In world practice, there are many cases in which, under the influence of certain historical events, cities, young and old, large and small, have changed their name, often several times. Sometimes the first name of the city returned again after the change. Here are just a few examples. Istanbul, founded by the ancient Greeks as Byzantium, then made famous by the name Constantinople, got its present name from the Turks. Tokyo (meaning “Eastern Capital”) was called Edo (meaning “Gate of the Harbor”) for many centuries, and got its name in 1868, when it became the capital. St. Petersburg was renamed three times in the twentieth century, and each time for ideological reasons. First, St. Petersburg was turned into Petrograd, under Soviet rule it became Leningrad, and at the end of the century, the city regained its historic first name.
Changing the name of the city can be seen as a ritual action accompanying the spiritual renewal of society. It is probably no accident that the question of returning the capital of Kazakhstan to its former name, Astana, has now arisen.
One of the arguments in favor of this can be considered the results of many sociological surveys. Currently, on the pages of various Internet resources the question “Do you support returning the name “Astana” to the capital?” is posted. The vast majority of respondents answered “yes” from 70% to 85% of the participants in the survey. Such a survey cannot be considered representative, however, one way or another, the trend in the answers is obvious.
Names-dedications (an object named after …), absorbing the meaning of approval of someone’s merits and virtues, in the era of changing attitudes can be transformed into the direct opposite. Therefore, given everything that happened in the life of our country in 2022, the course of “New Kazakhstan”, the program of political modernization and the course of socio-economic reforms – it is quite natural to return the former name of Astana. Here we can recall the very weighty arguments for “Astana,” which N. Nazarbayev voiced in his time, proposing this name for the capital: “the word has a clearly fixed meaning, it means “capital”; secondly, it is not burdened with any negative political or historical interpretations; thirdly, it accurately reflects the functions of the city, it is sound in both the state and other languages, and finally, it could become a symbol of the city during the presentation of the capital, which will be included in the world list of major cities with the new name”.
In addition to the political points, we should not forget the trend of linguistic economy and the convenience of using the name in colloquial speech. After the renaming of the capital from Astana to Nur-Sultan, the citizens continued to be called Astana residents, and all documents with the name Astana remained valid. Also from 2019 to the present, the key facilities of the capital, in the name of which Astana is used, have retained the previous name – Astana Opera, Astana Ballet, Astana Arena, as well as sports clubs, TV channel, airline. Therefore, it will be quite natural that the Astana people will live in Astana, and on the international arena will return the brand – Astana – firmly established earlier and still not forgotten by anyone!
Darina Danenova, Leading Research fellow, KazISS under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan