If a nation does not know its history, if the country loses its history, then its citizens have nowhere to go.
Mirzhakyp Dulatuly

What is the reason behind naming or renaming the capital cities?

What is the reason behind naming or renaming the capital cities? - e-history.kz

The name of the capital is often changed for political or national reasons, for example, when the colonized countries become free from the yoke of colonialism or when a group of certain people at the top wants to express the power of the government’s ideology. The name of the capital can be changed in order to honor the memory, especially as a sign of respect for an influential person or an important event in the history of the country.

On March 20, 2019, the President of the Republic of Qazaqstan, Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, proposed renaming the capital of Qazaqstan, Astana, to Nur-Sultan, emphasizing the contribution of the First President of the Republic of Qazaqstan, Elbasy (in translation from Qazaq means “a Head of the Nation”) Nursultan Nazarbayev, to building the nation. The decree on renaming the capital city of Qazaqstan was signed on March 23, 2019. The editors of the “Qazaqstan Tarihy” portal prepared a number of the most remarkable cases of renaming world capitals.

Jakarta, Indonesia

The earliest record about Jakarta comes from the 14th century. Fatahillah, Javanese Sultan, attacked the Portuguese invaders in 1527 in Sunda Kelapa. The enemy intended to gain foothold on Java. The attack was successful for Indonesians. After the battle, Sunda Kelapa took the name Jayakarta, and Fatahillah, the commander of Indonesian army (at that time it was Banten Sultanate) became a national hero of the country.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Queen of Holland decided to expand her possessions and sent a fleet to seize new lands. Her choice fell on the Malay Archipelago, which was famous for its rich stockpiles of precious metals. Around 1620, the Dutch besieged Jakarta and burned the city to the ground. A year later, in its place, a new fortress, called Batavia, was built. The area around the fortress grew into a big city. Starting from that time up to 1945 Indonesia was a colony of the Dutch.

In 1945, there were large-scale uprisings of local people against the unfair regime of government, unemployment and inhuman conditions of existence. Batavia, the main bastion of the Dutch on the Malay archipelago began to turn into the center of the liberation movement against the oppression of the authorities.

In August of the same year, Indonesia declared its independence. Later the day became a national holiday. Indonesian citizens believe that it is the most important holiday in the country. The first democratic elections of the Head of the State took place. Sukarno, a bright leader of Indonesia's nationalist movement during the Dutch colonial period, was elected as the First President of Indonesia. The Dutch acknowledged the Indonesian independence in 1949. In honor of the crushing victory of the people over the colonialists, a huge, majestic obelisk was built in Jakarta. It reminds Indonesian people about their struggle and efforts that now bore fruit. 

Sukarno led the country successfully. He initiated construction of high-rise buildings, as well as universities. Recently a number of museums have been opened in Jakarta, making the city the main cultural center of the country. The capital of Indonesia is very different from all the others, because only here you can find features of a huge industrial metropolis and colorful countryside.  

Ottawa, Canada

Initially, today's capital of Canada was called Bytown and was founded as a camp for the builders of the Rideau Canal.

On December 31, 1857 Ottawa, a small logging town was chosen as Canada’s new capital. Queen Victoria had to make a decision what settlement of the province of Canada would be its capital. Canada was made up of the two colonies of Quebec (the French-speaking) and Ontario (the English-speaking). Some people say, that she had chosen Ottawa because she was fond of its landscape, the others say, a small provincial town was chosen as the capital of Canada due to its geographical location. It was not Toronto or Quebec or Montreal. Ottawa is located on the border between the French and the British colonies. 

Ottawa was a compromise between the two nations and helped them to prevent any discord. Nowadays, both the descendants of the French and the descendants of the British equally treat the customs and traditions of each other and live in peace.


London, Great Britain

The earliest record about England and London dates back to the 1st century BC, namely the time of the Roman invasion. In Celtic dialect, London was called “Llin-Din” and it meant “a lakeside fortress”. The place where the city grew up was very swamped, the waters of the River Thames constantly flooded it and made it look like a lake. A small clay hill and several small islands towered above this landscape. The Romans called the city “Londinium”. It is believed that the colonialists built the city taking as an example their own cities.

In the IV century, the Romans renamed London to August, but the name did not stick and remained, as before - Londinium. In the V century, when the Romans left Londinium and the Britons began to settle in it, they gave the town a different name - Lyundenburg. A new name, London was given by William the Conqueror.

Ulan Bator, Mongolia

Ulan Bator also experienced a number of name changes. The city was founded in 1639 as the nomadic (settled from 1778) residence of the head of the Lamaist church in Mongolia called Orgoo (translated as “a palace”, “a headquarter”).


From 1706 it became known as Ikh-khuree (in translation it means “A Great Monastery”).


Between 1911-1924 it was called Niislel-khuree (“A Capital Monastery”).


In 1924, it was renamed Ulan Bator (which means “A Red Hero”) in honor of Sukhe-Baatar, who liberated Mongolia from the forces of Baron Ungern and the Chinese troops (1921).


The city since 1921 was the capital of the Mongolian People's Republic, since 1990 - the capital of Mongolia.

Changing names of the cities is one of the ways that the people of India still use. The country became free from British domination in 1947 and its people put a lot effort to demonstrate their national identity. Recently, in 1999, a capital of India, Calcutta, was renamed Kolkata, and before that in the middle of the 1990s Bombay officially became known as Mumbai, and Madras changed to Chennai.

Renaming may reflect the rise or fall of a city. Thus, the Japanese port of Edo (literally “A Harbor Gate”) was named Tokyo (“The Eastern Capital”) in 1868, when the capital of Japan officially moved there. This action of renaming reflected the end of the shoguns' rule and beginning of the absolute rule of the Emperor.    

It also meant the modernization of Japan: in 1854, Matthew Perry, an American commander forcibly opened Japanese ports, putting an end to more than two hundred years of isolation of the country.

Sometimes renaming cities may symbolize a great change of civilizations. Istanbul experienced in its history more than one rebirth. It was established by the Greeks, and it was called Byzantium. Then, the Romans came, they called the city Constantinople, later it was conquered by the Ottomans and got its current name, Istanbul.