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"Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say—
People just liked it better that way"
The Four Lads, "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)", re-popularized by They Might Be Giants on Flood.

Due to a large number of political events, certain city names have become politically incorrect and have been changed. Naturally, not all the locals will be fond of it. Referring to a location by its old vs. its new name may be a way of declaring one's political allegiance. A Soviet-era joke has an older Russian filling out a form:

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  • Where were you born? St. Petersburg.
  • Where did you go to school? Petrograd.
  • Where do you live now? Leningrad.
  • And where would you like to live? St. Petersburg.

(The joke is that they all refer to the same city.)

It's not always for political reasons though. For example, some Chinese place names have simply been changed due to a new method of transliterating their "real" names — neither "Peking" nor "Beijing" is an entirely accurate way of representing the Chinese word, due to language differences, but the latter is considerably closer than the former. Linguistic drift can also change names: The Roman province of Hispania became, over a thousand years later, the nation of España — Spain.

Either way, expect to see some of the old names pop up in Alternate History or Fantasy Counterpart Culture, as evidenced by Istanbul (Not Constantinople). If the new "name" is just a number, it's Airstrip One. If it's named for the ruler, it's Egopolis.

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Often a form of Meaningful Rename.


Examples

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Uses in Fiction

    Anime and Manga 
  • The main setting of Higurashi: When They Cry was renamed from Onigafuchi to Hinamizawa, removing the "oni" (demon) part of the name—a reference to the villagers' beliefs that they were part demon—in the process.
  • ARIA does this to the planet Mars, which is said to have been renamed Aqua after being terraformed.

    Comic Books 
  • Astro City was originally called Romeyn Falls, but was renamed in 1947 to honor Golden Age hero the Astro-Naut, who'd stopped an alien invasion that devastated the city.
  • Seattle gets renamed Star City after it's taken over by an Ancient Conspiracy in the Green Arrow (Rebirth) storyline "Rise of Star City". Ollie makes a point of continuing to call it Seattle.
  • The Finder arc "Third World" has a city called only "Third World", because it's occupied by several different ethnic groups, each with their own traditional name for it, and none of them will allow any of the others' names to be officially selected.
  • According to Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen (2019), Metropolis was originally known as New Oberstad in the 17th century. It presumably changed its name at around the same time as New Amsterdam became New York.
  • X-Factor (2006): In the future timeline Bishop comes from, JFK Airport has been renamed to BHO Airport sometime in the last eighty years.

    Fan Works 
  • A sidestory of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines starring young Samuel Oak and Agatha reveals that Pallet Town was originally named Blank Town, and was renamed after Pallet Oak, Samuel's grandfather, who was considered the greatest Pokémon Master of all time. Agatha snarks that with a name like Blank Town, people probably jumped at the chance to change the name.
  • Chasing Dragons:
    • After Tyrosh is sacked by the Abolitionist Alliance and annexed by Braavos, the latter rename it Martyros.
    • After Balon's Rebellion is crushed and the Iron Islands occupied by the mainland, the city of Lordsport is renamed Euronsport in honor of Euron's loyal service to Stannis and his death during the rebellion and made the headquarters of the Order of the Sea (The Order created to police the islands).
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    Film 

    Literature 
  • In the backstory of The Lord of the Rings, the city of Minas Ithil ("Tower of the Moon") was renamed Minas Morgul ("Tower of Black Sorcery") when it was overrun by the forces of Sauron. In response, its sister city, Minas Anor ("Tower of the Sun") was renamed Minas Tirith ("Tower of Guard").
    • Similarly, the original Minas Tirith from the Silmarillion was on Tol Sirion (The Island of the Sirion, i.e. the Sirion river). After being taken over by Morgoth, and used by Sauron to breed werewolves, was renamed Tol-in-Gaurhoth or Isle of Werewolves.
  • One of Private Eye's stock parodies is of an African tin-pot dictatorship called "Rumbabwe, formerly British Rumbabaland" (referencing Zimbabwe and Bechuanaland/Botswana). There are also less frequent parodies of other name changes, such as the Soviet ones.
  • Strugatsky Brothers novel Hard to Be a God, mentions a lot of villages being given more upbeat names in hopes of reforming them. It sounded like the attempt wasn't successful.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, this trope occurred on a massive scale when the extragalactic Yuuzhan Vong invaded the capital planet/global city of Coruscant, terraformed it into a humid jungle world, and renamed it Yuuzhan'tar, in an attempt to recreate their lost/destroyed original homeworld.
    • Earlier, Coruscant was renamed Imperial Center during The Empire's rule and reverted to its traditional name under the New Republic. Only die-hard Imperials used the new name in the first place. It's been taken over by resurgences of the Empire and renamed Imperial Center again twice since then.
    • Also, while the planet is called Coruscant, the city that covers it officially has another name, which changes from Galactic City to Imperial City to New Republic City. There's not much point in making the distinction anymore so it doesn't come up much.
  • In the Star Trek Novel Verse, the capital city of Romulus changes its name at some point in the early-mid 24th century. In Star Trek: Vulcan's Heart, the capital city was given the name Ki Baratan. It had previously been called Dartha, but that was in a story set a century prior. Later novels used the time gap for a reasonable Retcon: the capital's name changes as new regimes come to power. Now, books set in the 22nd or 23rd centuries use "Dartha", those set in the 24th use "Ki Baratan". The name change is explicitly mentioned in the first Star Trek: Titan novel.
  • As part of the rich and complex history presented in The Wheel of Time series, many cities and countries have changed over the last Age. For instance, the city of Al'cair'rahienallen, "The Hill of the Golden Dawn," is now known as Cairhien, because it's so much less of a mouthful. Closer to the plot is an ancient city of Aridhol, which became consumed by its own evil and became known as Shadar Logoth, "The Shadow's Waiting."
  • In Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, the titular city-state is much damaged and renamed Lower Corte years before the opening of the book. Even the memory of that name is magically expunged from virtually everyone who didn't live there. The main plot of the book is about a quest to restore the city and its name. (Since it is a city-state, Air Strip One also applies.)
  • Dominion is an Alternate History novel set in the 1950s where Lord Halifax becomes Prime Minister instead of Winston Churchill after Neville Chamberlain's resignation in 1940 and subsequently the UK becomes a satellite of Nazi Germany. Those resistant to Nazi rule, including most of the Royal Family, flee to other parts, many to Canada where the city of Halifax was renamed to Churchill.
  • In Riddley Walker, all of the place names in the setting's post-apocalyptic Iron Age society have changed from their present-day equivalents. "Canterbury" has become "Cambry"; "Dargate", "Dog Et"; and "Dover", "Do It Over".
  • Fire & Blood: The town of Stonebridge gets renamed Bitterbridge shortly after the crowning of Maegor, due to his first fight with the Faith Militant taking place there, which ends with the nearby river turning red due to all the blood.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Brazilian telenovela Saramandaia (both the Seventies original and the 2013 remake), the ostensible dividing issue between two political factions is a proposal to change the town's name from "Bole-Bole" to "Saramandaia".
  • Starling City is renamed Star City (which was its name in the comics, although see above for why that's complicated these days) in season 4 of Arrow, in tribute to the believed-dead Ray Palmer.
  • The eponomous station from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was originally a Cardassian ore processing station called Terok Nor. It briefly returns to that name for the first six episodes of season six during the Dominion's occupation.
  • In the distant future of Star Trek: Discovery season 3, the Romulans have rejoined the Vulcans on the homeworld, which is renamed Ni'Var.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "A Message from Charity", the village of Annes Town was renamed Anniston in the late 19th Century.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Traveller: The New Era gives us an example involving planets - the Reformation Coalition gave several of its planets new names relating to its philosophy of hope and rebirth, to make the point that the Imperium (the source of the former names) was gone and not coming back.
  • The capital of Karameikos, a nation from the Mystara D&D setting, was changed from Specularum to Mirros by royal decree. In-character, this was done because "Specularum" was a name imposed by the Thyatians and raised bad feelings among the Traladaran populace, whom King Stephan wanted to appease; out-of-character, it's because one of TSR's female employees pointed out that "Specularum" sounds unpleasantly like a gynecological implement.
    • Side note: the speculum is a general name for any tool that holds a part of the body open, and there are several types, each less auspicious a name for your city than the last. The eye speculum, for instance...
  • This tends to happen to Martian city-states in Rocket Age when they are conquered or the previous rulers are overthrown. We currently have Emancipation, New Jerusalem, Neu Berlin and Nuovo Roma to name a few.
  • Battletech has a few, but the cake has to be taken by Duenkelwalderduenkelerfluessenschattenwelt. This planet in the Draconis Combine labored under that jawbreaker of a name for centuries before deciding to change the name to something simpler, namely, "Bob". However, they did this right at the beginning of the First Succession War, and the paperwork was lost in the Draconis Combine's bureaucracy amidst the maelstroms of the conflict. With that paperwork missing, requests for urgent supplies going to Bob went unheeded, as the planet didn't officially exist, at least as far as the interstellar government was concerned.

