The ebb and flow of world history has left many legacies, often stemming from the age of European colonialism, and made worse by proxy struggles during the Cold War. The bulk of these legacies are terrible, and have had long lasting negative influences on the regions left behind. Africa is infamous in its obviousness, so too is the Middle East. There is Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. There was the long, protracted struggle for independence and nation building in Indochina, most apparent to the West in Vietnam. Though each of these and others would prove an interesting writing exercise, the one getting my goat at this moment, and easiest to resolve, is the Philippines.
The drawing of political borders of many colonial states occurred with little regard for religious, ethnic, tribal, or other divisions within and around the regions where they originated. This is the root of many problems found in the Middle East. The fights between various Sunni’s, Shiites, and Kurds result almost entirely from this lack of regard for such divisions. Others were invented whole cloth, such as the West African nation of Liberia, created by Americans as a place to export freed slaves. Indigenous tribes of Liberia have long conflicted with the powers in government, who traditionally come of those imported from the United States.
Anti-colonial movements have long sought to break the chains of its legacy, though not always successfully. India has worked toward applying local names to former colonial cities, such as the shift from Bombay to Mumbai, as have many others. Zimbabwe changed their name from Rhodesia, its namesake being a colonial Briton named Cecil Rhodes. With some exceptions, most nations in the human world now exist with names chosen locally, or at least arguably relevant to a segment of their population.
Of the exceptions, there is one great, glaring one, and it is, of course, the Philippines. This is worse because a result of this name for the islands and the nation is an entire socially constructed race named after a Habsburg monarch. King Philip II of Spain bequeathed upon this world the Philippine nation, and the peoples who make up those islands, our friendly Filipinos. I am hard-pressed to imagine anyone is actually okay with this, and am resolved to conclude it perhaps has retained this legacy from ignorance.
There is another nation that does come to mind, and it is Colombia, with their Colombian people. The namesake of this nation, and its people with it, is the Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus. However, the lone reason I see this as less of the cardinal sin of colonialism is it being a local choice. The region had a different, colonial name, known as the Vice-Royalty of New Spain, and later, New Granada. Upon independence, a Venezuelan revolutionary, Francisco de Miranda, chose the name Colombia. The Congress of Angostura, called by Simón Bolívar, formally adopted this name in creating the Republic of Colombia (historically known as Gran Colombia to help distinguish it from the modern state). When new states emerged from Gran Colombia, the modern one retained this name. The Philippines, by contrast, did not choose their name.
Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, found an island group in 1521, and chose to name it after Philip, during a time when Portugal and Spain were in a personal union. In 1542, Ruy López de Villalobos, a Spaniard, began formally colonizing the islands. Essentially the rest is history. The Philippines were a Spanish colonial possession and thus named whatever Spain wanted it named, regardless if any local desire, and remained so until the United States began their foray into imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century. When the United States took over as the colonial power, the name was already firmly established.
Perhaps because I am not a human, I find myself annoyed by such things. Let us imagine that your name is Samantha. Let us now imagine a friend of yours is sailing the Pacific and comes across a group of populated islands. A population that has a history, a written and spoken language; a population that clearly has a cultural and distinct background. This friend then chooses to name these islands after you, because you are so special! The Samantha Islands are born, and with it, the people of these islands become known as Sammy’s, or the Samiese people. These people surely had a local name for their home, and for themselves. There is no doubt they do have their own language. Yet neither you, nor your friend, ever asked them what they call their home. Even if you found out, you do not even care! Can you imagine yourself doing this?
Of course not! You do not suck. Surely, you find this as irritating as I do. If you a Filipino, I imagine if there is some way you did not already know this, that learning it is enraging. If it is not enraging, or you have always known and never cared, I must admit I would be shocked. I will say that if the people of the Philippines are aware and perfectly fine with the Habsburg monarch name, and choose to retain this name, I will cease complaining, though likely, I will remain irritated, and cringe subtly upon hearing it.
It is up to the people
There are elements of Filipino cultural values that may be in near constant conflict on this name issue. Filipinos overall are a lovely people, noted for their kindness and good nature. Their dominate culture is one promoting group acceptance and the maintenance of social harmony. A decision to begin a process for choosing and changing the name of the nation and people would be contentious and divisive. Contrast that, however, with another dominating element of Filipino culture; the avoidance of shame. Named after a German with a pronounced Mandibular prognathism, noted for the Inquisition, constant warring, and the Spanish Armada, could be cause for shame. Perhaps even more shameful is allowing this to continue.
This suggestion is not crazy. The Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos considered changing the name to Maharlika in the nineteen-seventies. However, this was a dictator ruling under martial law and without popular support. His whims are no less meaningful than the current legacy. A name change must be by popular will and a public vote. Any other approach is imposition.
As contentious as a public debate and vote could be, I do feel if handled well, the makeover could prove a fun endeavor, presenting an opportunity for cultural learning and pride. If they are to choose to retain the name, so be it. It is my view they should be presented a choice and the chance to break from the legacy of colonialism, and claim their own identity. I feel they should consider doing so, and I sincerely hope this one day achieves a public vote.