City Names – Where Did They Come from and What Do They Mean?

Have you ever wondered how do places get their names? Who named them? What’s the reason behind it? What do those city names mean? If you are as curious as we are, this is a blog post for you!

We bring you legends about the names of different cities around the world and interesting stories that will hopefully inspire you to do some more research or maybe even consider an impromptu trip to one of these places.

 

City Names: Paris, France

The capital of France was established in the 3rd century BC. It was founded by a Celtic tribe Parisii on a small island in the middle of the river Seine. The tribe named their new city Civitas Parisiorum or shortened – Paris. The first time Paris was ever mentioned in any written document was in 52 BC. Julius Caesar then wrote about the settlement Lutetia Parisiorum (meaning midwater dwelling) in his “Commentaries on the Gallic War”.

city names-paris

Apart from being the City of Love, Paris is also known as the City of Light. That nickname comes from its leading role during the Age of Enlightenment and a great number of intellectuals living there, but also because Paris was one of the first large European cities to use gas street lighting on a grand scale.

If you would like to go to Paris and visit all its landmarks, including the Eiffel tower, consider doing some fitness preparations first. Why, you ask?

Because to climb to the top of the symbol of Paris, you’ll need to take 1665 stairs! Of course, you can take the elevator but opting for the stairs would definitely contribute to the full Parisienne experience. 😊

 

City Names: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Spanish conquistadors named this city by the Virgin Mary’s sanctuary Santa María del Buen Aire in Sardinia (which was also colonized by Spain at the time). In English, Buenos Aires means “good airs” or “fair winds”.

And how did the sanctuary get its name?

There are a few different stories. One of the most common ones states that the reason behind it is the position of the sanctuary. It was on a hill from where the stench of the swampland in Cagliari (the capital of Sardinia) could not be smelled and therefore “on good air”.

The other theory says the Virgin Mary helped sailors by assuaging a storm in the Mediterranean, earning it the fame of the “fair winds”.

Today, across Argentina, the people of Buenos Aires are largely called „porteños” (people from the port, port people) because of the enormous importance of the port not only for the city, but for the whole of Argentina as well.

city names-buenos aires

 

City Names: Warsaw, Poland

The city situated on the banks of river Vistula has a very interesting legend about its name origin. Once upon a time while King Kazimierz the Restorer was coming from Krakow, he got hungry and smelled some freshly cooked fish. He and his entourage followed the smell of the food and came across a poor fisherman’s hut. The fisherman and his wife hosted the king but wouldn’t accept payment for their hospitality. So, the king promised to organize the ceremony of baptism and asked for the honor of being godfather to their newborn twins  – a boy named Wars and a little girl named Sawa.

After the ceremony, the king told them to build a settlement and name it after the twins – Warszawa.

city names-warsaw

According to another legend, the mermaid Sawa is actually one of the two sisters who came from the Baltic Sea by the river Vistula. Unfortunately, she was stuck in a fishnet, but was saved by the fisherman Wars. As you can imagine, they fell in love and together founded the city of Warsaw. The mermaid promised she’ll protect the city and that’s why she’s featured on Warsaw’s coat of arms since the 14th century. Her sister is stationed at the Copenhagen’s port entrance.

 

City Names: Tokyo

Tokyo, whose original name is Edo, is Japan’s economic, cultural and political capital. In order to explain the meaning behind the name Tokyo, you should know that before it, the capital of the Land of the Rising Sun was Kyoto. In Japanese, Kyoto is written 京都, and the official name of Tokyo (which is extremely rarely used) is actually Tôkyôto or 東京都 in Japanese. Kyôto means Imperial Capital and tôkyôto means East (Imperial) Capital.

There are around 36 million people living in the metropolitan area of Tokyo today. Because of such a great number of people, Tokyo’s rail network had to employ pushers (押し屋 – oshiya), people who literally push the citizens in trains during rush hour.

city names-tokyo

 

City Names: Bangkok

Saving the best for last! Believe it or not, the official name of Thailand’s capital is Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. Yes. Our thoughts exactly.

It translates to: “The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.” Uh, that was a mouthful.

city names-bangkok

Locals mostly call their metropolis Krung Thep, which is a shortened version of the full official name. The name Bangkok is commonly used by Westerners, meaning “village of wild plums”.

 

EXTRA:

You thought we were done? Not yet! 😊 We have found some more interesting facts we’d like to share with you.

Did you know there’s a city in Alaska named Chicken? The legend says that miners who lived and worked there wanted to name their city Ptarmigan by a bird inhabiting that area. But the problem was they didn’t know how to spell the word ptarmigan so they decided to go with a bird whose name is much easier to spell – a chicken.

Batman fans probably already know about a village called  Gotham, situated in Nottinghamshire, England. Unfortunately, its name has nothing to do with Kane’s superhero. The name of this small place with around 1500 inhabitants derives from Old English gāt “goat” and hām “home”.

Names of numerous African cities were influenced by the natural characteristics of their surroundings. So, for your next trip you can visit Hotazhel, a place whose name means exactly what you think – that it’s hot as hell. The population of this town is less than 600 households and often falls victim to blistering heatwaves.

 

That would be it for today! Do you know any more captivating stories about names of cities, states, rivers or some other geographic locations? Which one of our stories did you like the most?

Ivona Mikić

Ivona is a holder of Master's degree in cultural studies and media culture with international experience. In Sinonim, she is in charge of the marketing strategy of the company, managing social media and communicating with national and international clients. Also, she enjoys physical activities, loves criminal novels and has an unhealthy obsession with documentaries about great whites.

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