    Video Games 
  • The Trope Namer is a standard fixture of 4X games like Civilization. In some games, when conquering an enemy city the player is asked to issue a new name.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, Las Vegas has been renamed, as per the title, New Vegas. On the road between Nipton and New Vegas is a town name Novac, after a motel's half-erased 'No Vacancy' sign.
  • Half-Life 2: When the Combine took over Earth they renamed cities to things like City 17.
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind's Tribunal expansion has the city of Almalexia, which was originally named Mournhold, but then was named after the Physical Goddess who arranged for it to be reconstructed and expanded after it was sacked. The name Mournhold is still used to refer to the large temple compound within the city, as it's an historical site, and the oldest ruins that the modern city was built on top of (from another time the city was razed, centuries prior to the aforementioned sacking) are known as Old Mournhold.
  • A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky: When founding a city, Ivy gets the option to name it, and can be changed later, if wanted. The default name is Sanctuary.
  • Mass Effect 2: Planet example, with Aite. In the twenty-odd years since it was first settled, due to instability and political upheaval, it's been renamed eleven times. Most navigators and the Codex stick with calling it Aite because it came first.

    Web Animation 
  • Strong Bad says that one of the requirements for becoming an officially licensed unlicensed seller of cheap Strong Bad and The Cheat knock-off merchandise is that it has to be made in a country that's changed its name at least five times since Strong Bad was in seventh grade. This is spoken over a visual of a country getting its name crossed off and replaced five times (Gunkistan → East Paunch → Republic of Wad → Double G → West Paunch → Guttenberg).
  • RWBY: On Remnant, the four Kingdoms all share the same name as their capital city. The Kingdom of Atlas was originally known as the Kingdom of Mantle, but after the Great War, when Atlas Academy was established, the city that quickly sprung up around said school grew to the point where the decision was made to move the capital there as well. It's implied that some of the people of Mantle are still holding a grudge over that as well.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • After almost a year of occupying Azure City, Redcloak renamed it "Gobbotopia" as part of a plan to create a stable monster state.
    • The Western Continent's nation-states and cities are constantly changing names around once a year, as that's how long it takes the average tyrant to be overthrown and replaced by another tyrant.
  • This xkcd strip starts with a straight example regarding disputed Israel/Palestine territories, then parodies it with Texas and Oklahoma.

    Western Animation 
  • Used in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The city of Omashu was originally named after its founders; the secret lovers Oma and Shu, who united their warring villages to create the city. However, when it gets taken over by the Fire Nation it is renamed as "The City of New Ozai".
  • An episode of King of the Hill has Peggy do some digging into Arlen's history and discover, to her horror, that it used to be named Harlotownnote , and the name "Arlen" developed because of people who were in a hurry to get there and didn't have time to say the real name.
  • Futurama:
    • It is revealed that during the 23rd century the Star Trek fandom became a religion so powerful that Germany was briefly renamed "Nazi-Planet Episode Land".
    • And of course, after one of the (apparently several) times that New York was destroyed and rebuilt over the past thousand years it was renamed New New York.
  • The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror II" episode includes a parody of one of the stories in Twilight Zone: The Movie in which Bart has the world at his command because he can read minds and manipulate reality.
    Edna Krabappel: Well, class, the history of our country has been changed again, to correspond with Bart's answers on yesterday's test. America was now discovered in 1942 by...Some Guy. And our country isn't called America any more. It's Bonerland.
    • In "Simpson Safari," in a matter of seconds as the family is about to land in Tanzania (see below), the country is renamed "New Zanzibar" and then "Pepsi Presents New Zanzibar."

Appearances in Real Life

  • In general, colonies tend to get rid of their master's name on independence (for reasons that have as much to do with accuracy as with pride).

    Africa 

Southern Africa

  • South Africa has an ongoing campaign to change English and Dutch/Afrikaans names to local names. It's harder than you'd think, because the country has 11 official languages. In some cases, there's a longstanding local name, but even then it's not always in widespread use (e.g. "Warmbad" is better known than "Bela-bela"). The biggest controversy is in the national capital Pretoria, which can't really be given a "local" name because all the different linguistic communities have their own name for it, but the frontrunner is "Tshwane", which is the name given to the greater municipality in which Pretoria sits.
  • South-West Africa → Namibia. It used to be a German colony before World War I, then was taken over by South Africa for about 70 years.
  • Southern Rhodesia → Zimbabwe, and Northern Rhodesia → Zambia. They were named after British colonial icon Cecil Rhodes, nowadays considered an unpleasant figure in Africa, to say the least. Southern Rhodesia's capital city Salisbury also got a rename to Harare.
  • Bechuanaland → Botswana. In The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency TV adaptation Grace references this when complaining the office does not have a computer.
  • Swaziland → eSwatini. This was a relatively recent change, only becoming official in 2018 (on the 50th anniversary of the country's independence), but it had been used for a bit before then.

Central Africa

  • Belgian Congo → Republic of the Congo → (1960-64); the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1964-65) → Zaire (1965-97) → the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The "Republic of the Congo" name, meanwhile, would be adopted in the neighbouring former French Congo, only to change to the People's Republic of the Congo between 1970 and 1992. The two countries are frequently confused for each other, and occasionally they are referred to as "Congo-Kinshasa" and "Congo-Brazzaville" by their respective capital cities as a way to disambiguate them.
  • Ubangi-Shari → Central African Republic → Central African EmpireCentral African Republic. The "Empire" was short-lived (1976-79) and mostly the brainchild of the country's military dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who essentially bankrupted the country just through his lavish coronation.

