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Is Ceylon a problematic colony-themed origin description?  Maybe, maybe not.  In general, the political correctness movement seems to have not been taken up so quickly related to tea, since “Oriental Beauty” is still around.  All the same, someone asked something related to this split in a discussion between teas from Sri Lanka being called Sri Lankan versus Ceylon (it happened a while back now, but I’ve meant to write about it).

Of course Ceylon is the established tea origin and type brand name – that’s a given.  I’ve personally never given it much thought whether it’s problematic, in relation to it being a former British colony name.  So I asked around in a couple of groups to see what the consensus perspective is, or if there is more relevant input to turn up.

This input in a Sri Lanka-themed Facebook group was interesting:

“Sri Lanka is the current name of the island. But the world is known Ceylon tea, Ceylon Cinnamon, Ceylon rubber, Ceylon gems etc. Either the authorities should go for entire re branding or use the popular brand names.”

Potentially problematic tea designated as Ceylon: Tea in two white gaiwans

white and black Ceylon versions

That’s true; I’ve seen such reference to other products.  Let’s check one of the standard media stories on the rebranding to see if they add anything on that, such as this one from the BBC:

“The government wants the country’s modern name to be used instead. The decision comes 39 years after the country was renamed Sri Lanka.

“The change will be made as early as possible in 2011…

“But the name Ceylon has persisted in many institutions, including the Bank of Ceylon and the Ceylon Fisheries Corporation…

“The Ceylon Tea label, however, is unlikely to change, as the industry believes it’s a brand of quality for the country’s most famous export.”

Not detail other than adding that perspective and a timeline: The supposed shift happening 10 years ago.  I just saw an online post about Ceylon cinnamon today, as chance has it.

A Reddit Sri Lanka sub passed on lots of great feedback.  To be clear, those are expressions of personal opinion – not necessarily the input of historians or cultural experts (although who knows, maybe those “Redditors” are that).  I’m not implying that the consistent opinion expressed there is uniform across Sri Lanka, or objectively correct; maybe the demographic that would be on Reddit tends to naturally share one opinion.

“Officially tea originating from Sri Lanka is designated as ‘Ceylon Tea’ . There are several govt/public entities that still use Ceylon in their name eg Bank of Ceylon, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.

“Ceilão, the name given to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese (16th century), was transliterated into English as Ceylon. The Sinhala name for Ceylon was Lanka.”

So the 2011 re-naming venture didn’t take—even at the government level—and “Ceylon” wasn’t a British name for Sri Lanka beyond being an earlier name they adopted.  More on that:

“The earliest mention of Sri Lanka in roman letters is as Sielen Diva, Sielen meaning Seredipity and diva meaning island or land. Later known by Arabs as Serendib. It’s likely that the Europeans changed this to Ceylon during the colonial days.

“Todays[sic] word, Sri Lanka, literally means (respected) land.”

Sounds like a good place to end, except someone else disagreed with that derivation:

“Actually, ‘sielen’ is a corruption of ‘sivu helayan’, which means ‘four tribes’ (raksha, yaksha, naga, deva).

“Serendib and serendipity came from ‘suran deep, ‘golden (beach) land'”

One thing they all are agreeing on is that the British didn’t invent that term Ceylon, and it pre-dated their colonial period by a good bit.  No one thought that Ceylon should be ended as a product category brand designation, or that anyone sees negative connotation in it now.

Image provided and copyright held by author

For more information about Ceylon teas, check out this article by James Norwood Pratt