Johor Bahru is my hometown, and is more popularly known by Malaysians and our neighbour across the Tebrau Straits, Singapore, by its initials JB. To the uninitiated, JB is the capital of the state of Johor, the southernmost state in Peninsular Malaysia as well as being the southernmost landmass of the Asian mainland.
Initially a small fishing settlement, it was established by Temenggong Daing Ibrahim in 1855 as Tanjung Puteri. It was later renamed Johor Bahru in 1866 by Temenggong Abu Bakar, who later became Sultan Abu Bakar in 1885, the great great grandfather of the current Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, and who is popularly known as the Father of Modern Johor.
I am JB born and bred and eversince I was a child, JB has always being spelt as Johor Bahru. People sort of took it for granted and didn’t think too much of it, the spelling that is. I must also admit that even I too took it for granted until I notice a trend of late, in mis-spelling JB’s full name in the printed media eg Johor Baharu, Johor Baru, Johor Bharu and Johore Baru. I must admit that this trend does irk me a bit, so much so that I have to put an effort to put it right.
I would think that it was bound to happen sooner or later, eversince the Malay-speaking communities of ASEAN came together and agreed to a common way of spelling and pronouncing Malay words. This development dated back in the 1970s, and today the agreed method is known as Bahasa Baku, which to my Johor-Riau way of speaking the Malay language sounds more like the dialect used in the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia.
According to Bahasa Baku, words that began with eg “Sh” would be spelt as “Sy”, repetitive words using “2” eg budak2 for the plural form of ‘Budak” would have to spelt in full etc. To this day, I am still not sure to the spelling of some words (I would have to refer to the Malay dailies to confirm the spelling). So you can imagine the confusion when it was first put into use especially for us Malay speakers especially for those of us sitting for formal government exams, despite the many efforts to put all at ease, what more so for those who don’t regard Malay as their everyday language of communication.
As a rule of thumb, we were told that names of persons and locations would retain their original spelling, which does make it easier somewhat. So naturally, we should expect JB to be spelt as Johor Bahru. However, as I mentioned earlier, of late JB has been misspelt in the media and as a Johorian, this does not go down well with me. It may sound petty to some but it is of historical importance. Johor Bahru is spelt as Johor Bahru, and I strongly believe it should remain so.
A case in point would be the Selangor royal town of Klang. When Bahasa Baku’s usage was first announced, somebody in the printed media apparently either did not notice that statement on the rule of thumb or was playing devil’s advocate, and decided to spell the name of the royal town of the state of Selangor, Klang as Kelang. Reaction was swift as I recall it with the then Selangor State government promptly gazetted the spelling of the name “Klang” as “Klang’ and not “Kelang”. So since then, Klang has been spelt as Klang.
Maybe the Johor state government should gazette JB’s official name as Johor Bahru. How about it?