B is for Bombay

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My site might be Magnolia to Mumbai, but one of the earliest names of the Maximum City is Bombay. Derived from the Portuguese for “good little bay,” the British officially adopted Bombay as the city’s name in the 17th century.

Mumbai derives from the name of the Koli goddess, Mumbadevi. In Marathi, the local language, this origin was retained in common speech. In 1995, the city was rechristened Mumbai to reject colonial neologisms and reflect the Marathi nationalist sentiments of the ruling Shiv Sena party.

Even now, 20 years later, the decision to use Bombay or Mumbai can be fraught with tense cultural and political undertones. Most expats call the city Mumbai. As newcomers, we don’t have a preference either way. We’ll call it what Mumbaikers want us to call it. The name change does often confuse our relatives, however, who ask how close we live to Bombay.

The name Bombay is still retained in a few instances, for example, the common abbreviation, SoBo, short for South Bombay. People traveling from the suburbs are sometimes heard as going into Bombay, as if town were Bombay, but the suburbs were Mumbai. Even though the airport was renamed, the call letters BOM were retained as the airport code. And, of course, the famous Bombay duck is still called Bombay duck. Although, in truth, it’s not a duck at all. But, that’s another tale or is it tail?

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