I got into a conversation with a co-worker yesterday about place names in english. He’s Chinese, and couldn’t figure out why he called his country Zhong Guo, but the english speaking world called it China. Not a lot of similarities there. And the problem isn't just in english. Most countries call other countries things other than what those other countries call themselves. (Go ahead and read it again, I'll wait).
Well, it turns out that wikipedia (all hail) has a page which addresses this very issue. There, we learn that China comes from Qin, as in Qin dynasty. Once the western world started calling the land that, it wasn’t about to change.
Wiki also has pages on etymology of US State and county names. Turns out in Wisconisn ultimately derives from an aboriginal american phrase meaning ‘Red Rock River’. On and on it goes…
But it’s always bugged me. Shouldn’t the people who live in a place get to decide what it’s called? It’s a pretty basic sign of respect. If you call yourself Andrew, and I insist on calling you Jack or Bob, wouldn’t it piss you off a bit? Even if we don’t use the official nation name (Bundesrepublic Deutschland, for example) in daily speak, couldn’t we use the local common name for the place (Deutschland, in this example), instead? As the world gets smaller, I think this is going to happen. After all, if Burma can become Myanmar, why can’t China become Zhong Guo? Sure, we’ll pronounce it wrong, but it’l be a step in the right direction.