Western Africa

  • Dahomey → Benin. Confusingly, not the successor to the historical Benin Empire, but rather named after the Bight of Benin (which it borders), which was in turn named after the empire. The name was chosen as a compromise between the Dahomey, Atakora, and Burgu ethnic groups which make up the nation. The historic Benin Empire was instead located in what is now Nigeria — a region which briefly seceded from Nigeria in 1967 to become the "Republic of Benin"note  (but thankfully modern Benin was still known as Dahomey back then).
  • Gold Coast → Ghana. Also named after a historical kingdom which was actually somewhere else — its furthest southern reach was a few kilometers north of modern Ghana's northern border. Even ethnic connections to the historical entity are spurious, as very few of historical Ghana's dominant Soninke people live in modern Ghana, which is dominated by the unrelated Ashanti, Fanti, Akan, Guan, and Ewe peoples.
  • Ivory Coast → Côte d'Ivoire. It means the same thing, but in French; the Francophones just prefer that you use it in English, too.
  • Upper Volta → Burkina Faso. It changed in 1984 because... well, because something had to change? The new name means "the land of the honest men".
  • Spanish Sahara → Western Sahara. It's a way of proclaiming independence. It's not really independent — its sovereignty is disputed and it's mostly occupied by neighbouring Morocco. But at least it's clearly not Spanish anymore.
  • Spanish Guinea → Equatorial Guinea, though it bore its current name during the last few years of Spanish rule in the 1960s.
  • Portuguese Guinea → Guinea-Bissau, named after its capital city to disambiguate it from neighbouring Guinea.
  • Portuguese West Africa → Angola. Interestingly, this only applies in English; Portuguese speakers were using "Angola" for a long time, the name coming from Queen Ngola Nzinga of the Kingdom of the Congo. Within Angola are a few more:
    • Fort Huambo → Nova Lisboa → Huambo
    • Moçâmedes (after a Portuguese baron) → Namibe (after the desert, which also lends its name to Namibia) → Moçâmedes (the colonial name was always popular)
    • Vila Salazar (after the Portuguese dictator) → N'dalatando
    • São Salvador do Congo → M'banza Kongo

Eastern Africa

  • Abyssinia → Ethiopia. There wasn't really an official change — it just changed from one exonym to the other, "Abyssinia" coming from Arabic and "Ethiopia" coming from Greek.
  • Tanganyika and Zanzibar → Tanzania. The two colonies combined into a single independent country and decided to name itself as if it were a celebrity couple.
  • British East Africa → Kenya. The name "Kenya" dates back as far as 1920, decades before independence, and was necessary because by then Kenya was not the only "British East Africa", the British Empire having just taken Tanganyika from the Germans. There's also a pronunciation distinction — it's now pronounced "Kenn-ya", with a short vowel, as the locals have always done, but the English historically pronounced it "Keen-ya", and you might still find older Brits who say it this way (with the added connotation of pining for the good old days of the British Empire).
  • Madagascar, after obtaining independence from France, changed many cities' names, for several different reasons:
    • The city always had a Malagasy name, but they wanted to abandon the French transliteration for something more accurate (e.g. Tananarive → Antananarivo, Majunga → Mahajanga, Tuléar → Toliary);
    • The city's former Malagasy name was replaced by a French one that they wanted to change back (e.g. Tamatave → Toamasina);
    • The city was founded by Europeans but picked up a Malagasy name over time (e.g. Diego-Suarez → Antseranana, Fort-Dauphin → Tolanaro, Hopeful Point → Foulpointe → Mahavelona);
  • Portuguese East Frica → Mozambique. Much like with Angola, "Mozambique" was always used by Portuguese speakers. Within Mozambique:
    • Delagoa Bay → Lourenço Marques (after a Discoveries-era navigator) → Maputo (after the river which flows west of the city). Originally the Frelimo government wanted to name it "Can Phum", after a local pre-colonial chief, but they never went through with it.
    • Vila Salazar (after the Portuguese dictator) → Matola (after the local Matsolo people).

Northern Africa

  • Libya:
    • Oea → Tripoli. This changed happened a long time ago; it was founded by the Phoenicians, who founded two other cities nearby. Together, the Greeks called them the "three cities", or tripolis, and over time, the name was appropriated to refer exclusively to Oea. Tripoli is now Libya's capital city.
    • Euesperides/Hesperides → Benghazi. Again, the change happened a long time ago; the city was founded by the Greeks, but in the 3rd century BCE, it was changed to "Berenice", honouring the name of a local princess who was given in marriage to king Ptolemy III. It got its present name after it became a major settlement again during the Ottoman period.
    • Balagrae → Sidi Rafaa → Bayda. The original name came from the Greeks, surviving to the early Islamic period. It settled on the current name after the establishment of an influential Sufi order.

    Australia/Oceania 

Australia

  • Sandhurst → Bendigo, Victoria. The locals always called it "Bendigo"; the name was officially Sandhurst in the 19th century, but the authorities couldn't convince anyone to use the official name and just gave up.
  • Anthony van Diemen's Land → Van Diemen's Land → Tasmania. Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, the island's namesake, was indeed the first European to see it (after somehow missing all of mainland Australia). But Tasman initially named it after his patron. When the British took over, they shortened the name, and eventually renamed it after Tasman himself 200 years after Tasman originally sighted it.
  • Batmania → Bearbrass → Melbourne. Nowadays, it's one of Australia's two major cities. No one knows why it was named Bearbrass, but "Batmania" came from the city's original founder, John Batman.
  • Ayers Rock → Uluru. It's the most visible of the many name changes among places and landmarks from English to their original Aboriginal names.
  • Many places in Australia had German names, which changed during World War I because they didn't want to be associated with the "enemy". Some changed back (like Hahndorf, SA, which temporarily became Ambleside). Others didn't (e.g. Blumburg → Birdwood, SA; Bismark → Collinsvale, TAS). The weirdest change was Germanton → Holbrook, NSW; the town was renamed after Victoria Cross-winning British submarine captain Norman Douglas Holbrook, despite it being 300 kilometres from the nearest coastline — the town is now famous for having the hull of the Cold War-era submarine HMAS Otway situated in a park on the main highway.

Not Australia

  • New Hebrides → Vanuatu. They went to the local name on independence in 1980.
  • Portuguese Timor → East Timor → Timor-Leste. The change to "East Timor" happened in 1975, when the country was occupied by Indonesia, who controls West Timor — they booted out the Portuguese, but weren't any better themselves. The country became independent in 1999. The "Timor-Leste" name is kind of like "Côte d'Ivoire" — it's not really any more valid than the English version, but it's more technically "correct". The city of Vila Salazar (seems like every damn Portuguese colony named a town after the guy) was renamed Baucau.
  • New Zealand has an ongoing debate about whether to use English names or Māori names where they exist — it's even been enshrined as part of the settlement resolving the grievances of the Māori resulting from the Treaty of Waitangi. They usually end up choosing both and just not caring whether you use one or the other (e.g. Mt. Egmont/Mt. Taranaki, Mt. Cook/Mt. Aoraki). Even the names "North Island" and "South Island" were given equally valid Maori equivalents ("Te Ika-a-Māui" and "Te Waipounamu" respectively) after it was discovered in 2009 that nobody had bothered to give them official names. The weirdest example is probably Wanganui/Whanganui, which has a debate about its proper Māori spelling — the local iwi pronounce them the same (they're usually not — in Te Reo Māori the "wh" is pronounced like "f") — and even then both versions are equally acceptable.

