A New Name For A Possible New Southern Sudan
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
One thing it doesn't have is a name. And in the story that we saw, we came across the name of Simon Anholt, who specializes in national identity. Simon Anholt joins us from Norfolk, England. Welcome to the program.
SIEGEL: It's now called the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan. Let's say it becomes independent, should it just call itself Southern Sudan?
M: I think it could do better than that. It's always a wonderful opportunity when a new country emerges and it's certainly worth a little bit of thought about what your name is going to be because it might stick to you for some time and also of course it sticks to your people.
SIEGEL: Well, Southern Sudan would of course remind us that this was part of a large country, which will just be called Sudan. I don't think it's going to change its name to Northern Sudan. Is that a plus or a minus?
M: Well, the problem is, as with many African countries, that its reputation is largely negative as far as the rest of the world is concerned. And what tends to happen when you have a country with a negative reputation and a country next door that shares the same name is that a lot of that negative reputation achieves the contagion effect. And if they can get away from that, it wouldn't be a bad thing to do.
SIEGEL: Well, one proposal I've seen for a name for the independent country, should there be one, is Nile. What do you think?
M: I think the Egyptians might have a thing or two to say about that.
SIEGEL: Which reminds us of the problem of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is now just Republic of Macedonia, something that the Greeks did not like at all.
M: Yes, indeed. Well, there's always going to be somebody who minds. But in the end, when a new country comes into being, it is an opportunity to make a statement.
SIEGEL: What's to you a positive instance of leaders of a new country coming up with a really good new name?
M: Well, I was always rather fond of Liberia. It's inspiring and simple. It's not complex or pretentious. But of course the reality with Liberia and so many of these other countries which start off with fine vision, end up disappointing in substance.
SIEGEL: Liberia, of course, means a land of liberated slaves, a land of freedom.
M: That's right.
SIEGEL: And they have a capital city named for President Monroe as well.
SIEGEL: In Monrovia. I remember some years ago when there were some people in Turkey who wanted the country to be called, in English, Tortia(ph), as it is in Turkish, so that they could escape turkey jokes, jokes about the bird.
M: And there was a small movement of vociferous people who wanted to rename Slovenia Alpe Adria, a conjunction of Alps and Adriatic.
SIEGEL: Ah ha.
M: I thought it sounded rather unfortunate. It sounded like the great fatherland or something of the sort. But in the end, as I said to them, the whole premise is nonsense. The reason why people confuse Slovenia and Slovakia is not because they sound the same, it's because neither of them are famous. And by the same token, Britain and Bhutan sound quite similar, but nobody confuses us.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIEGEL: Good point there. So, back to southern Sudan here. I mean, it does seem to be a trend in the names of African countries to reach back to African antiquity and to find names associated with famous ancient kingdoms, whether they be Ghana or Benin or - these are all names that replaced colonial names. I don't know if there is such a historic name associated with southern Sudan.
M: I believe not. I believe the problem is that the only historic names that one could find for southern Sudan are associated with particular tribes which obviously causes all kinds of problems.
SIEGEL: Well, Simon Anholt, thank you very much for talking with us.
M: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: That's policy adviser Simon Anholt who spoke to us from Norfolk, England.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.