Behind almost every city’s name is an interesting story. What a town is called can reveal plenty about its history, culture and even how it views itself.
Today we debunk the myths surrounding how some of the world’s global cities got their names.
Nicknames: City of Mosques, Rickshaw Capital of the World
There are several theories about how Bangladesh’s capital city takes its name. Some say it comes from the Dhakeshwari temple, meaning ‘Goddess of Dhaka’, the country’s national Hindu temple. Others say the name comes from the Dhak plant, which is commonly found in the area. But our favorite theory has its roots in history. With the strongholds of Bengal rulers once located nearby, Dhaka translates as ‘watchtower’.
Nicknames: Isloo, The Green City
Pakistan’s capital translates as ‘City of Islam’. Islamabad takes its name from two words: the Arabic word Islam, referring to the country’s predominant religion, and abad, a Persian word meaning ‘inhabited place or city’.
Nicknames: Pearl of the Orient, The City of Our Affections
The capital of the Philippines takes its name from the nila plant, a flowering mangrove that early inhabitants found on the shores of the Pasig River. The plant was used to make soap and was central to trade. The name was first spelled as Maynila, with the prefix ma- indicating the prevalence of something. Manila is often translated as ‘there is nila’.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The city of Riyadh is named for its geography: it means a place full of gardens or orchards. The name is derived from the Arabic plural word for ‘meadows’ or ‘gardens’. Though Riyadh’s climate is typically arid with little rainfall, the city also has a good underground water supply which makes it one of the more fertile areas in the kingdom.
Nicknames: The Big Durian, J-Town
The name Jakarta is firmly rooted in history. The city was first named Jayakarta when the Portuguese were driven out by Sunan Gunungjati, a Muslim saint. Later, as the capital of the Dutch East Indies, the city was renamed Batavia. The name Jakarta was then restored under Japanese occupation during World War II. It was not until 1950 that the city was named the capital of the new republic of Indonesia.
Nicknames: The Garden City of the East
Formed from two Burmese words meaning ‘enemies’ and ‘run out of’, the former capital’s name translates as ‘End of Strife’. King Alaungpaya named the city Yangon when it was founded in 1755. Under the British, the name was often anglicized as Rangoon, based on its pronunciation in the Rakhine dialect of Burmese.
Nicknames: Athens of South America
Like many other place names in the region, the name of the Colombian capital is tied to its colonial past. The city’s original name, given by the local Chibcha Indians, was Bacatá. Under Spanish occupation, it was renamed Santa Fé de Bacatá by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada after his birthplace in Spain. Bacatá was then renamed as Bogotá after independence.