The Associated Press may have relented in the Burma/Myanmar debate, but the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal isn’t budging. The Asian country’s military leaders renamed it in 1988, a change that hasn’t been universally embraced. For example, in this piece critical of a U.N. official for insisting on using “Myanmar” as the name, the Journal says:
The Burmese democracy movement of Aung San Suu Kyi continues to call it by its rightful name, and we’ll stick with her over the junta.
I had my own experience about this country’s name a few years ago. When I was on the wire desk at The News & Observer, the managing editor collared me one afternoon and asked: “Why is the BBC calling this place Burma, and the wire story we used today called it Myanmar?” I told her I would look into the matter and make a recommendation. After some calls and e-mails to the wire services as well as some quick research, here’s what I came up with:
Stories should use “Myanmar” in references to this country. The government there, however unpleasant it might be, has stated that this is the nation’s name, and international organizations have accepted it. Because the United States and some other Western countries have resisted the use of “Myanmar,” stories that instead use “Burma” will imply support for the resistance by these countries. Stories about the country should include a phrase such as “also known as Burma” to indicate that some people continue to call it that and to remind readers that the country’s government has changed its name in the relatively recent past.
The AP Stylebook has since added an entry preferring “Myanmar,” and I have moved on from the newsroom to the classroom. My memo is still useful in class discussions on matters of geography and style.
Now if I could only get the AP to go with “Ground Zero” as an acceptable uppercase usage in references to the World Trade Center site…