    Americas 

The United States

Americans have weird naming conventions sometimes:
  • New Angoulême → Nieuw Amsterdam → New York City. The first name was given by Italian explorers; the second by the Dutch, who settled the area in 1609. In 1674, the Second Anglo-Dutch War was settled by the Treaty of Westminster, which handed the city to the Duke of York, who renamed it to what we know today. Interestingly, many Dutch place names in and around New York were anglicised but not substantially changed (e.g. Haarlem → Harlem, Vlissingen → Flushing, Breukelen → Brooklyn), and others never changed at all (e.g. Stuyvesant Town, named after the last governor of Nieuw Nederland, Peter Stuyvesant).
  • King County, WA → King County, WA. Not an obvious change, but a symbolic one — it was formerly named after William Rufus King, Vice President at the time of the county's inception (and most famous for defending slavery in the Senate), but in 2005 it was changed to be named after Martin Luther King Jr. (who happened to visit Seattle in 1961).
  • During the 1890s, the U.S. Postal Service began standardizing spellings by enforcing certain rules, among them being shortening -borough to -boro and -burgh to -burg. This policy relented in The '50s and many communities have claimed their "h" back, but it took decades for all the signs to change. One city that fought the policy throughout was Pittsburgh, PA, which was big enough to fight back on it — conveniently, all the other places named "Pittsburgh" which were forced to drop the "h" (e.g. Pittsburg, KS and Pittsburg, CAnote ) never fought to get it back, liking how the lack of an "h" differentiated them from the more "important" Pittsburgh.
  • Biddle City → Lansing, MI. The original name came from a "settlement" by two brothers from upstate New York, who tried to convince others in their hometown to come and settle by pretending that it was already a real town, with a church and post office and everything. Those settlers came and found it mostly empty, so they started from scratch and named it "Lansing Township" after their New York home. The Michigan state government moved next door in the meantime (not wanting to be too close to the Canadian border in Detroit anymore) and established the "Town of Michigan", which Lansing eventually absorbed.
  • Mosquito County → Orange County, FL. It was renamed once it became the center of the state's citrus industry — who wants to invest in a county named after a disease vector? Orange County, FL also became the namesake for the somewhat more famous Orange County in California. It was also home to a County Commissioner named Lawson Lamar who in the late 70s tried desperately to name a street after him — he made it official, but the locals kept taking down the signs with his name on them.
  • East Paterson → Elmwood Park, NJ and West Paterson → Woodland Park, NJ. Both were neighborhoods of the New Jersey city of Paterson which changed their names to associate themselves with the city, which was once a key global producer of silk and at its height was a major artistic and cultural center (it produced William Carlos Williams, among others). Ninety years later, the Paterson no longer produced silk, the factories were run-down and abandoned, and the place was considered (fairly or unfairly) a crime-ridden ghetto, so they change their names again to disassociate themselves with it. A local joke is that Paterson will rename itself "Park" in revenge.
  • Frenchtown → Monroe, MI. The settlement was renamed following James Monroe's visit to the Michigan Territory in 1817, but the earlier name was immortalized in the Battle of Frenchtown in the War of 1812. The county is also named after Monroe, and the township north of the present City of Monroe is named Frenchtown.
  • Terminus → Marthasville, GA → Atlanta. It's the biggest city in the South, but its prominence is relatively recent.
  • Edwinton → Bismarck, ND. The name change came in 1873 to appeal to a new wave of German immigrants. Interestingly averted during World War I and World War II, when the city resisted calls to change its name despite it being named after an "enemy" figure.
  • Pig's Eye → St. Paul, MN. It was named after the local tavern. It's now the state's capital.
  • Rancho San Pascual → Indiana Colony/Orange Grove → Pasadena, CA. The town of Rancho San Pascual changed its name in 1874, but they couldn't decide between the two names, and both became valid postal addresses, each with their own post office. It worked until the city became too big to sort it out, hence the change to Pasadena.
  • San Miguel → San Diego, CA. It was originally named by Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who landed there in 1542. When Sebastián Vizcaíno landed there sixty years later in 1602, he renamed it inadvertently — he didn't realize that the land had already been named and claimed for the Spanish Empire. Vizcaíno's name was the one that stuck.
  • Slaughter → Auburn, WA. The community was named in 1884 after Lt. William Slaughter, who was killed in a skirmish in 1855 while leading a military unit in the area. It was changed in 1893 due to its negative connotations, particularly because the largest local hotel was named the "Slaughter House" (which also became the name of its train station). What's even weirder is that decades later, Auburn would be home to Serial Killer Gary Ridgway.
  • Santa Ángela → San Angela → San Angelo, TX. It was originally named after the founder's wife, but "Santa Angela" was too hard to say for the locals, who shortened it to "San Angela". In 1883, the U.S. Postal Service pointed out that the name was gramatically incorrect and insisted on the present name as a condition for opening a post office there. It's still technically incorrect; "Angelo" is Italian, and the proper Spanish should be "San Ángel".
  • Yerba Buena → San Francisco. The settlement was originally named after a local medicinal plant, but when the United States took over in 1846, it was renamed after the nearby (and much better known) Mission San Francisco de Asis (after St. Francis of Assisi).
  • Horse Head → Palmerton, PA. It was a zinc mining town named after the mining company Horse Head Industries. Its owner, John Palmer, didn't like the idea of the town being named after him, but they were calling it "Palmerton" unofficially even before he died, and the name change became official after he died.
  • Some places were renamed because they contained slurs or other references to unsavory ideas and individuals:
    • A lot of places in the U.S. used to be rather callously named "Nigger" or some variety thereof. Many changed "Nigger" to "Negro", which is only slightly better. Among the changes are Dead Nigger Creek → Dead Negro Draw, TX, and Nigger Bill Canyon → Negro Bill Canyon, UT (there's a further push to change to "Grandstaff Canyon", after the namesake's last name, but the NAACP is not pushing the issue).
    • Some places were called "squaw", a slur against Native Americans, particularly in the West. The state of Oregon mandated that all geographic names with "squaw" must be renamed (and also artfully renamed "Dead Indian Road" to "Dead Indian Memorial Road"). Arizona renamed Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak, after Army Spc. Lori Ann Piestewa, the first known Native American woman to die in combat in the U.S. military and the first female soldier to be killed in action in the Iraq War.
  • Smithton → Columbia, MO. The town was founded by the Smithton Land Company (made up of settlers from Kentucky and Virginia) on the Boone's Lick Road to the salt lick in neighboring Howard County. In 1821, the town was renamed "Columbia", a historical name for the United States.
  • A few places in the U.S. renamed themselves only temporarily as publicity stunts:
    • Buffalo, TX changed its name three times to avoid association with Buffalo, NY — but only temporarily, as a local Texas team was playing a team from Buffalo in the proverbial Big Game. The first two were in 1993 and 1994, when the Dallas Cowboys played the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl; they named the town "Blue Star" after the Cowboys' logo. Then in 1999, the Dallas Stars battled the Buffalo Sabres for The Stanley Cup, and the town became "Green Star" after the Stars' colours. (The Dallas teams won every matchup.)
    • Clark, TX became DISH, TX, because the DISH Network offered the inhabitants free satellite TV for ten years if they changed their name.
    • Halfway, OR became Half.com, OR, to promote a short-lived website that existed at the height of the dot-com boom. All parties involved have quietly let the whole affair be forgotten.
    • Topeka, KS became Google, KS for the entirety of March, 2010, as a way to convince Google to bring its experimental fiber-optic network to the city. This wasn't even a legal name change (their lawyers advised against it). In return, Google changed their name to Topeka for April Fools' Day. Topeka had a bit of a history of this — they twice changed their name to "Topikachu", once on the day the original video games were released in the U.S., and again two decades later to promote Pokémon Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!.
    • A guy named Thomas Bicknell offered to donate a free library with 1,000 books to any town that would rename itself after him. In 1914, two small Utah towns expressed interest. He decided to give each town 500 books. Thurber became Bicknell and Grayson became Blanding (Bicknell's wife's maiden name).
    • Hot Springs, NM became Truth or Consequences, NM, after the quiz show Truth or Consequences, whose host promised to air the show out of the first city to do this. Amazingly, this change stuck, and the city has been known that way ever since; locals typically shorten it to "T or C".
  • A few others tried to rename themselves, but it didn't stick. North Beach in Burlington, Vermont was renamed "Bernie Sanders beach" by the city council. It lasted about a day and a half before Sanders himself asked them to change it back.

