Countries should not be forced to alter their national titles for the ease of an English-dominated diplomatic landscape
Last month, Turkey announced a national rebrand: the country would abandon the anglicised name it’s held for almost a hundred years and publicly go by the title of “Türkiye”.
This decision will primarily impact how foreign nations and publics address the country, as well as the labelling of exported goods. On the domestic front, the government has already made the switch, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs changing its full designation to “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Türkiye”. And, according to reports, the government is now working with the United Nations to organise the logistics of changing its name on a global scale.
Like most policies to come out of President Erdoğan’s office in the last six months, the announcement was met with a fiercely polarised response. Proponents have lauded the government’s effort to represent the “culture, civilisation, and values of the Turkish nation in the best way”. Others have cited the country’s homonym — the large bird — as a reason for the change, suggesting that the common name lacks the respect a country deserves. Erdoğan’s opponents, on the other hand, have condemned the move as a semantic distraction from the state of the economy at home.
The timing and context of the move means that the name change risks being written off as simply a distraction from a polarised country with economic woes. But as a Brit who has lived in Turkey on and off since 2019, I hope that instead of being viewed within a domestic political battle, the name change is seen as a move for a country looking to be recognised by a more accurate version of its own name.
In this globalised and connected world, countries should not be forced to alter their national titles for the ease of an English-dominated diplomatic landscape. As a Turkish resident, I have witnessed first-hand the consistent and instinctive effort to accommodate the English language, whether that be in the workplace or in a taxi cab. There is no reason that this accommodation should not be mutual, especially in a way as simple as a change in name.
Global reactions to Türkiye’s debut have been muted; this is understandable given the relatively minor alteration to the spelling of the state. But what the change lacks in drama, it makes up for in meaning.
Since its founding in 1923, Turkey — like many countries formed in this time and neighbourhood — has consistently altered its public profile in order to be more compatible, more palatable, to the anglicised diplomatic community. The name change marks a symbolic departure from these efforts.
In many ways, this move was cemented by the deterioration of EU accession talks. At home, this has meant increased spats with Western diplomats, but it’s also meant increased efforts to connect with neighbours in the Balkans through diplomatic and cultural exchanges, more economic partnerships with states in the Persian Gulf, and even heavy investment in producing popular TV shows.
Turkey is of course not the first to change its name in order to participate on the international stage on their own terms. Often, this move is to separate countries from histories of imperialism, racism, and orientalism. A poignant example of this is Mumbai, India which changed its name from Bombay in the 1990s in order to separate itself from its colonial title.
To be clear, while Turkey isn’t a colonised name, it’s not the country’s actual title. Rather, it’s a version of “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti” that was modified for the ease of international audiences. And while countries’ full names are often shortened in colloquial use — and this move will hardly lead to a future in which people are being constantly corrected for calling it “Turkey” — the tweak in its formal spelling is a push for the English version to not be the given standard without question.
In the face of complex diplomatic debates and international crises, therefore, this shift feels like a no brainer. And how countries —particularly in Europe and North America — react to this name change will be revelatory of their willingness to engage in a modern diplomacy that embraces accurate and diverse self-representation. Perhaps it will even inspire other countries too.