Changes occur in the names of localities more often than country names change. These changes are frequently locally controversial but rarely make news internationally. The changes may reflect a political change, the assertion of local control over a name used by a colonial ruler, a personality cult, a popular trend or a more accurate rendition of the name in a foreign language or writing system.
These changes can cause problems for mail delivery, particularly for international express delivery where the locality is verified by the postal authority sending the mail. The sending post’s list may have a different name than what is used in the receiving country, which can lead to the mail item being rejected. For other classes of mail, the destination country may not recognize the locality’s previous name when the mail arrives from overseas.
Changes in city names are by no means recent phenomena. In what in now Turkey, the city named Byzantium by the Greeks became Constantinople under the Romans and was rename Istanbul by the Ottomans in the 1920's. Eto (literally “Door to the Bay”) was re-named Tokyo (“Eastern Capital”) when it became the capital of Japan in 1868. Recently, some countries have moved their capitals to other cities, either newly-built or an existing city. For example, Nigeria moved its capital from Lagos to the planned city of Abuja, which was mainly built in the 1980’s. Lagos remains the largest city in Nigeria.
Because some of the name changes get little attention internationally, they are difficult to track. Additional changes to preferred spellings are noted in the entries for individual countries. A few of the more recent and prominent changes to city or province names are given below.
China: Beijing, the capital, was known as Peking. (Spellings differ depending on the system of transliteration used and the language into which the word is being transliterated.)
India: Bombay became Mumbai and Madras became Chennai in the mid-1990's. Calcutta became Kolkata in 1999. Other name changes have also occurred but delivery of mail appears to be unaffected.
Myanmar (previously Burma): Yangôn, the former capital, has been named Rangoon and Dagon. (The new capital is Naypyidaw.)
Russia: St. Petersburg, the original and current name, has been named Petrograd and Leningrad historically and in the recent past. Other cities have changed names since the break-up of the U.S S.R.
Turkmenistan: In 1993, Krasnovodsk, the main port, became Turkmenbashi.
Zimbabwe: Harare, the capital, had been called Salisbury until 1982. (The country name changed from Rhodesia in 1979.)