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The renaming of the cities in India started in 1947 CE following the end of the British imperial period. Several changes were controversial, and not all proposed changes were implemented. Each had to be approved by Government of India in Delhi.

The renaming of states and territories in India has also taken place, but until the 2010s with actual substantial name changes in both local language and in English such as the old British state name of Thiruvananthapuram - Kochi to Kerala (1956). The most notable exceptions are Indian English spelling-changes of Orissa to Odisha (2011)[1] and the union territory of Pondicherry (which includes the city of Puducherry) to Puducherry (2006).

Causes for renaming

Need for standardization of spelling

India has various local languages. Even (Romanised) English spellings in long and wide use often vary depending upon which government department or agency uses them. To the point, a few examples are Quilandy versus Koyilandy (Malayalam: കൊയിലാണ്ടി), Cannanore versus Kannur (Malayalam: കണ്ണൂർ), and Rangiya versus Rangia (Assamese: ৰঙিয়া). Different departments of the government may have used official spellings in use at the time, while locations associated with Indian railways mostly maintained British-era spellings. The confusion inherent in such variations has often resulted in serious consequences like people having two "different" addresses (theoretically designating the same place) in their official records leading to legal disputes, or one house having residents of different house addresses due to differing place names. Many people argue that such confusion can lead to indeterminate and/or unintended consequences.[2]

Renaming in local languages

In the post-colonial era, several Indian states' names were changed. Some of these changes coincided with the States Reorganisation Act of 1956, a major reform of the boundaries of India's states and territories that organized them along linguistic lines. At this time, for example, Travancore-Cochin was renamed Kerala (Malayalam: കേരളം). Later state name changes include the reorganization of Madhya Bharat into Madhya Pradesh (Hindi: मध्य प्रदेश) in 1959;[3] and the renaming of the Madras State to Tamil Nadu (Tamil: தமிழ்நாடு) in 1969, of the Mysore State to Karnataka (Kannada: ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ) in 1973, and of Uttaranchal to Uttarakhand (Hindi: उत्तराखण्ड) in 2007.

Name changes have varied with respect to the levels of language at which they have been applied, and also accepted. Some of these local name changes were changes made in all languages: the immediate local name, and also all India's other languages. An example of this is the renaming of predominantly Hindi-speaking Uttaranchal (Hindi: उत्तराञ्चल) to a new local Hindi name (Hindi: उत्तराखण्ड Uttarakhand). Other changes were only changes in some of the indigenous languages. For example, the renaming of the Madras Presidency to Madras State in 1947 and then Tamil Nadu in 1969 required non-Tamil speakers to change from an approximation of the British name (Tamil: மதராஸ் மாகாணம் Madras Presidency, then Madras State Tamil: மதராஸ் மாநிலம்) to a native Tamil name (Tamil: தமிழ்நாடு Tamil Nadu, 'Tamil country').

In general, changes to the local names of cities in the indigenous languages are less common. However, a change in English may sometimes also be a reflection of changes in other Indian languages other than the specific local one. For example, the change of Madras (Tamil: மதராஸ்) to Chennai (Tamil: சென்னை) was reflected in many of India's languages, and incidentally in English, while the Tamil endonym had always been Chennai and remained unaffected by the change.

Renaming in English

Change in official English spelling

The renaming of cities is often specifically from English to Indian English in connection with that dialect's internal reforms. In other words, the city itself is not actually renamed in the local language, and the local name (or endonym) in the indigenous languages of India does not change, but the official spelling in Indian English is amended. An example is the change from English Calcutta to English Kolkata – the local Bengali name (কলকাতা Kôlkata) did not change. Such changes in English spelling may be in order to better reflect a more accurate phonetic transliteration of the local name, or may be for other reasons. In the early years after Indian independence, many name changes were affected in northern India for English spellings of Hindi place names that had simply been Romanized inconsistently by the British administration – such as the British spelling Jubbulpore, renamed Jabalpur (जबलपुर) among the first changes in 1947. These changes did not generate significant controversy. More recent and high-profile changes – including renaming such major cities as Calcutta to Kolkata – have generated greater controversy.[4] Since independence, such changes have typically been enacted officially by legislation at local or national Indian government level, and may or may not then be adopted by the Indian media, particularly the influential Indian press. In the case of smaller towns and districts which were less notable outside and inside India, and where a well known English name (or exonym) could not be said to exist, older spellings used under British India may not have had any specific legislation other than changes in practice on the romanization of indigenous Indian language names.

