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A name might mean little to tourists that come to enjoy cuisine and culture, but it means everything to locals whose country’s name defines their identity and how the rest of the world views them.

The Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma received further backing from the White House on Monday in its campaign to be called Myanmar.

Successive U.S. governments have refused to acknowledge the name change made in the late 1980s by the country’s military rulers. The United States for years deliberately referred to the nation of 60 million people as Burma, so as not to give legitimacy to military governments.

But in a nod to political reforms made by President Thein Sein, the White House acknowledged it is now employing the name Myanmar more often than before.

“We have responded by expanding our engagement with the government, easing a number of sanctions, and as a courtesy in appropriate settings, more frequently using the name Myanmar,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Thein Sein met with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Monday in the first visit to the White House by a president of Myanmar, or Burma, in 47 years. Obama used the name Myanmar, not Burma, throughout his comments to reporters.

But his spokesman employed both names.

“Burma has undertaken a number of positive reforms, including releasing over 850 political prisoners, easing media restrictions, permitting freedom of speech, assembly and movement,” Carney said.

In their meeting, Obama urged the president to take steps to halt violence against Muslims in his country and move ahead with economic and political reforms.

Reporting by Jeff Mason. Editing by David Brunnstrom.

Copyright (2013) Thomson Reuters.


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Tags: burma, myanmar, usa

Photo credit: Buddhist statues close to the Golden Pagoda in Thachilek, Myanmar. Casper Moller / Flickr

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