25 Cities That Can’t Seem To Figure Out Their Own Names

The world has changed a great deal over the past few years, and it has changed even more in the few hundred or thousand years before those. Humans have constantly been on the move, settling and resettling in nearly every corner of the globe. Over time, as different groups of people enter or leave areas or as the history of places evolve, the need arises to change the name of cities to better reflect their histories or even their new personalities. But sometimes all the name changes can get a bit out of hand. From a city whose old name referred to an obscene sexual gesture to an ancient Greek city which has changed name over six times to even an island named after Robinson Crusoe, the world seems to be full of cities going through some sort of identity issue. Is your city one of them?

You might be familiar with well-known cities such as New Amsterdam, Bombay, or Peking. But there are plenty of other major cities in the world that can’t seem to make up their minds about their own names and it’s time you learned about them. These are 25 cities that can’t seem to figure out their own names.

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Nouvelle-Angoulême to New Amsterdam to New York City

Manhattan in 1873Source: Homberger, Eric (2005). The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City's History., Image: Wikipedia

Giovanni da Verrazzano, captaining a French ship, is the first European known to visit the area of present day New York City in 1524. He named it Nouvelle-Angoulême after the Royal House of Valois-Angoulême, the house of French King Francis I, but did not stay to establish a colony. The Dutch established the trading colony of New Amsterdam in 1626 and held it until the British conquered the area in 1664. The renamed New York was recaptured by the Dutch in 1673 (where it was called New Orange, after the Dutch royal house) but finally traded to the English for Suriname in the following year.


Bombay to Mumbai

Mumbai taj Mahal hotelSource: Shirodkar, Prakashchandra P. (1998). Researches in Indo-Portuguese history & Nitin Chavan (18 December 2009). "शिवसेना आमदाराची नामांतर एक्‍स्प्रेस" [Shivsēnā Âmadārācī Nāmāntar Express]. Sakal , Image: Wikimedia

When the Portuguese landed in southwestern India, they named the area Bom Baim (“good little bay”). This name was anglicized to Bombay when the British took over the city and was changed to Mumbai (after the patron goddess Mumbadevi) in 1995 after the Marathi nationalist Shiv Sena party swept into power.


St. Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad to St. Petersburg

Trinity_Cathedral_in_Saint_PetersburgSource: Kann, Pavel Yakovlevich (1963). Leningrad: A Short Guide. & McColl, R. W., ed. (2005). Encyclopedia of world geography, Image: Wikipedia

First taking on the name of St. Petersburg in 1703, the city changed to Petrograd in 1914, Leningrad in 1924, and back to St. Petersburg after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Sometimes called “Peter” by locals, the city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. It was renamed Petrograd (“Peter’s City”, after the Tsar) in 1914 to remove German words from the old name. Five days after Lenin’s death, the city was renamed Leningrad in his honor as the leader of the October Revolution which started in the city. It was renamed St. Petersburg after the fall of the Soviet Union.


Porcalhota to Amadora

Aqueduto_das_Águas_LivresSource: Associação Nacional de Municípios Portugueses, Image: Wikipedia

Portugal takes two spots on this list of cities which have changed their names due to its old dirty former names of cities. (Number 6 is especially raunchy.) Located near Lisbon, the original city of Porcalhota was named after Vasco Porcalho, but colloquially meant “small dirty one”. Locals successfully asked the king to change the name in 1907.


Canton to Guangzhou

Pearl_River_GuangzhouSource: Guangzhou Daily, Image: Wikimedia

Now the third largest Chinese city with over 13 million residents, Guangzhou didn’t have an official name when European traders arrived. Only called “the provincial capital”, the city was named after the surrounding province of Guangdong and derived its romanized name, Canton, from the Portuguese “Cantão”, a transcription of Guangdong. The name was changed to Guangzhou after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

SEE ALSO: 25 Most Visited Countries In The World »

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