Realignment of the official Indian English name to an alternative local name

Aside from changes to the official English spellings of local names there have also been renaming proposals to realign the official name, hence the English name with an alternative local name. Ethnically sensitive examples include the proposals by the Bharatiya Janata Party (1990, 2001) to rename Ahmedabad (Hindi: अहमदाबाद) to Karnavati[5] and Allahabad (Hindi: इलाहाबाद) to Prayagraj (Hindi: प्रयागराज), the latter ultimately being officially adopted in 2018. Similarly, the cities of Aurangabad (Marathi: औरंगाबाद) and Osmanabad (Marathi: उस्मानाबाद) had been renamed Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar (Marathi: छत्रपती संभाजी नगर) and Dharashiv (Marathi: धाराशिव), by then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackerey, in 2020. These proposals are changes from the Islamic name to a Hindu native name.

Adoption of renamed names

Official name changes take place quickly if not immediately in official government sources.[6] Adoption may be slower among the media in India and abroad, and among Indian authors.[7][8][9]

Effects of renaming

Indian culture features a centuries long integration of ethnic and religious groups, however, occurrences such as the renaming of Indian cities and places bring the underlying tensions among these groups to the surface. This is most easily demonstrated through opposing interests and interpretations of history between the nation’s Muslim and Hindu populations. Immediate post-colonialism saw a rejection of British influence, yet the recent rise of the Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been associated with the growing trend of Hindu nationalism in politics, and consequently, the rising fear in Muslims of their past being rewritten. Significant occurrences prompting this frustration include the renaming of the city of Allahabad (tracing back to Mughal rule) to Prayagraj (ancient name in Sanskrit) and the city of Faizabad to Ayodhya (a holy city of Hinduism). Upon the adoption of the name Prayagraj, a BJP official stated, "Today, the BJP government has rectified the mistake made by Akbar."[10] Within a nation dominated by a Hindu majority, politics and religion have been intertwined, allegedly silencing Muslim voices with every removal of Muslim-sounding places.

Along with India’s changing image, its history is gradually being rewritten with names reflecting Hindu heritage rather than Muslim ones. Indian author Pushpa Sundar writes, “The objective behind the renaming, whether done earlier or being done now, is to erase the prevailing memory of the good done along with the bad by the other, while simultaneously super-imposing history as interpreted by the current rulers as the flawless truth.” She prompts readers to consider the morality behind rewriting history as the values and attitudes of generations change, eroding the cultural authenticity as we do. The implementation of Hinduism in politics served as a catalyst for further cultural and psychological struggles as Muslim Indians expressed greater insecurity in their heritage and identity as citizens of India. With the addition of Hindu pride stirring hatred towards certain minorities, these developments seem to contradict India’s claim of being a secular, multifaith nation. Furthermore, in defense of Muslim contribution and cultural heritage, she writes, “If some Muslim rulers were cruel and unjust should Hindus retaliate by practicing reverse religious bigotry, forgetting the contribution made by other Muslim rulers and citizens to enrich their art, architecture and learning?”[11] This raises the question of whether silencing the bad is worth losing the good done as well.

Case Studies

Given India’s vast size and population, numerous efforts to decolonize and standardize India’s city names have been observed. One prominent example to spark controversy is India’s first modern city in which British power was once consolidated–the city that was previously known as Calcutta (British pronunciation) has been referred to as Kolkata (local Bengali pronunciation) since 2001. Unsurprisingly, the renaming trend was not limited to just city names, being further reflected in the postcolonial adoption of prominent Bengali figures as street names, parks, and significant landmarks. Notably, streets originally dedicated to notable colonial rulers such as Wellesley Street and Cornwallis Street are now proudly displayed as Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road and Bidhan Sarani, commemorating an Indian independence activist and the first post-independence Chief Minister of West Bengal. Gradual replacement of British claim in street and place names marked the reclaiming of symbolic ownership of the urban land. However, these changes were also received with varying degrees of discontent, given that the decisions lie in the hands of the greater social and political powers.

