IT’S the least of distractions we need today—a change of name from Philippines to Maharlika. But President Rodrigo Duterte, in a speech during the ceremonial distribution of 834 land ownership certificates to 780 Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries in Maguindanao, digressed to saying he was amenable to a name change, that the late president Ferdinand Marcos did the “right” thing in pushing for the word “maharlika.” “Balang araw, palitan natin,” he said.
It’s a fact of life, or among nations. In oftentimes less democratic ways, countries change their names. The military government in Burma renamed the country to Myanmar in 1989. In 1948, the British Colony of Ceylon was granted independence as Ceylon, but over two decades later it was renamed into Sri Lanka, which means “splendid thing,” a kind of celebratory name under the Commonwealth fold. Over time, some cultural upheavals create urgent needs for change, yes, even in names.
Toponymy is the study of place names, and according to studies, majority of country or place names fall into four categories. One, those that are directional. For instance, Vietnam, because “nam” means south. Austria comes from “oster,” meaning east. Australia is from “australis,” meaning south. The other three categories would be from land features, tribe names and a person of significance.
The Philippines was named after King Philip II of Spain. It was the Spanish explorer Ruy Lopez de Villalobos who, to honor King Philip II of Spain who greenlit the expedition in 1542, initially named the islands of Leyte and Samar Felipinas. Consequently, the whole archipelago would be called “Las Islas Filipinas.” So the country was named after a Spanish king, a fact that some sectors resent to this day for its colonial stain.
Oh, but the Americas was named after the Italian Amerigus Vispucci, whose cartography defined the New World, and it seemed like the modern world isn’t a bit bothered by it. What’s in a name when history renders worlds of new meanings to them over time?
Maharlika, on the other hand, carries with it a whole baggage as well. It was the term used for the feudal warrior class in ancient northern societies in Luzon. Then president Marcos, in a bid to build his “Bagong Lipunan” movement, used “maharlika” for a government media company, a highway and the Palace anteroom. Proponents to the renaming say that either Malay or Sanskrit in origin, “maharlika” has all the positive meanings to it--“nobly created” or “great country.”
But, really, what’s in a name? Like we said, for now, in the cusp of yet again another democratic exercise such as the mid-term elections, it’s the least of distractions we need. As they say, back to regular programming.