Burma or Myanmar? Myanmarese or Burmese?

We refer to Myanmar a lot in our news because it’s a bordering foreign country to Thailand and many people from Myanmar work in and around Thailand. It’s also subject of an ongoing coup after the Burmese military staged a coup on February 1, 2021.

But is it Myanmar or Burma? And are the people that live there Myanmarese or Burmese?

As you’ll read across the media there is no precise answer to the question with foreign powers still referring to the country with both names.

The official English name was changed by the country’s ruling government from the “Union of Burma” to the “Union of Myanmar” in 1989, and then later to the “Republic of the Union of Myanmar”.

But even in Myanmar locals continue to use both names.

“The ruling military junta changed its name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands were killed in the suppression of a popular uprising. Rangoon also became Yangon.”

All this confusion leads to sentences like this from Brittanica.com, explaining what language is spoken in Myanmar…

“Burmese language, also called Myanmar, the official language of Myanmar (Burma), spoken as a native language by the majority of Burmans and as a second language by most native speakers of other languages in the country.”

At The Thaiger we’ve decided to refer to the country as ‘Myanmar’ and the people as ‘Burmese’. Burmese is also used as a general adjective as in “Thai/Burmese border” or “Burmese Military”.

Reading ‘a man from Myanmar’ is a lot more cumbersome than ‘a Burmese man’. But for the country name we’re following the trend of most regional media using the official name Myanmar. Still, even the people living there continue to refer to themselves as Burmese.

In reality, Myanmar is a country of many ethnicities and tribes, making it historically difficult to govern. Wikipedia perhaps sums up the situation well… “the country has been engrossed in rampant ethnic strife and its myriad ethnic groups have been involved in one of the world’s longest-running ongoing civil wars.”

Other publications have taken different decisions and that’s fine too. Here’s some information from The Culture Trip which provides a bit of background as to why our neighbouring country to the west of Thailand lives on with two names and plenty of confusion.

Inside Asia Tours also has their own take on the name situation.

World News


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