Monday, July 16, 2018

All About Swaziland's Name Change (With Maps)

Topographic map of Eswatini (Swaziland), showing terrain, rivers, bordering countries, and capital cities.
Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. Based on this map by Htonl and NordNordWest.

Swaziland's New Name

If you follow PolGeoNow on Twitter, you already know that the small, southern African country of Swaziland was renamed "Eswatini" this April. The full English name of the country, previously "Kingdom of Swaziland", has also been changed to "Kingdom of Eswatini".

The rename was first announced by the country's king on April 19 - his 50th birthday. (Some media incorrectly reported that April 19 was also Swaziland's 50th anniversary of independence. The country is indeed celebrating its 50th this year, but the actual day of the anniversary is September 6.)

The change was apparently effective immediately: A purported copy of the legal order making the new name official, also dated April 19, was posted on a Swaziland news blog in May, with some validation from other sources.

The announcement was unexpected, but King Mswati III has been using the new name in speeches for years, so it wasn't a complete surprise. Still, citizens of the country of course had varying opinions on the change. Some called it long overdue, while others denounced it as a distraction from more important national issues. Some of those critics noted that renaming a country isn't purely a symbolic act - you also have to spend time and money changing all the things the name is written on.

Why "Eswatini"?

Actually, "eSwatini" was already the country's name - in the local Swazi language. Like Cape Verde's switch to "Cabo Verde" in 2013, this is just a case of adjusting the official English name to match the native name. And just like "Swaziland" in English, eSwatini means "place of the Swazi people" in Swazi (or as the language calls itself, "Swati").

But why change the English name to match the Swazi one? King Mswati argued that it only makes sense to do the same as other African countries, many of which "reverted to their ancient, native names" when they became independent. For Swaziland, he said, that ancient name was eSwatini.

On top of that, some people considered the name "Swaziland" an awkward mix of the Swazi and English languages, and the king has complained that the name "Swaziland" often gets mistaken for "Switzerland".

Capitalization: Eswatini or eSwatini?

Journalists reporting on the name change when it first happened in April spelled the new country name "eSwatini", with a lowercase "e" and capital "S". That's the way the country's name is properly written in the Swazi language, and it was also spelled that way in the government's official transcript of King Mswati's September 2017 speech to the United Nations (which was delivered in English). Capitalizing only the second letter of a name is unusual in English, but then, that doesn't stop you from shopping on eBay with your iPhone.

Where is Eswatini? Map of Eswatini's location in Africa. Formerly known as the Kingdom of Swaziland, the country was renamed Kingdom of Eswatini in 2018.
Location of Eswatini (Swaziland) in Africa. Derived from this blank map by Eric Gaba. License: CC BY-SA
Still, the point seems to be moot: The purported legal order for Swaziland's name change spells it "Eswatini" with a capital "E" and lower case "s", and official sources from other countries have done the same - probably following the official notice they've received from the Swazi government.

The government's own websites, where the name has been updated, also use the capital "E" spelling for the name. So that seems to be the officially proper way to write it.

[Edit: The official ISO standard list of countries, now updated, also uses the capital "E" spelling.]

Eswatini: How to Pronounce It?

So what's the correct pronunciation of Eswatini? Well, international news outlets we checked have been pronouncing it "ess-wah-TEE-nee". But King Mswati himself seems to pronounce it differently - to our ears, it sounds more like "eh-SWAH-tee-nee", with emphasis on the "swa".

You can listen for yourself in his announcement speech, or in his September 2017 speech to the United Nations (country name at 1:59, 3:08, and 6:08).

Eswatini vs. Swaziland: Which Name Wins?

Ultimately, no country's government can completely control what people call it in another language, and it's always been common for places to have completely different names in foreign tongues. Think of how Deutschland and Nippon are known as "Germany" and "Japan" in English - it would be pretty hard to convince all English speakers to switch to the native names.

And every language does this. In some, like Chinese or Arabic, almost every single country's name is at least a little different from the native version, since they have to spell it using a whole different writing system that doesn't have the same letters.

Flag of Eswatini (Swaziland) Country Name:  
• Eswatini (official English)
• eSwatini (Swazi)
• Swaziland (unofficial English)
Full Name:  
• Kingdom of Eswatini (English)
• Umbuso weSwatini (Swazi)
Capital:  
• Mbabane (executive and UN-registered official)
• Lobamba (legislative and ceremonial) 
Adjective: Swazi
In English, some news outlets and organizations have already switched from Swaziland to Eswatini (or more often, eSwatini with the lowercase "e"), but many more haven't. Only time will tell, but country name changes are usually slow to catch on, especially if they involve substituting a non-English word for the traditional English name.

Wikipedia, whose editors prioritize commonly-used names over official ones, still calls Côte d'Ivoire "Ivory Coast" 30 years after the country ordered the switch. Traditional, more English-sounding names still prevail for Cabo Verde and Timor-Leste too, and the Czech Republic's invented short name hasn't made the grade yet either. (On the other hand, changes for Zaire and Western Samoa in the 1990s have caught on just fine.)

So What Really Changes?

Besides English-language signs and documents within the country, Swaziland's name change will also affect official usage in the United Nations (UN), and foreign governments and diplomats have been asked to use the new name for official English communications. Meanwhile, the ISO 3166-1 international standard list of country codes is based on UN usage, so pretty soon "Eswatini" should start showing up as an option on drop-down lists of the world's countries. Other websites and apps, like Google Maps, may also make the switch.

At the moment, the UN's official country names website and the ISO 3166-1 country name database are still showing "Swaziland", but it looks like they just haven't been updated yet. A different UN web page lists the country as "Eswatini (Kingdom of)", and foreign governments haven't waited to jump on board. It's almost certainly just a matter of time until ISO and the UN country name site also show "Eswatini".

Once the UN page updates, we can answer our last question: The UN also records official country names in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish - so is Swaziland only changing its name in English, or in other UN languages too? We'll let you know when we find out!

Update 2018-07-16: ISO has now updated its list with the new name, Eswatini, spelled with a capital "E". The name has also been changed in French, which is the only other language that ISO offers its standard in (there are Russian and Spanish versions of the ISO website, but the standard country names aren't translated into those languages.)


PolGeoNow always reports on changes to countries' names - learn about others by viewing all country name change articles.


Graphic of the Swazi flag is in the public domain (source).