Canada

Almost every major city in Canada has had its name changed (York → Toronto, Bytown → Ottawa, Ville-Marie → Montreal, Granville → Vancouver, Fort Brisebois → Calgary, Fort Garry → Winnipeg). Here are some of the more interesting ones:
  • Hull → Gatineau, QC. Officially, the old central city is still "Hull", but the metropolitan region is officially Gatineau. Complicating matters is that the city is right across the river from Ontario and the national capital Ottawa, meaning that it's technically also part of the greater Ottawa area (the railway station is referred to as Ottawa-Hull when listing train destinations).
  • Frobisher Bay → Iqaluit, NU. It's one of many changes made to English or French place names in Nunavut and Nunavik (northern Quebec) to Inuktitut names, many of which predate the colonial names. Iqaluit in particular is the capital and biggest city in Nunavut (the rename predates the establishment of Nunavut) and is semi-famous for its airport's super-long runway, which allows it to serve as an emergency landing point for flights between Europe and the West Coast.
  • Berlin → Kitchener, ON. The city was originally named after the German-American loyalists who settled there after The American Revolution. That lasted until 1916, when people started to be wary of a Canadian city named after the enemy in World War I. The city was renamed after Lord Kitchener, British military commander during The Second Boer War who had recently been killed when his ship hit a German mine. The whole thing was parodied in the CBC Sitcom The Good Germany, about the town council of the fictional town of Germany, ON.
  • York → Toronto. Toronto was an older indigenous name for the area, but they quickly changed the name once they realised that they would be competing with New York across the border. The name "York" is still prominently featured throughout the city, including the neighbourhood known as North York and York University.
  • Fort William and Port Arthur → Thunder Bay, ON. The two cities were separate, but everyone thought of them as one and called the area "the Lakehead". So when they merged, they asked the people what to call the new city. Only problem was that "Lakehead" and "The Lakehead" were separate options, meaning they split the vote and "Thunder Bay" ended up winning. Oops.
  • Pile O'Bones → Regina, SK. Next time you think that their town name is a little embarrassing, know that it could be worse.
  • Fort Brisebois → Calgary. There's a bit of a shameful story behind it — the name change came because Mr. Brisebois' commanding officer didn't like that he had taken a Metis woman as a common-law wife.
  • Asbestos → Val-des-Sources, QC. It was named for its famous Jeffrey asbestos mine, at one point the largest in the world. The name change didn't happen until 2020, even though the health hazards of asbestos had long been known before then (and the mine closed in 2012). Local politicians had lobbied for the change for years, explaining that it particularly caused issues in dealing with confused American clients, but the Francophone locals didn't particularly care because there's a different word for "asbestos" in French ("amiante"), so they didn't associate the town's name with the hazardous material. They eventually resolved to change the name in late 2019, but due to the COVID-19 Pandemic had to delay the referendum on the name change, which settled on Val-des-Sources (albeit not without some pushback).

Elsewhere in the Americas

  • British Honduras → Belize. It's named after the Belize River. It's for the better, to avoid confusion with regular Honduras next door.
  • British Guiana → Guyana, and Dutch Guiana → Suriname. But interestingly, no change for French Guiana, which is still a part of France.note 
  • In Mexico: Nochistlán → Tonalá → Tlacopán → Guadalajara. The first three were all small towns with local names. The fourth was a colonial city, named after the city of Guadalajara in Spain — except the Mexican version grew to be about fifty times as populous.
  • In Brazil:
    • It's common for new names to come from spelling or grammar changes (e.g. Corytiba → Curitiba) or to keep the name shorter (e.g. São Paulo de Piratininga → São Paulo).
    • Ilha de Santa Catarina → Nossa Senhora do Desterro (or just Desterro) → Florianópolis. It was renamed in 1894 in homage to then-president Floriano Peixoto — except he wasn't very popular in the city, so you can imagine how they reacted. They've since gotten over it, although now they just shorten it to "Floripa".

    Eastern Europe 

Russia

Many settlements in Russia were renamed in the Soviet era to something suitably Communist and then renamed back:
  • St. Petersburg → Petrograd → Leningrad → St. Petersburg. The city was founded by Peter the Great, who sought to establish a great Western-style port city and named it in the Dutch convention (he had a peculiar fondness for the Netherlands in particular). It changed to Petrograd when World War I began, because it sounded "too German". When the Soviet Union became a thing, it became Leningrad after Vladimir Lenin, and then when the Soviet Union collapsed it switched back to St. Petersburg. The surrounding oblast (province) is still called "Leningradskaya", the city still has a major square named after Lenin, and some Soviet-built buildings still refer to "Leningrad".
  • Königsberg → Kaliningrad. If you look at the map, it's a Russian exclave — i.e. unconnected with mainland Russia, nestled in between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. 90% of the population is ethnically Russian. The proximity to Prussia explains the German name, but historically most of the towns around it had Polish or Lithuanian names. This didn't stop the Soviets from "Russianising" the place and giving all the surrounding towns entirely new Russian namesnote  (which remain today — Russian law even prevents them from changing back). As for the city itself, the name "Kaliningrad" came from Soviet Head of State Mikhail Kalinin, and many of the locals still prefer the old name, pronouncing it "Kyonigsberg" in Russian. That may be why in the future history of Transhuman Space, the Kaliningrad oblast becomes an independent entity named Königsberg, but the city is still Kaliningrad.
  • Nizhniy Novgorod → Gorkiy → Nizhniy Novgorod, following the usual pattern on either end of the Soviet Union's history. Curiously enough, the automaker NNAZ (for Nizhniy Novgorod Avtomobilniy Zavod) became GAZ when the city was renamed, but didn't change back to NNAZ when the city was renamed back (possibly because by then they had developed a brand around the gazelle).
  • Tsaritsyn → Stalingrad → Volgograd. This was a conundrum, as the final rename came in 1961 during de-Stalinisation, but the place was also famous for the 1943 Battle of Stalingrad in which the Soviets turned the tide against the Nazis. The locals are very proud of the battle, and there's a civic movement to restore the Stalingrad name.
  • Yekaterinburg → Sverdlovsk (1924-91) → Yekaterinburg, but the oblast retains the "Sverdlovsk" name. You can see them struggle with the older name in the 80s TV show Airwolf.
  • Tsarskoye Selo ("Village of the Tsar") → Pushkin, after Alexander Pushkin, who studied in the town.

