Dictators Changing the Names of Things
If you were paying attention last year, you noticed that we changed our quizzes to honor the glorious former leader of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. This was because, in March of 2019, the Parliament of Kazakhstan voted to celebrate Mr. Nazarbayev by changing the name of the capital from Astana to Nur-Sultan. We were only too happy to update our quizzes to reflect this splendid new reality.
But let's not forgot the other name changes imposed by Nursultan's cousins throughout history. What other things were renamed by an authoritarian regime?
1. The Month of Quintilis
Originally, the month of July was known as Quintilis, meaning "fifth month". Sometime later, two more months were added - making Quintilis the seventh month. Then Julius Caesar came along. When he wasn't conquering Gaul and killing a significant percentage of its inhabitants, he made some major improvements to the Roman calendar. So it only made sense, after his death in 44 BC, to rename the month of Quintilis to "Julius" in his honor. For good measure, the Romans changed the name of the next month too, from Sextilis to "Augustus", in honor of the first emperor of Rome.
2. Every Other Month of the Year
Did you ever see the movie "Gladiator" with Russell Crowe? Well, the bad guy in that movie was a real person, Commodus.
Commodus ruled as the Emperor of Rome from 180 AD until his untimely death in 192 AD. He was almost certainly insane. As his megalomania grew, he decided to rename some things. He started with the city of Rome, which he renamed "Colonia Commodiana". Then he got to work on the twelve months. Commodus had recently taken on several new names, giving him twelve in total. He now applied these twelve names to the twelve months, renaming the entire calendar in his honor. Fortunately for Rome, he was strangled by his wrestling coach shortly thereafter.
Commodus's name changes didn't last, but he did make history. His reign is considered to be the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire.
3. All the Months - the Days of the Week Too!
A lot of things changed during the French Revolution. Out went the king, feudalism, the Catholic church, people's heads from their bodies, and of course the old system of weights and measures. Even though the French Revolution led to decades of turmoil and warfare, it did at least bring about the metric system.
But did you know that the French didn't just introduce the kilogram and meter? They also invented "decimal time". Each day was divided into 10 hours. Each hour was composed of 100 minutes, and each minute of 100 seconds.
But they didn't stop there. They introduced a 10 day week, and renamed every month of the year. The intent was not just to introduce the decimal system, but also to eliminate traditional religious celebrations. It's hard to celebrate the Sabbath when you don't even know what day it is. To this end, the revolutionaries imposed a "rural" calendar that replaced saints' name days with agricultural themes. Pity the confused French peasant who thought it was November 25 when was actually Frimaire 5, day of the pig.
4. St. Petersburg
Peter the Great ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725. He had a vision to change Russia. He wanted it to become more European. To help accomplish this, he moved the capital from Moscow to a new city with a German name: Sankt-Peterburg. In traditional Russian fashion, tens of thousands of serfs died building the new capital.
But the name didn't last forever. In the First World War, the German name was embarrassing. So they changed it to a more Russian version: Petrograd.
A few years later, the Bolsheviks took power. When Lenin died in 1924, the city was renamed Leningrad his honor. Of course, that didn't last either. In 1991, the city reverted to its original name. Gamblers are currently taking odds on whether it will soon be renamed Putingrad.
5. Saparmurat Niyazov - "Hold My Beer"
Saparmurat Niyazov was the first president of Turkmenistan, a position he held from 1990 until his death in 2006. He was perhaps the most enthusiastic name-changer in the history of dictators.
He started by giving himself a new name, Türkmenbaşy, meaning "head of the Turkmen". He then renamed the city of Krasnovodsk to Türkmenbaşy in honor of himself. But he didn't stop there. He also renamed all the days of the week, and all the months of the year. He even changed the word for bread to "Gurbansoltan" - his mother's name. Unfortunately for Mr. Niyazov, almost all his changes were reverted shortly after his death. They even removed his giant golden sculpture from atop the Neutrality Monument. When will dictators get the respect they deserve?