Throughout history, people have given names to their towns and cities. These names may reflect physical features and geography, or they may honor ancient gods or historical events. In North America, the invading Europeans often brought place names with them from Europe and gave their towns names which reflected European history and geography. The etymology of some American cities is discussed below.
Albuquerque is the largest city in the state of New Mexico. It was originally named for the Spanish town of Albuquerque. The Spanish settlement in New Mexico was named by the provincial governor Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes as a way of honoring the viceroy of New Spain, Don Francisco Fernández de la Cueva y Enríquez de Cabrera who carried the royal title of the Duke of Albuquerque.
Albuquerque is actually a Portuguese family name which can be traced back to at least the twelfth century. The original town of Albuquerque, now located in Spain, is near the Spanish-Portuguese border in an area known for its cork production. Historically, the region was at times under Portuguese rule and at times under Spanish rule.
The name “Albuquerque” comes from the Roman era and is based on the Latin “alba quercus” meaning “white oak.” This refers to the fact that the cork oak is white after the cork has been removed.
Albuquerque (NM) in the 1880s is shown above.
In Lincolnshire, England there was a town named Botolph’s Tun which was founded by the Saxon monk, St. Botolph (also spelled Botwulf, Botulph, Botulf), in 654 CE. In 1607, some of the Pilgrims who were to immigrate to the Americas were imprisoned here. Boston is generally believed to be a contraction of Botolph’s Tun. St. Botolph is the patron saint of travellers and various aspects of farming.
When the first Europeans (the French) arrived in the area that would become the city of Chicago, it was occupied by the Miami Indians. The Miami term for the area was “shikaakwa” which referred to “wild onion” or “wild garlic.” The French explorer Robert de LaSalle transcribed this as “Checagou.” In 1688, Henri Joutel recorded this “Chicagoua”. These French transcriptions of the Miami designation became Chicago.
When Cincinnati was founded in 1788, it was given the name Losantiville which was intended to mean “the city opposite the mouth of the Licking River”. This name was a combination of four terms in four different languages: “L” for Licking River; “os” Latin for “mouth”; “anti” Greek for “opposite”; and “ville” French for “city.”
The name Losantiville didn’t last long: in 1790 the name was changed to Cincinnati in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati. Arthur St. Clair, governor of the territory, was a member of this society and was responsible for renaming the community. Cincinnatus had been a Roman farmer who had been called to serve Rome as dictator. After completing the task of defeating the Aequians in 16 days, he resigned. Thus he was considered the role model dictator and George Washington was honored as a modern day Cincinnatus.
Cincinnati in 1841 is shown above.