Ukraine

  • "The Ukraine" → Ukraine. You still hear it nowadays, but it was much more common before Ukraine gained its independence. The practice apparently derives from Slavic languages having a distinction between addressing countries and parts thereof, so calling it "the Ukraine" implies that it's not a country but a part of a bigger country — which will not endear you to Ukrainians.
  • Kiev → Kyiv. This is simply a change from the Russian spelling (Киев) to the Ukrainian one (Київ). The city had long been almost universally romanised as "Kiev", but Ukrainians are sore about their country's biggest city being referred to by a "foreign" language; the Ukrainian government has been requesting almost since independence that English-language media spell it "Kyiv", and only more recently has this been more widespread. However, Russians (including the many who live in Ukraine) will quickly point out that the city had been called "Kiev" for so long that there's no point in changing it, and the modern Russian state can also claim descent from the Kievan Rus', whose capital was in the city. Ukrainians counter that this is just Russian expansionism at work again. This is, understandably, not something you should bring up on the Internet.
  • Lemberg → Lwów → L'vov → L'viv. All that in the span of about 90 years. This is because the city is in western Ukraine and has been part of a lot of countries over the years — first Austria-Hungary, then Poland, then the Soviet Union, and finally Ukraine. There was also "Leopolis", a Latin semi-official name from before the Austrian days.

Poland

  • A number of cities which were part of the German Empire had German names, only to get Polish ones in 1918 when Poland regained its independence. Most reverted to longstanding Polish names, but some got new ones because they were founded after the region came under German rule. Among the more famous are Breslau → Wroclaw, Stettin → Szczecin, and Danzig → Gdańsk. The latter in particular was the subject of one of The Other Wiki's lamest edit wars, to the point its talk page has eleven archives arguing about it.
  • Kattowitz → Katowice → Stalinogrod → Katowice. In addition to the German name, there was another change that only lasted a little bit in The '50s, possibly for as long as it took the Communists to realise that "Kat" is Polish for a torturer/executioner.
  • Oświęcim held that name for most of the history, being in the middle bit of Poland which Stalin and his predecessors only ethnically cleansed a little. Its name in German is far more infamous — Auschwitz.

The Czech Republic/Slovakia

  • Czechoslovakia → Czech Republic and Slovakia. Then Czech Republic → Czechia. When the country split apart, "Slovakia" became a natural name for that half, but "Czech" is a denonym and not a place name, so they came up with the "Czech Republic". The Czech government has tried since then to convince English speakers to use "Czechia", but with limited success.note  Historically, English speakers have also referred to Czech lands as "Bohemia", as a sort of pars par toto — Bohemia is only a part of the modern region (in much the same way that Holland is only a part of the Netherlands).
  • Pressburg/Poszony/Preszporok → Bratislava. This happened after Austria-Hungary's dissolution — the original name was German "Pressburg", but derived from the name of a Slavic ruler. There were also Slovak and Hungarian options for naming the city as well, which is damn close to both the Austrian and Hungarian borders (it's barely 100 kilometers from Vienna). When Czechoslovakia was formed, they decided to give it a more explicitly Slavic name.
  • Karlsbad → Karlovy Vary. It means the same thing, but one is German and one is Slavic. In fact, there was a substantial German-speaking population there up until World War II, after which they were expelled. Throughout that time, it was commonly known in English by its German name.
  • Zlín → Gottwaldov → Zlín. The name change was politically motivated — Gottwald was the first Communist president of Czechoslovakia, and the town happened to be where Tomáš Baťa founded his shoe factory. It was changed back immediately after the Velvet Revolution.

Bulgaria

A number of ancient towns and cities changed names over the centuries. Most of these are various transcriptions of the same original name depending on who held the city at the time. Some were renamed after ambitious rulers or geographical features and others (most later reverted) for ideological purposes when the country became Commie Land:
  • Serdica → Sredetz → Sofia. It was originally named after the Thracian tribe which founded it, then picked up a Slavic name (meaning "center"), and then was renamed after the city's patron saint.
  • Eumolpia → Philipopolis → Pulpudeva → Trimontium → Plovdiv. It was originally founded by the Thracians, but renamed by Philip II of Macedon after himself. The Thracians took it back but just translated its Greek name, then lost it to the Romans, who eventually lost it to the Slavs. The city's also had variations of those names over the years (e.g. Puldin, Pluvdiv, Philipi, Filibe).
  • Odessos → Tiberopolis → Varna, with a brief stop as "Stalin". When the Romans took over, the emperor Tiberius renamed it after himself. It got its Slavic name in the Middle Ages.
  • Gorna Djumaya → Blagoevgrad. The original name was partly Turkish, which was politically unsuitable by the time the Communists came around; they renamed it after Dimitar Blagoev, an early socialist activist.
  • Shumen → Kolarovgrad → Shumen. The change was temporary, in honour of the recently deceased Communist head of state Vasil Kolarov, who was born there.
  • Montanesium → Kutlovitsa → Ferdinand → Mihailovgrad → Montana. The "Ferdinand" name came from the prince who named it, and "Mihailovgrad" came from Communist revolutionary Hristo Mihailov. The current name is supposedly based on the ancient Roman town.

Other Eastern European countries

  • Turkey: Byzantion → Constantinople → Istanbul. There's a whole trope on this, but very briefly: Byzantion was the Greek colony formed on the Bosphorus. The Constantinople name came from the Roman Emperor Constantine, who moved the capital of the Empire there. He wanted to call it Nova Roma ("New Rome" in Latin), but the Greek-speaking locals called it "Konstantinoupolis" after him. Even when the Turks took over, they still called it "Konstantiniyye" in Turkish, while English speakers stuck with "Constantinople". It got its fully Turkish name of İstanbul only in 1933.
  • Hungary had its share of Soviet city names, e.g. Leninváros → Tiszaújváros and Sztálinváros → Dunaújváros.
  • Yugoslavia had a phase when a ton of cities got Josip Broz Tito's name attached to them. Many of them didn't really change, but instead got a "Titovo" hung on them (e.g. Užice → Titovo Užice, i.e. "Tito's Užice"), but the Montenegrin capital Podgorica was renamed entirely to Titograd. Almost all of these changes were undone after the country's breakup. The Yugoslavs also made sure to change city names formerly rendered in German (e.g. Laibach → Ljubljana) or Italian (e.g. Fiume → Rijeka) — these stuck around after Yugoslavia ended, although sometimes the locals bring up the older "foreign" names as a way of celebrating not having to be a part of Yugoslavia anymore.
  • Latvia: Dünaburg → Borisoglebsk → Dinaburg → Dvinsk → Daugavapils. These names reflect the local ownership at the time (German, Polish-Lithuanian, Russian, and finally Latvian), many of them reflecting the local name for the Daugava River which flows through the city. The "Daugavapils" name interestingly came during Latvia's first brief independence immediately between World War I and the subsequent Nazi and then Soviet occupation — even when it was a part of the Soviet Union, the Russians allowed the Latvian name to stick around.
  • Lithuania: Pašešupys → Starapolė → Marijampolė → Kapsukas → Marijampolė. All of these names are Lithuanian, but "Kapsukas" came from local Communist governor Vincas Kapsukas.
  • Finland: Vaasa → Nikolainkaupunki → Vaasa. The original change came in 1852, when the city burned down, but Russian Emperor Nicholas I donated a large sum of money to rebuild it; in gratitude, they named the city in his honour (after he died, as he disapproved of it while he was alive). The name stuck around until Nicholas II became the Tsar, and everybody hated him — when he was forced to abdicate in 1917, the name changed back.
  • Estonia: Reval → Tallinn → Reval → Tallinn. It was first renamed "Tallinn" in 1918 when Estonia became independent — the Nazis restored the old name, and then the Soviets came and restored the new name.
  • Armenia had many place names changed by the Soviet Union, only to be changed back when Armenia gained independence, but some took a more roundabout route:
    • Gyumri → Alexandropol → Leninakan → Gyumri. The first change was imposed by Imperial Russia; the second came from the Soviets.
    • Karakilisa → Kirovakan → Vanadzor. The original name was Turkish (meaning "black church") from when the Seljuks invaded the area, so when the Soviet name had to be excised, the Armenians chose to invent a new local one.

