This week, a vote is underway to determine whether Sudan's southern region will secede from the north. Most onlookers predict the separation will take place, with Southern Sudan--largely populated by ethnic Africans who practice Catholicism--forming its own sovereign state, distinct from Northern Sudan, where the dominant class tends to be Arab and Muslim.
Of the many pressing questions facing the potential new state, one that hasn't received much attention is simply this: what will the new country actually be called? International news organizations are using the term "South Sudan," but that doesn't appear to be set in stone. Andreas Markessinis at the blog Nation-Branding points out that there are any number of options on the table, though none of them seems to be a perfect solution:
One possible option is 'New Sudan,' but some oppose the idea as that name would associate the new country with the actual Sudan, which is considered a pariah state. For a weak, new country with weak influence, getting the world population to distinguish between 'Sudan' and 'New Sudan' would take aeons. Many people still confuse South Korea with North Korea and don't remember which one is the rogue state, so any combination of names including the word 'Sudan' will probably be counter-productive to the new country, nationals say.
In fact, another suggestion most Southern Sudaneses don't like either is 'Southern Sudan.' They discard it because the name raises fears that this name would also confuse people, as many people would think that 'Southern Sudan' is the Southern region within Sudan, and not a different country.
Markessinis goes on to address the root of the word "Sudan"--it comes from the Arabic for "land of the black people," meaning it might be more fitting for the majority-black southern country than the Arab-identified north--and to mention some of the other possibilities, including Nilotia, for the Nile River. Mark Tran at The Guardian chimes in with Cush, a name taken "after a biblical kingdom in the area." Meanwhile, Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy advises the new country to make a clean break of it:
I'd have to think that at this point dropping "Sudan" -- with its contemporary connotations of genocide and famine -- from the name would be a wise branding move. I doubt anyone in Bangladesh wishes today that the country had stuck with "East Pakistan" after independence. Most of all, Southern Sudan should be sure to avoid the nomenclatural abomination that is the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo ... Maybe the country could go the Altria route and just make up a name? Not the worst idea for a place badly in need of a fresh start.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.