Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

CQQ-No.009: Lost in Translation

©2004 UrbisMedia

©2004 UrbisMedia

The ways in which cities come by their names is probably as complex than the way in which people are named. As we are often named after a relative, an historical or religious figure, or the season or day on which we were born, perhaps even the city in which we were born, urban appellation is as varied and circumstantial.

Perhaps the most common basis for a cities name derives from geographical location, or geographical feature. Tel Aviv, for example, was doubtless built on the mound of earlier cities, and translates as “the hill of Spring.” Nagasaki, a city at the end of a narrow peninsula, simply means “long cape” (Khartoum, which is also on a spit of land, in the Nile, means, less delicately, “the snout”). The site of Paris was called Lutetia (“marshy, or low-lying place”) by the Romans; but he name that stuck derives—not from the infamous son of Troy—but from the small local tribe called Parisii. Other city names are based on resources found at their sites: Limassol, Cyprus, (Greek for “copper”); or what type of work was prevalent—Malaga (Phoenician for “fish-drying place”).

Whatever the method city names in literal translation sometimes mean things quite different than what we have come to associate with such places (Chicago is reputed to be derived from a local Indian word for “onion”). Below are a score of translated city names and their names in translation.

Click to: Take the online quiz.

Click to: Take the online quiz.

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©2004, ©2015, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 4.25.2004)

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