    Western Europe 

Useful Notes/Britain

  • In England, most cities older than the Industrial Revolution have a string of names from successive waves of invaders, e.g. Eboracaum (Roman) → Eoforwic (Anglo-Saxon) → Jórvik (Viking) → York. Outside of England, the same thing happens, except that now you can count the English among the invaders, with many place names in Wales and Scotland being Anglicisations of local names, many of which have changed so often or have so many variant spellings that it can obscure the name of the original. Examples include: Caerdyddnote  ("Castle of the Day") → Cardiff, Inbhir Nis ("Mouth of the Ness") → Inverness, Obar Deathain ("Mouth of Two Rivers") → Aberdeen, and Dùn Dèagh ("Fort of the Tay") → Dundee.
  • Streets with longstanding names have had their names changed because the locals got tired of it being an unsavoury reference to something:
    • The streets at the western end of the Strand in London were named "George", "Villiers", "Duke", "Of", and "Buckingham", to spell out the full name and title of the 18th-century landowner who built them. Most of them are still around (although George Street is now underneath Charing Cross station), but Of Alley was such a target of ridicule that Westminster City Council changed it to York Place in the 1960s.
    • Anita Street in Manchester was originally named Sanitary Street, in honour of it being the first street in the city where every house was equipped with an indoor flush toilet. The residents didn't like the original name, in part because it was inherent advertising.
    • A street in the London borough of Havering, which was named for a local councillor, had to be renamed when said councillor was convicted of paedophilia.
    • Averted in the case of Penny Lane in Liverpool, which was in fact named after a notorious 18th-century slave trader (and not the coin), and which would likely have been renamed had The Beatles not made it famous.

Ireland

Pretty much place in Ireland has two names, one in Irish and one in English. Road signs will almost always have both. Usually, the English name is an anglicisation of the Irish name, but sometimes it's not. Here are some weird ones:
  • Dubh Linn ("Black Pool") → Dublin. Except in Irish, it's Dubh Linn → Baile Átha Cliath ("Town of the Hurdled Ford").
  • Some places were named after British monarchs and had their names changed rather forcefully after the formation of the Irish Free State — e.g Kingstown → Dún Laoghire, Queenstown → Cobh, Philipstown → Daingean, and Maryborough → Portlaoise. Interestingly, the Irish names are now fully official and not anglicised (although Dún Laoghire had a pre-existing anglicisation in "Dunleary" before it was renamed to "Kingstown"). The counties' names also changed: King's County → County Offaly and Queen's County → County Laoghis → County Laois. But in other cases, the new names never really caught on (e.g. Bagenalstown → Muine Bheag, Charleville → Ráth Luirc, Newbridge → Droichead Nua).
  • Daire Calgaigh → Daire Coluimb Coille → Doire (its current Irish name) → Derrie → Londonderry → Derry. Or perhaps more accurately, "Derry/Londonderry". Use of "Derry" or "Londonderry" is hugely politically charged, revealing where one stands on The Irish Question. Formally, the city is still known as "Londonderry", having been named as such per the city's Royal Charter in 1662, which prevents the city council from changing their name to "Derry" even though they've tried. Most locals will call it "Derry" reflexively (whether Catholic, Protestant, or neither), but if they want to be politically sensitivenote  they call it "the Maiden City" or "Stroke City", referencing the stroke in "Derry/Londonderry" (popularised by local radio broadcaster Gerry Anderson, who refers to it on-air as "Derry stroke Londonderry").

Germany

  • Wolfsburg, being the city where they make Volkswagens, has had its name changed a couple of times for publicity purposes. In 2003, it was temporarily (but unofficially) named "Golfsburg" after the VW Golf. More sinisterly, in the 1930s it was renamed "Stadt des KdF Wagens", KdF Wagen being what was essentially a proto-VW back then — and "KdF" referencing the Nazis' "Strength through Joy" initiative. Many gave it the nickname die Autostadt, which became the name of a large auto museum downtown.
  • East Germany did its share of Communist-themed renaming, among them being Chemnitz → Karl-Marx-Stadt. These mostly were renamed back after reunification. One insidious renaming happened earlier, when Stalinstadt (founded 1950) was renamed to Eisenhüttenstadt ("City of Ironworks") in 1961.

Austria

  • Fucking → Fugging. It would have been an otherwise unremarkable town if not for the name being... well, an English profanity. The locals were quite proud of their name (e.g. they named the local light beer "Fucking Hell") but annoyed at the number of Anglophone tourists who kept stealing the town sign. They eventually exhausted their sign-protection methods and renamed the place "Fugging" in 2021.
  • The country itself was briefly renamed "Ostmark" after the Anschluss to erase its national identity. It didn't last long.

France

  • La Roche-sur-Yon → Napoléon (by Imperial decree in 1804) → Bourbon-Vendée (after the Bourbon Restoration) → Napoléon (during the Hundred Days) → Bourbon-Vendée (after Napoleon's defeat) → Napoléon (under Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte) → Napoléon-Vendée (under Napoleon III, same guy) → La Roche-sur-Yon, on the establishment of the Third Republic.
  • Brittany has a number of place names that used to have Brythonic names, many of which were borrowed from existing place names in Wales and Cornwall. Even the name "Brittany" itself comes from "Britain", the French language using the same word for both — "Bretagne" (Britain is accordingly "Grande-Bretagne", for "Great Britain"). Among the changes are Gwenedd (after Gwynedd in Wales) → Vannes and Kernev (after Kernow, the local name for Cornwall) → Cornouailles.

Other places

  • Italy: Maloenton → Benevento. There's a legend behind the name change — it was named by the Oscan-speaking Samnites who inhabited it (probably meaning "fruit market"), but the Romans who conquered them thought it sounded an awful lot like "Maleventum", a place of "bad events". They swapped out the "male" (bad) with "bene" (well), per legend after a battle with Pyrrhus (of Pyrrhic Victory fame).
  • Norway: Bjørgin → Bergen, Christiania → Kristiania → Oslo, and Nidaros → Trondheim → Nidaros → Trondheim → Drontheim → Trondheim (the latter could have been even worse, as it only barely avoided falling victim to a trend in the 1930s of ridding the country of Danish names).

