Naming a nation: Southern Sudan

Country naming is as old as countries. Historically most countries have ‘accidentally’ obtained their name from the peoples or tribes living on them, from empires and kings ruling over them, from physical and geographical features found on them, or from a specific word in the indigenous language of the country’s natives. However, it hasn’t been [...]

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Branding Southern SudanCountry naming is as old as countries. Historically most countries have ‘accidentally’ obtained their name from the peoples or tribes living on them, from empires and kings ruling over them, from physical and geographical features found on them, or from a specific word in the indigenous language of the country’s natives.

However, it hasn’t been rare either to name countries with a specific and deliberate intention to convey a particular identity, an idea of them. Examples abound – just think about Costa Rica, Liberia, Greenland or the United Kingdom. They all are names chosen to project an idea just like in a corporation. They were named just like you would name companies and brands such as Lexus, Liberty Mutual, Natura or United Airlines.

Just like corporations, some countries have considered changing the names of their countries, like Lithuania and Slovenia. A country now facing the issue of country naming is Southern Sudan, which is a projected country that could make its appearance in early 2011. Next month, a referendum on independence will be celebrated and in case the secessionist option wins on the plebiscite, this region is expected to upgrade to statehood. But it has yet to find a name for the country.

Southern Sudan is mostly populated by either Christians or animists of black African race who are ethnically similar to other populations in former Eastern African colonies such as Kenya or Uganda, while Northern Sudan has been penetrated and dominated by Muslims of Arab ethnic stock. The current government in the region, called the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, has already set up most of the institutions needed for sovereignity, but it still does not know how the new state will be called.

One possible option is ‘New Sudan’, but some oppose the idea as that name would associate the new country with the actual Sudan, which is considered a pariah state. For a weak, new country with weak influence, getting the world population to distinguish between ‘Sudan’ and ‘New Sudan’ would take aeons. Many people still confuse South Korea with North Korea and don’t remember which one is the rogue state, so any combination of names including the word ‘Sudan’ will probably be counter-productive to the new country, nationals say.

In fact, another suggestion most Southern Sudaneses don’t like either is ‘Southern Sudan’. They discard it because the name raises fears that this name would also confuse people, as many people would think that ‘Southern Sudan’ is the Southern region within Sudan, and not a different country.

But while there are ones who oppose the ‘Sudan’ word, there are others who don’t want to lose it. The latter consider their region to be the real ‘Sudan’, while the Northern part, which has become arabized and islamized, is not. They unpolish semantics to substantiate it. ‘Sudan’, they say, etymologically means in Arabic ‘land of the black people’, which is how fairer-skinned Arabs called the lands of conquered black tribes under their power. So this would justify that the name ‘Sudan’ makes more sense in the blacks-populated South than in the Arab-occupied North.

Some of the other names that have been discussed are Nilotia or Nilotland, which are names derived from the Nile river. The White branch of the river runs through the region and is considered to be the country’s most important geographic feature. But one problem is that Southern Sudaneses are not the only Nilotic people in Africa (the Nile river waters crosses territories in Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya down to Tanzania). Additionally, not all Southern Sudanese peoples are of Nilotic origin, as there are many ethnic groups in the region with no relationship with the Nile or its ancient civilization whatsoever.

Finally, some express preference for Cushitia or Azania, which are two ethnic and geographic names that have been applied to various parts of sub-Saharan Africa (see map above), even if they are in disuse today. Others prefer the Nile Republic, arguing that this name would put the country on the map and build an attractive image around a world-famous asset, the Nile river. But, as in the Greece-FYROM name dispute, tensions with Egypt, which considers itself the guardian of the ‘Nile brand’, could appear if the new country chose to name itself so.

The issue of the wannabe country’s name is still on hold. But name is not the only thing Southern Sudanese authorities must define when the region presumably upgrades to statehood in February 2011. The new proto-state has already chosen a national anthem, but it still needs a new coat of arms. And there are disputes on this issue too, as some say it could portrait a buffalo, which is an animal with historical ties to the Southern Sudanese struggle, while others advocate for a secretary bird. Other national symbols are yet to be defined, such as a national motto, a national currency note, and even what the official language of the country will be.

While any veteran country would take for granted all of these things, Sudan has yet to define them. And it’s fascinating to watch it live. A new country is about to be born and it needs a new set of national symbols to ‘showcase’ its new status, project its national identity and make its values and nature visible. To brand itself, no less.

