Bengaluru: The next time you are in Tamil Nadu, be prepared to pronounce the names of places just the way Tamilians do.
The Tamil Nadu government has renamed 1,018 places to reflect the way they are pronounced in Tamil. Though the official government order was issued on 1 April, the document was made public Wednesday.
The decision has drawn flak for its timing, coming as it did in the middle of a pandemic. The government had, however, notified the change in names two years ago, when the Minister for Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture, Ma Foi K. Pandiarajan, declared it on the floor of the assembly.
With the move, Coimbatore, also known as India’s Manchester, is now spelled as Koyampuththoor, Vellore is now Veeloor while Mylapore in Chennai is now Mayilaappoor.
Dr G. Vijayaraghavan, Director of Tamil Development and part of the state high-powered committee that affected the name change, said the effort was to ensure that people pronounce the names of places correctly.
“We have not translated names of places, we have just transliterated. Many of the Tamil names were changed by the British as they could not pronounce them. They could not roll their tongues like we do,” Vijayaraghavan said. “Now that the British have left the country, why keep it that way?”
‘Tamil for eternity’
Speaking to ThePrint, Minister Pandiarajan said that the whole initiative was founded on Tamil pride.
“It took us two years, several hurdles and coordination of seven ministries, including two central ministries, to finally make this announcement. Tamil speaking people are very excited with this move,” Pandiarajan said. “It embodies the saying — Engum Tamizh, Endrum Tamizh (Tamil everywhere, Tamil for Eternity).”
When asked why Tamil Nadu was not changed as it is pronounced and written differently and has been one of the long standing demands from Tamil enthusiasts, the minister said it is being considered.
He claimed that there was no consensus amongst linguistics on how to interpret and spell Tamil in English to get the exact pronunciation. “We are contemplating to set up a special task force to decide on the change of name of Tamil Nadu over whether “Zh” or “il” needs to be used to get the pronunciation correct,” he said.
Political analyst Sumanth C. Raman said the idea behind making these changes was to ensure that the Tamil version of the name prevailed.
“For example, Poondhamalli (in Chennai) was referred to correctly while speaking in Tamil, but in English it became Poonamallee. The government had changed the name to Poovirunthamalli but did not make an official announcement,” Raman said.
“In some places, the words were completely different. Tharangampadi was known as Tranquebar while a village in Cuddalore called Parangipettai was called Porto Novo in English,” Raman added.
“Egmore was Ezhamboor when written in Tamil but still people would refer to it as Egmore,” Vijayaraghavan said. “Another example is Triplicane. It is known as Thiruvallikeni but, yet against, the British changed it to suit their tongue. That had to change,” he added.
The name changing process
The effort to make the places sound just like they are pronounced in Tamil was carried out by a special high-powered committee of language experts headed by minister Pandiarajan.
Over the two years, language experts, representatives of Tamil organisations and professors along with government administrators finalised the names at the district level and later at the state level.
When asked why only names of 1,018 places were changed, Vijayaraghavan said the idea was to just ensure proper pronunciation of names that weren’t being properly pronounced.
“There are places near Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri districts that are closer to Karnataka. The villages have names with Halli in them,” he said. “The local experts there asked us not to change it as when you write it in Tamil or English, the way it is pronounced is just the same. We did not change those.”
“Another thing we had to keep in mind was to maintain uniformity of spellings,” he added. “Places that had the word ‘oooru’ when pronounced in Tamil, we have added ‘Oor’ like Thiruvanmiyur is now Thiruvanmiyoor, Sholinganallur is Solinganalloor and Gudalur is now Koodalloor.”
Mixed response in state
The decision to change names has been welcomed but many on social media have questioned the timing of the announcement.
“The announcement was made in April itself. The gazette notification came out now as the orienting of the gazette was shut due to lockdown,” explained Pandiarajan.
However, political analyst Raman feels that the timing could have been better.
“Right in the middle of Covid, why make the announcement now? It could have been done in a different time,” Raman said. “It is not a pressing matter that it had to be announced now? There may be another thing, the TN government may want to show that it is business as usual,” he added.
Some social media users also had a field day over the announcement.
The renaming of anglicised names into Tamil is another exercise in waste and an ill timed move. If the Govt had wanted only Tamil moves, it should have concentrated on removing use of Sanskrit words from Tamil names & literatures. That would have made Tamil richer and purer.
— Dusky Tamizhachi (@TamizhRatsaschi) June 11, 2020
What people expect: Double testing capacity for Covid19. Double Hospital beds.
What Govt does: Double 'OO' in Mylapore.. Double 'AA' in Arni. Double 'PP' Saidapet. 🙊#NAMECHANGE
— Mithun K Raman (@mithunraman) June 11, 2020