YANGON: Some call the country Myanmar, others call it Burma. On his historic trip to the former army-ruled nation yesterday, Barack Obama called it both. Paying the first visit by a serving US president to Yangon — or Rangoon — Obama broke with American tradition by employing the term “Myanmar” after his talks with President Thein Sein. Later, however, when he met opposition leader and fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi he called the country “Burma” — the preferred name of the nation’s pro-democracy activists. “Today marks the next step in a new chapter between the United States and Burma,” Obama said.
The country’s military leaders changed the official name two decades ago to Myanmar, saying that the old term Burma was a sorry legacy of British colonialism. For Obama, however, the linguistic jujitsu was nothing compared to his troubles pronouncing the name of the opposition leader, whom he repeatedly referred to as “Aung Yan Suu Kyi” as she stood by — minus her usual charismatic smile.