Article by Andreas Markessinis

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Author: Andreas Markessinis

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11 Comments

  1. Fortran wrote on January 8, 2011 | Permalink

    My first thought was Nubia, but IIRC, Nubia was around Khartoum, not the south. Hmm…

  2. James Frankcom wrote on January 8, 2011 | Permalink

    Azania was a name which was considered for South Africa when it changed its constitution after apartheid. Another is the name “Cush” or “Cushland” (as you put it) because this area is associated with ancient Egypt and was then found in an area north of Khartoum, so if “Sudan” is inappropriate for the north then this is is hardly appropriate for the south! However, historical considerations have not stopped “Puntland” being formed in northern Somalia quite far from the historical “land of Punt”. What next – Sheba?

    I would suggest that the name of the capital – Juba – would also be a good name for the new country (e.g. Republic of Juba) and would give this prospective sovereign state a fresh start.

  3. Kochevnik wrote on January 15, 2011 | Permalink

    My vote would be that they take the area’s name from Ottoman / Anglo-Egyptian times: Equatoria. Admittedly this is a little close to Ecuador or Equatorial Guinea…otherwise maybe Jubaland?

  4. MaGioZal wrote on January 16, 2011 | Permalink

    My vote is for “Equatoria”. It’s a best-sounding name than “Kush” (there’s already a “Hindu Kush” in Afghanistan and a “Rann of Kutch” in India) or “Jubaland”, IMHO. And most of South Sudan is Equatorian land.

  5. Kiro Velkovski wrote on January 17, 2011 | Permalink

    Ridiculous comparison with Greece and Macedonia. There’s no FYROM. Only Macedonia. And our name has it’s roots for 2500 years, plus my country exists from 1944 AND NOBODY ARGUED ABOUT THE NAME SINCE 1991.

  6. Chris in CO wrote on January 19, 2011 | Permalink

    “White Nile Republic” would be a catchy instant classic.

  7. Zecharaiah Garang Lu wrote on January 23, 2011 | Permalink

    There is no reason to give a new name to this new nation even those who voted on 9 Jan knew they were voting for the Republic of Southern Sudan .

  8. daniel maris wrote on January 30, 2011 | Permalink

    I’ve always seen it spelt Kush. The Kush Republic sounds good to me.

    Azania was made up by Evelyn Waugh I always thought!

  9. daniel maris wrote on January 30, 2011 | Permalink

    Equatoria would be nice if it weren’t for Ecuador and Equatorial Guinea. But given those other two countries are there I think it is far too confusing. Also, it’s a Latin derivation isn’t it? Not really suitable for an African country in this area.

  10. Prince Adetule -USA wrote on July 8, 2011 | Permalink

    I wish to suggest the Republic of CUSANIA (ROC)

  11. BILLYGRAHAM wrote on July 9, 2011 | Permalink

    I THINK THE AIR OF FREEDOM IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANY OTHER NAME.THE NEW COUNTRY WILL DO WELL TO LEARN FROM THE MISTAKES OF OLDER AFRICAN NATIONS WHO HAVE BEAUTIFUL AND AWESOME NAMES AND NATIONAL IDENTITY BUT HAVE BEEN PLEAGUED BY DECADES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT,NO BETTER AT INDEPENDENCE THAN AT COLONIALISM.SOUTH SUDAN SHOULD WATCH AGAINST TRIBAL AND RELIGEOUS BIGITORY THAT COULD BREAK IT APART.ITS BRANDING SHOULD BE THAT OF NATIONAL ORIENTATION BEFORE ITS QUEST FOR NEW NAME.CONGRATULATIONS AFRCAS NEWEST BABY

4 Trackbacks

  1. [...] our story on Southern Sudan’s naming issue, readers of the Economist online paper have suggested a number of interesting ideas concerning the [...]

  2. [...] needed it to suit the contemporary zeitgeist of the nation. In early 2011, the new country bynamed ‘Southern Sudan’ deprecated the old ‘united’ Sudanese flag, which had Arab and Muslim leanings in its [...]

  3. [...] It’s official now. Throw your atlases to the bin – they’re useless now. A new country’s born today. It’s provisionally named South Sudan, which will be the baby country’s name while a better, proper name is not found (to have a look at the naming issue, you can read this previous story: Naming a nation: Southern Sudan). [...]

  4. [...] a very good discussion on why New Sudan or South Sudan is not really good for the new nation. Click this if you would like to read the [...]

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