Although the country just south of the U.S. is known globally simply as “Mexico,” its formal name is "Estados Unidos Mexicanos" ("United States of Mexico” or “United Mexican States”), which was adopted in 1824 just after it gained independence from Spain.
The name was originally designed to follow the example of the United States of America -- but now President Felipe Calderon wants to remove the “United States” portion.
“Mexico doesn't need a name that emulates another country and that no one uses on a daily basis," Calderon said at a news conference Friday. "Forgive me for the expression, but Mexico's name is Mexico … It's time for Mexicans to return to the beauty and simplicity of the name of our country, Mexico. A name that we chant, that we sing, that makes us happy, that we identify with, that fills us with pride."
This is not the first time Calderon has proposed this name change. As a congressman in 2003, he made a similar proposal, but the related bill never came to a vote.
Calderon’s renewed bill on the proposal will require the approval by both houses of Congress and most of the country's 31 state legislatures.
Some have scoffed at Calderon’s last-minute name-change effort.
“With so many real problems in this country, I don’t think that it matters,” Enrique Krauze, a historian and political analyst, told the New York Times. “No one ever calls Mexico anything other than ‘Mexico.’”
Calderon leaves office Dec. 1, to make way for Enrique Pena Nieto. Calderon departs with a very mixed legacy. While Mexico’s economy has prospered under his six-year rule -- the country's gross domestic product on a purchasing-power-parity basis is now the 11th largest in the world -- tens of thousands of people have died in a brutal crackdown of powerful drug cartels.
Calderon likely wants his country to develop more independent of its northern neighbor.
But the U.S. looms over Mexico like a colossus. It is by far Mexico’s largest trading partner, purchasing more than 80 percent of Mexican exports. In turn, Mexico is the third-largest U.S. trading partner after China and Canada, with bilateral trade totaling $362 billion in 2010.
However, in the unlikely event the name change goes through, it would hardly be unprecedented. Indeed, many nations have altered their names throughout history, sometimes for purely political reasons.
For example, in 1935, the ruler of Persia, Reza Shah Pahlavi, formally ordered foreign officials to call the country by its ancient name, “Iran.”
Ceylon became “Sri Lanka” in May 1972. However, it took almost 40 years for the old colonial name to finally be removed from all government institutions. "Ceylon" itself was the British version of the name Portuguese explorers gave the island.
In May 1997, when Gen. Laurent-Desire Kabila took control of the southern African country of Zaire, he rechristened it the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is the name it had prior to 1971, when former President Sese Seko Mobutu changed it to Zaire.