In other instances, such as Madras (the capital of Tamil Nadu) being rebranded as Chennai in 1996, the transition was regarded with less contention, in part due to the vague origins of the name Madras. Historically recognized as a significant administrative, military, and economic center, the name was believed to originate from Madrasapattinam, a fishing village north of Fort St. George built by the British. Other theories include Portuguese influence (Madre de Deus, meaning Mother of God) or Sanskrit derivations (Madhu-ras, meaning honey). Despite the ambiguity, the shift to Chennai was driven more by the name Madras serving as a reminder of the remnants of colonial rule, rather than its literal linguistic associations. Similarly, Chennai was likely derived from Chennaipattanam, another town near Fort St. George. Other sources form connections to Dravidian languages, particularly the Telugu word “chennu”, meaning beautiful. Nevertheless, unlike the aftermath following Calcutta’s renaming, residents of Chennai stated little preference in city names and were more concerned with tangible evidence of post-colonial reform. For others such as heritage activists, however, this seemingly trivial action is seen as a restoration of identity.

Important examples

Main article: List of renamed places in India



Notable city names that were officially changed by legislation after independence include:

For others, by state order, see list of renamed Indian cities and states.

Town names that derive from ancient names:

Proposed changes

Several other changes have been proposed for states and towns.

States and union territories




Himachal Pradesh




Uttar Pradesh


See also


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  2. ^ Aggarwal, Rajesh (25 October 2014). "Merging NPR and UID ???". Archived from the original on 25 October 2014.
  3. ^ The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics, 1925 to the 1990s. - Page 134 Christophe Jaffrelot 1999 - "The new state included Madhya Bharat, the Bhopal region, the former Vindhya Pradesh, Mahakoshal and Chhattisgarh (the last two regions forming the Hindi-speaking parts in the former Madhya Pradesh; see map, pp. xxii-xxiii)."
  4. ^ Mira Kamdar Planet India: How the Fastest Growing Democracy Is Transforming ... 2007 Author's introduction Page xi "India's information-technology capital's new name, should it be adopted, will mean "town of boiled beans." The name changes are not without controversy among Indians. In several instances, the name change represents a struggle between a cosmopolitan elite and a local, regional-language populace over defining the city in ways that go far beyond a simple change of name."
  5. ^ Steven I. Wilkinson Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India 2006 Page 23 "The BJP proposed in 1990 and 2001 that Ahmedabad be renamed "Karnavati." Hindu, June 1 1, 2001. Similar proposals have been made to restore Allahabad to "Prayag", as it had been known as before the Mughal era.
  6. ^ Reserve Bank of India's instructions for banks & banking operations Reserve Bank of India 2001 Page 713 "The new name "Mumbai" should be reflected in both English and Hindi and the change in name is to be brought about in all official communications, name plates, sign boards, office seals, rubber stamps, etc."
  7. ^ Perveez Mody The Intimate State: Love-Marriage and the Law in Delhi Page 59 - 2008 "Throughout this book, I refer to India's commercial capital as Bombay rather than Mumbai. ... I am well aware of the name-change effected by an Act of the Indian Parliament in 1997 that made the city officially 'Mumbai'. ... It is the same convention I adopt when referring to Calcutta rather than Kolkata."
  8. ^ Pingali Sailaja Indian English Page 16 2009 "Bombay is now called Mumbai, Madras is now Chennai and Calcutta is Kolkata, in an attempt to de-anglicise them. In this work, the earlier names are retained since these names were used during the period that we mostly cover."
  9. ^ Calcutta: A Cultural and Literary History - Page 3 Krishna Dutta - 2003 "nationalist stance, like Bombay, which changed its name to Mumbai, or Madras, which has become the unrecognisable Chennai, Calcutta has preferred a comparatively minor name change, which frankly is a bit of a multicultural mishmash."
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