We begin with one of the frequent renamings of a railway station in India:
You can see that this is the new name of Mhow station. The town has been renamed by the state government. An example of the old sign:
Now, someone will say, is Mhow not a British name which needs to be changed? A surprisingly large number of people believe that the name means “Military Headquarters Of War”, an example of an acronym
However, if we look more closely into the description of this town, we find that this is not so.
From the section on “Etymology”, we see that it was known as Mhau or Mau long before the British built the cantonment there, and that the above explanation of the name is a backronym
We can guess that someone (probably a bored British soldier) invented this backronym as a joke which somehow became popular. After all “Military Headquarters Of War” is a non-standard phrase which really has no meaning-why not just Army Headquarters? And which war?
There are several other (non-Indian) examples of backronyms in the Wikipedia article. There are a couple of other place names in India which are thought to be acronyms but are not. Here is another one named Babina.
This is another cantonment town, about 25 km south of Jhansi. Unlike Mhow which is a suburb of Indore, this is more of a standalone cantonment town. There is a brief article in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babina,_Uttar_Pradesh
Here it is mentioned that the name is derived from “British Army Base In Native Asia”. Elsewhere I have seen it with “Northern Asia”. As in the case of Mhow, someone seems to have “created” this explanation which got accepted by others. It is easy enough to see that this is a joke; have you come across the phrase “Native Asia” in any standard reference book or historical document? And Northern Asia is generally understood to mean Siberia, Mongolia and perhaps part of China which were never ruled by the British. And when there were hundreds of British Army bases all over the country, what was special about this place to deserve this name? It was and is of some importance, but is certainly not one of the largest cantonments in the country.
Yet another one pertains to this Air Force base named Thoise. There is no railway station for hundreds of kilometres, so we make do with a map reference:
which mentions that the name stands for Transit Halt Of Indian Soldiers Enroute (to Siachen). This sounds a little more plausible than the examples quoted earlier.
However, a veteran IAF pilot who had served in this area in the 1960s pointed out that IAF transport aircraft were using this airstrip back then, long before anyone had heard of the Siachen Glacier. It was not until 1984 that our army took up positions there. It was known as Thoise even then, presumably named after a village in the vicinity.
Another authentic-sounding one is “AMmunition LAnd” for Amla in Madhya Pradesh. While the military seems to have storage facilities there, the Wikipedia article suggests it is named after a fruit.
Another Mhow-like joke which is quite persistent relates to Avadi in Chennai. This extract is from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avadi#Toponymy
“The word ‘Avadi’ has been considered as an acronym for “Armour-ed Vehicles and Ammunition Depot of India”, however this fact has no base since, the defense establishments in Avadi were set up only in the 1960s, whereas the town itself had existed long before this happened and with the same name. The name Avadi actually means in Tamil ‘a place filled with lot of cows’ ஆ (Aa) = cow + அடி (Adi) = location.”
As it often happens, the cows have the last laugh.