Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bombay or Mumbai?

Today's vicious terrorist attacks in India struck a city with two names, and English-language media can't agree which to call it.

Looking at the newswire tonight, I see the New York Times, LA Times, and Hearst News Services stories all carry a "Mumbai" dateline. But the Associated Press insists on calling it "Bombay," as does the Washington Post.

They are not the same name. Mumbai is the Marathi name for the place. It's rooted in the name of a Hindu goddess. When the Portuguese arrived in the 1500s, they called the place Bom Bahia "Good Bay." This got corrupted to Bombaim and passed into English, where it further degenerated to Bombay.

The place was known by both names during its centuries as a European colony, even among Indians. The name officially changed back to Mumbai in 1995.