister which is Perdana Menteri in Bahasa Melayu and Pradhana Manthri in Hindi and many other Indian languages.

Surely, Malaysia is not a perfect example. Yet it certainly does provide learning on how to go about letting things be. And more importantly, places be. There is a bigger idea to locales with their history attached. Detach history from a location and all you end up leaving is the nadir.