1. Ceylon To Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an island nation off of the southern tip of India. The island was home to the native people of the Kandyan Kingdom before being colonized by the British in 1815. The British named the island Ceylon, and it remained part of the British empire under that name until 1948. (In the wake of WWII, under pressure to decolonize, Britain finally relinquished control of the island.
The name-change to Sri Lanka finally came in 1972 as an attempt to shed the nation’s connection to colonial rule. Apparently, this made the locals happy, as Sri Lanka is now known as “the nation of smiling people.” (That despite the decades of civil war that for too long tore those people apart.)
Sri Lanka is packed with rare wildlife. The island is home to approximately 5,800 wild elephants and has the largest concentration of leopards in the world. If you take the scenic train ride from Colombo to Jaffna and you might just catch a glimpse of these exotic creatures.
2. Southern Rhodesia To Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe didn’t become Zimbabwe until 1980. From 1898 to 1964 the area of land in southern Africa that is now Zimbabwe was called “Southern Rhodesia” after British colonialist and business mogul Cecil Rhodes. In 1960, supporters of the independence movement began referring to the country as Zimbabwe. For a length of time, both European settler communities and natives struck a compromise, referring to the country as “Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.” It wasn’t until 1980, when the country became fully independent from Britain, that the name was officially changed to Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is home to one of nature’s most jaw-dropping infinity pools — visitors can bathe in Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls while staring over the edge of the massive 100-foot drop to the tumbling waters below.
For many years, Zimbabwe was in the grip of the corrupt and inept dictator Robert Mugabe, but he has recently been removed from power. Hopefully, tourism will return to Zimbabwe in the coming years; the country has much to offer.
3. Upper Volta To Burkina Faso
The name change from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso is yet another case of locals reclaiming their heritage following colonial emancipation.
The area that is now Burkina Faso became part of French West Africa in 1904. In 1919, the French established it as the colony of French Upper Volta, naming it after the Volta River. The Republic of Upper Volta was established in December of 1958 as a self-governing colony. Its final name change came when the country gained independence in 1960. The territory was renamed Burkina Faso in August of 1984, the name Burkina Faso being a combination of the nation’s two primary indigenous languages, “Burkina” and “Faso.”
4. Dahomey To Benin
Benin is located on Africa’s gold coast in the Gulf of Guinea and shares a border with Burkina Faso. The area was originally controlled by the Portuguese as part of the slave trade beginning in the 1400’s. By the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the country that was then known as Dahomey began to lose its importance as a regional power. As the slave trade died out, so did Portuguese influence. The French took over the area in 1892 and renamed it French Dahomey. The country’s capital, Porto-Novo, is a leftover from the days of Portuguese domination. The country gained independence from the French in 1960. For the first fifteen years, it kept the name Dahomey before changing it to Benin in 1975 under the leadership of then-ruler Mathieu Kerekou.
5. Persia To Iran
During the time of conqueror Alexander the Great, Persia included a vast area of land that contained the entirety of what is now modern-day Iran. In 1935, the Persian government announced to the governments with which it was diplomatically friendly to begin referring to them as “Iran.” Rumor has it that the name change was largely influenced by an Iranian ambassador to Germany who was sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Iran may seem like a somewhat risky country to travel to, especially for women. But the real problem is the government rather than the people. Ordinary Iranians are very friendly, and the country has started to open itself to tourists in the last few years.
6. Zaire To The Democratic Republic Of Congo
To be more accurate, this large resource-rich Central African nation went from being Congo to being Zaire to being Congo again.
The area was annexed by King Leopold II of Belgium in 1885 as ‘Congo Free State’, with the consent of the European community. Leopold had convinced the other leaders that his interests in the Congo were purely humanitarian, but nothing could have been further from the truth. He turned the area into a corporate state, enslaving its people in the ivory and rubber trades.
Rubber extraction in particular was brutal. It involved covering the bodies of workers in the sap of the rubber tree, letting it dry, and then peeling it off the skin. This painful and humiliating process was made worse by the fact that Leopold’s thugs would mutilate and murder anyone who failed to work fast enough. Estimates of the death toll under this regime range from 1 to 15 million.
Public outrage, much of it inspired by Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Heart of Darkness, which was set in Congo Free State, finally forced Leopold to renounce his claim on Congo in 1908. Unfortunately, this naturally beautiful land has suffered under mismanagement ever since.
From 1965 until 1997, the country was ruled by Mobutu Sese Seko, a dictator and kleptocrat who renamed Congo ‘Zaire’ in 1971. The defining feature of Mobutu’s rule was indiscriminate plundering of the public coffers. During his three decades of power, he may have embezzled as much as $15 billion from his own people.
When Mobutu was deposed and fled to Morocco in 1997, the name of the country was changed, again, to ‘The Democratic Republic of Congo.’