What's in a Name?

Most readers of this blog probably have never heard of the name of the one-time major pharmaceutical company named Distillers. We aren’t on-line here in the Hilton so I don’t know if one of the 20th Century’s biggest medical disaster perpetrators – Distillers, manufacturers of Thalidomide – are still in business. The names Distillers and Thalidomide cause members of the 50s and 60s generation to shudder in horror.

On a side issue, that the Directors of Distillers weren’t publically lynched, a-la Saddam Hussain, is a good reason I embraced Atheism during my formative years. Despite my Atheistic beliefs, I still have belief in an overall “Goodness” encapsulated within the human psyche. Perhaps, just perhaps Distillers and its board of Directors festered and withered away in well deserved putrefaction. Please let me know if Google returns a current balance sheet on them or not.

As said though, my overall faith in human nature – outside of Thailand naturally – is strong, so I will gamble for this blog, that Distillers has been deservedly expunged from the Corporate Rolls. Nevertheless, expunged or not, Distillers is a proper noun that start-up companies shun. Some form of Racial Corporate Memory?

Certainly in Western culture Proper Nouns applied to people, places and events, subconsciously and automatically I add, assume a ready association that is impossible to shift. Even the passage of millennia fails to eradicate the taint. Would a play entitled Brutus and Juliet evoke the necessary connotations? No, no more than had Shakespeare named his play of innocent, but tragic love, Lothario and Juliette. Are there Parents willing to name their offspring: Adolf, Genghis, Idi, Judas, Et Al? Do any of the Arnold family name their offspring Benedict?

Whereas personal Proper Nouns fall easily into disuse once a slur has been cast upon them, this is not so with Geographic names. Take Siam for example.

Siam was once the traditional name of a part of Indo-China bracketed by Burma, Malaysia Cambodia and Laos. Strategically placed for the Axis Forces during World War II, a vital piece of real estate, its location provided an incalculably indispensable launch pad for a Japan with colonial pretensions.

Whereas other bordering countries valiantly resisted the Japanese incursion, realising that allowing any foothold to the Nippon’s in the region was a pre-cursor marking their own collapse and inevitable domination by the invader, Thailand readily laid back, opened its legs – via the Gulf of Siam – and welcomed the ingress of Hirohito’s imperial rapists. British held Malaya, as was Malaysia at that time, was speedily plundered and Fortress Singapore was quickly breached. Siam’s treachery contributed extensively to the Japanese War Machine.

The outcome of World War II is well known, Japan, Germany and the Axis allies were humiliated. Those losers who had participated and ended somewhat honourably mainly through the tenaciousness bravery of the common troops in battle – were readily forgiven. Not so those who had willingly collaborated with Hitler’s and Hirohito’s evil captains. Whereas there was some justifiable bloodletting in North Western Europe amongst pockets of “Les Collaborateurs”, overall the occupied colonies were mainly supporters of the Allied effort. Siam, by contrast, embraced the Nipponese cause en-masse! The spineless Siamese were too busy enjoying a good rogering by Japan to so much as field a division of elephants in support of their Nippon overlords, let alone field a troop of Maquis.

Like Distillers and Thalidomide, the name Siam stank of despicability at the end of World War II. Not that its neighbours in South East Asia didn’t complain of the stench long before the end of World War II.

Humans endure for just a brief time whereas geographical locations abide for aeons. Within the post World War II world order the name Siam was well and truly knackered. No easy solution you may think. Indeed it was a dilemma. Very rapidly the name Siam was becoming synonymies with cowardly treachery well beyond the confines of South East Asia, so much so that some 15 years later when Hollywood’s Walt Disney wanted to portray treachery, corruption and arse-licking deviousness even he assigned the role 2 Siamese cats in the cartoon 101 Dalmations.

An expedient solution had to be found. Change the name of the region. Siam became Thailand. But, as they say, a Rose by another name still becomes replete with thorns. Siams moral pygmyism isn’t located within its soil, it’s part of the fabric of the Siamese DNA. As has been proved before, changing the name of a country does squat and slowly the rest of the world is coming to realise that, as with Siam, Thailand doesn’t play well with others.

For myself, I become increasingly convinced that an excellent synonym for Thailand is Thalidomide. What do you think?



  1. Siam was first changed to Thailand in June 1939 3 months before WWII started. It was then changed back to Siam from 1945 to 1949 so all throughout WWII the place was actually called Thailand rather than Siam.

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