Swaziland: What happens when a country changes its name

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Swaziland's King Mswati III attends the launch of a campaign calling for his male subjects to get circumcised to curb the spread of HIV infection, 15 July 2011Image source, AFP
Image caption,
King Mswati III has used the new name previously

The prospect of changing a country's name may seem like a rather daunting undertaking, but not for the king of Swaziland.

King Mswati III declared the country will now be known as the Kingdom of eSwatini in part, he says, to avoid foreigners confusing it with Switzerland.

Africa's last absolute monarch made the announcement at celebrations to mark the country's 50th anniversary of independence from British rule.

How big a deal is it to change a country's name?

The king has already used the new name in an address to the UN in 2017 and at the opening of parliament in 2014.

The process for changing a country's name is not nearly as complicated as when a country gains independence, prompting decisions over a flag and national borders.

But there are still many issues that need to be taken into consideration.

Where is a country's name used?

Take, for example, the country's constitution, where the name Swaziland appears over 200 times.

The country's airline is called Swaziland Airlink, while all of the country's notes and coins bear the name of the Central Bank of Swaziland.

That is before you even consider its official institutions - the government's website has yet to update with the new name, and the country's army and police forces are still named after eSwatini's former title.

The country will also have to register its new name with international bodies such as the UN and the Commonwealth, of which it is part.

On a more practical level, internet domain and number plates - both of which use letters from the name Swaziland - may also need to be changed, as will uniforms used by Swazi sporting figures in international competitions, who until now have worn the letters SWZ or the name Swaziland.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Athletes from Swaziland such as Sibusiso Matsenjwa (right) may need new sports gear

However, adopting a new internet domain isn't always so easy, as South Sudan discovered shortly before independence when it decided to register the address .ss, not realising the link with Nazi Germany's paramilitary organisation Schutzstaffel, or SS.

Road signs at the country's borders and postage stamps may also be affected.

What won't need to change?

Perhaps luckily, the name Swaziland does not appear at all in the country's national anthem.

Passports in the country may not need to be changed immediately either - in addition to displaying Swaziland's name in English and French, the current travel documents display the new name eSwatini (albeit in a much smaller font).

Other countries in southern Africa changed their name after independence, with Bechuanaland becoming Botswana, Rhodesia becoming Zimbabwe and Nyasaland became Malawi.

But the responses to the decision to change Swaziland to eSwatini have been divided.

While some are happy to move away from the name Swaziland - a mix of Swazi and English - others feel the change detracts from more pressing issues in the country, such as the high poverty rate and the world's highest levels of HIV.