F is for Former Names

The item pictured above used to be called a guitar. Then this item-

-came along. And now the first item is now called an acoustic guitar, to differentiate it from the second item, an electric guitar.

This used to be known as a clock

– until this –

– came along. Now an analog clock describes a clock with an actual face, compared with a digital clock.

There’s a whole bunch of these, called retronyms, a term the late New York Times wordsmith William Safire believed had been around for 30 years, but in the dictionaries for far less time. Here is a list of retronyms.

This used to be known as a stewardess, but now is a flight attendant.

This used to be known as a fireman, but is now a firefighter.

The language has become more gender neutral.

Perhaps, the greatest area of change involves place names. A lot of this took place in Africa in my lifetime, where locations that used to be colonies are now independent countries. Also, in the Western Hemisphere, British Honduras became Belize, British Guiana became Guyana and Dutch Guiana became Suriname.

Sometimes the local politics or internal struggles affect the nomenclature. Ceylon is now Sri Lanka, e.g. and the Democratic Republic of the Congo used to be Zaire. Cambodia has had a couple other names.

Some formerly divided countries re-merged, such as Germany and Vietnam. In Africa, Tananyika and Zanzibar joined to create Tanzania. Conversely, other countries broke into two or more parts. Bangladesh was once East Pakistan. Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and especially the Soviet Union are no more. Egypt and Syria merged to form the United Arab Republic in 1958, but got a divorce in 1961. Here is a list of some countries that have had name changes.

One of name changes I remember most, though, was a city; Peking became Beijing, explained here; likewise, a description of the change from Bombay to Mumbai, something I admit I occasionally forget. Of course, St. Petersburg, Russia has been Petrograd and Leniningrad.

Three of the four schools I’ve attended in my life have changed names. Binghamton Central High School merged with Binghamton North to become Binghamton High School in 1982. Both my State University of New York undergrad school, New Paltz, and my grad school, Albany, have undergone a number of name changes; the former in 1828 as the New Paltz Classic Academy, and the latter as the New York State Normal School in 1844. My first school, Daniel S. Dickinson, has long ago been razed.

Finally, THE song of name change, first a hit by The Four Lads, way back in 1953. Listen to Istanbul (not Constantinople) by They Might Be Giants.

Feel free to share your favorite name changes.

ABC Wednesday – Round 7

0 thoughts on “F is for Former Names”

  1. When we visited St. Petersberg in 1983 it was called Leningrad. I’m afraid I still call it that.
    This is a fascinating subject. Nothing seems to stay the same. Some change is good and some not.


  2. Even in Canada – eh? The northern territories used to be comprised of Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Now there’s a third one called Nunuvet and it’s so confusing! I think I need to take a class in Geography just to learn the new names of countries around the world. *sigh* Very inFormative post. πŸ˜€


  3. I never know what to expect from you, but it is always original and informative and thought provoking!
    Fascinating indeed.
    And then, there is the finances involved in all logistics of name changes.
    And, perhaps, frustration in some cases.


  4. What a great idea for a fun post, Roger. I do own an acoustic piano and a digital piano. I prefer the acoustic piano; but Oh, that digital piano…flip a switch and all the songs loaded in are played for your listening pleasure….


  5. Oh dear, it is hard to get used to all these changes when one gets ancient – Constantinople had such a romantic ring to it, – but Istanbul??? Well, the song helps with that one at least. How can we popularize all the rest…


  6. I remember learning about some mission project in Upper-Volta when I was in primary school. But when I tried to look it up a few years later, the whole country was gone! Turns out it’s now called Burkina Faso! It’s not nice to confuse children so!


  7. What about the planet Pluto, which now has been erased from the list of planets, I myself was named Bennett at birth, but have always used Tom or Tommy or Thomas.


  8. That’s very true ! I am already not a genius in geography but now with all these new countries I am completely lost ! The former Soviet Union or Russia has now I don’t know how many little countries, the same with Yougoslavia ! I have a blogfriend living in a certain Mumbai and didn’t know where it was ! and why did Peking become Beijeng (too complicated)


  9. Bonjour Roger!
    I’m enchanted by that guitar in the second shot.You had a great idea ( and different ) for this post, very creative!And thanks so much for the support and your kind comment in my blog.
    We are from Brazil but now living in Luxembourg.
    Hugs and happy Wednesday


  10. That was terrific to read, Roger. Thank you. I have not heard of the term ‘retronymn’ before but shall add it to my lexicon from here on out.


  11. A rose by any name smell just as good, a guitar by any name sound as good?

    My teaching room used to be next to the music room, now they have moved. I miss their music, but sometimes when you hear the same music and songs 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, it gets too much.


  12. Raymond Williams would have had argued that names of things ultimately reflect the social and economic changes and the surrounding power dynamics of that society. Hence the changes in National names reflect the collapse of the European empires or the change to more gender neutral names reflect the rise in feminism. The electric guitar is linked to the development of the big bands in the the 30’s, which where shaped by economic drivers of the depression. I’m new in town and I post from various blogs so last week my E was a 50-word story called The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman. This week my F is a poem called The final seaside trip. Thanks for dropping by. I hope you have a good week!


  13. This was absolutely fabulous. I’m going to grab that retronym link and save her for when I get older and more gray. I like the old names the best and I’m sure that’s all I’ll remember!


  14. Every time I read one of your posts I learn so much. Way better than being in school. Frankly and Frankenstein (esp. “Young Frank..”) is also one of my fave. movies…Hmmm, perhaps another post. Thank you for another great post, Roger.


  15. Original and unique take on F-day. I remember learning the original names for many of the world’s countries in school. Guess you can add policeman (police officer) and telephone (land line or cell?) to the list as well.


  16. It’s awesome to learn how name evolves. Before there is only one race that I use to check when asked, Asian. Now there is Asian, Pacific Islander and there is another name that I couldn’t remember. Anyway, I prefer to check Asian ^_^ Happy Wednesday!
    ABC Wednesday


  17. yeah..some names have change like the spelling of my name…the old generation they spelled it as Catherine but the new generation, they spelled it Katherine…

    great topic of F…

    Thanks for the visit.


  18. I loved that video! I remember the song very well. I want to remember that new word retronyms. I like it. But my memory being what it is… Though it does make sense as a word.


  19. A most excellent post, Roger! Loved it! Of course, I’m old enough to remember when a good proportion of the globe was pink, so I’ve seen a lot of name changes in my years.

    I hadn’t heard the term ‘retronyms’, but it certainly fits. And I enjoyed the song. πŸ™‚


  20. I study a good deal of blogs just lately and yours is one particular with the best. I enjoy studying your posts – clear and very well written. Your page goes straight to my bookmarks. I got some good inspirational thoughts after reading it.


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