    Asia 

Middle East

  • Jerusalem was said to have "70 names", and rightly so. Its name has been changed many times over the past few millennia, whether through conquest, mistranslations, or various local pronunciations. It was originally called "Salem" or "Ur Salem", then "Jebus", then several variations of "Yerushalem" during ancient Hebrew times. During the Jewish exile in Babylonia, it was also called "Zion". Then "Aelia Capitolina" by the Romans who destroyed and rebuilt it, "Hierosolyma" by the Greek translations, later "Jerusalem" by the Christians, "Al-Quds" by the Arabs (which is itself a shortening of the old term Urshalīm al-Quds, "Jerusalem the Holy") and now finally "Yerushalayim" by the Israelis. The last three (as well as "Zion") are used concurrently today depending on one's language and political outlook, and many other languages still write or pronounce their own variations as well.
  • The neighborhood around Jerusalem is a matter of ongoing debate. For millennia, it was indisputably known as Palestine, but the term encompassed a region that's part of several different countries today, including parts of the Sinai peninsula and east of the Jordan River. The term itself was given by the Romans, after the Jewish uprising under Bar Kochba (ca. 135 CE), when they merged the province of Judea into a larger one called "Palaestina" (named after the long-defunct realm of the Philistines). Most of the borders of the modern-day countries were established by European colonial powers (e.g. the British distinction between the Mandate of Palestine and Transjordan). Even Jews living there were considered "Palestinians" (e.g. the modern-day Jerusalem Post being once known as the "Palestine Post"). Then came the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and with it the very contentious political divide, which extended into what to call the area. Most Arabs (and even some politically inclined non-Arab Muslims) will still call the whole area Palestine, and certain Israelis will refer to the whole area as the "Land of Israel" (Eretz Yisrael in Hebrew). Nowadays, "Palestine" is sometimes used to denote the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are administered by the Palestinian Authority but not recognised as an independent state (and which hardline Israelis consider a part of Israel anyway, calling it "Judea and Samaria").
  • Jordan: Philadelphia → Rabbath Ammon → Amman. "Philadelphia" came during the Greco-Roman era; although the name literally means the "city of brotherly love" (well-known thanks to the American city so named centuries later), it was actually named by Ptolemaic king Ptolemy II Philadelphus, after himself. "Amman" is a shortening of "Rabboth Ammon", meaning "capital of the Ammonites", which soon became an Artifact Title once the Ammonites ceased to exist as a people.
  • The Pirate Coast → the Trucial Coast → the United Arab Emirates. It used to be a hotbed for pirates, what with being able to use the Strait of Hormuz as a chokepoint for the Persian Gulf, but then the Royal Navy engaged in a series of truces with the local rulers and rid the area of pirates. It picked up its current name upon independence from the British Empire, and it more or less called itself that because it was a relatively loose confederation of princely states.
  • Iraq: Revolution City → Saddam City → Sadr City. It's a suburb of Baghdad originally constructed in 1959. After the Ba'athists took power, it was renamed after Saddam Hussein, and after he was overthrown in 2003 it was renamed after respected Shi'a jurist-cleric-activist Mohammed al-Sadr (not to be confused with his hothead son Muqtada).
  • Hejaz + Najd = Saudi Arabia. Historically, it was made up of two separate territories, one bordering the Red Sea containing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and the other being the vast desert of the central Arabian peninsula. Curiously, the country is named after the House of Saud, and if it were ever deposed the country would probably have to be renamed again. Within the country:
    • Yathrib → al-Madinah al-Munawarrah ("the city of light"). The change was made after the rise of Islam; "Medina" is a common shorthand (and just means "city" in Arabic).
  • Persia → Iran. In this case, it's a reflection of local usage — Persia is a Greek exonym (from the city of Persepolis, in turn from the Fars region, which is the name of the modern-day Iranian province considered the heartland of Iranian culture), and "Iran" is what Iranians have always called themselves. The term ultimately derives from "Aryan", from the ancient Indo-Aryans who ended up populating modern-day Iran and northern India. Within the country:
    • Sanabad → Mashhad. It received its present name (meaning "place of martyrdom" in Arabic) when Shi'a Islam became dominant in Iran, since it's the burial site of Ali al-Ridha, the eighth Twelver Shi'a Imam.
    • Cameron → Gombrun (variant spelling) → Bandar Abbas.
    • Verkana → Astarabad → Gorgan. In this case, "Gorgan" is a modern rendering of the Old Persian "Verkana", meaning "land of wolves".
    • Kermanshah → Bakhtaran → Kermanshah. The name change came after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, as the new government didn't like that it had "shah" (meaning "king") in the name. The new name, Bakhtaran, means "western", denoting its locaiton near the western border with Iraq — and then came the Iran–Iraq War, during which the government changed it back to invoke ancient Iranian culture.
    • A number of streets across Iran, and in particularly the capital Tehran, were changed after the Revolution, mostly because they were named after now unsavory figures such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. One particularly interesting one was a Tehran street renamed after Bobby Sands, a Northern Irish hunger striker who died in prison in 1981note  — which just happened to be where the British Embassy was located, forcing them to choose between putting Sands' name on their mailing address or moving everything to a new location (at least until they realised they could just move the building's entrance around the corner to a different street).

South Asia

  • India: A lot of Indian cities with foreign names have received/reverted back to "Indian" names in recent years, especially since the right-wing BJP party took control. Whether the names are accurate are left to interpretation.
    • Mumbai: Formerly Bombay. Somewhat controversial, as Bombay is not an Indian city colonised by Europeans, but rather a city built by the Portuguese from scratch - and anyway, everyone still calls the associated film studios "Bollywood", not "Mollywood".
      • Even the change itself has not been uniformly applied to government institutions. There is still a university in Mumbai called IIT Bombay, while some foreign languages (Spanish, French) still use the classic name.
      • This caused some confusion in Indian restaurants in the UK with many dishes such as Bombay potatoes and Bombay duck being renamed, though often some would be Mumbai and others Bombay. Thankfully this has largely been undone and they are back to the original Bombay name.
    • Since 2001, Calcutta is once again Kolkata.
    • Chennai: Until 1996 used to be called Madras.
      • In fact Madras and Chennai were the names of two neighbouring villages that were the core of the large city that has grown up around them; it's just that post-independence India preferred to use the name of the one that the Raj didn't use.
    • Prayagraj, formerly Allahabad. This one can rile up tempers depending on which religion you follow, since the city is named after a God that isn't followed by the majority of the city's population anymore (but its followers still make up a significant minority). The rename was eventually made official in 2018, but most foreign literature still refer to it as "Allahabad", since it was the city's name before people made a big deal about it.
    • Kozhikode: Formerly Calicut. Varanasi: Former Benares.
  • Ceylon => Sri Lanka. Another example of the international spelling changing to reflect the actual name of the place instead of what Europeans heardnote .
    • Formerly formerly Serendip. note  Formerly formerly formerly Lanka (in the Ramayana epos), so we went full circle.
  • Afghanistan:
    • The country itself was previously known as Ariana ("land of the Aryans", the same etymology as Iran above). It got its present name when the Pashtun (archaic name "Afghan") ethnic group wrestled control over the country from the Persians and Turko-Mongols.
    • Jalalabad, originally Adinapur. The present name (Jalal + abad, "place of Jalal") was chosen to honor the third Mughal emperor, Akbar (full name Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar).
    • The Nuristan Province used to be caled Kafiristan ("land of infidels"), because its indigenous people, the Nuristanis, practiced ancient Afghan polytheism. After they were converted to Islam, the region became Nuristan ("land of the enlightened").
  • The French overseas department La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. First an uninhabited Island called Dina Maghrabin ("West Island") by the Arabs and Santa Apolonia by the Portuguese, it was claimed for France in 1640, named Île Bourbon after the royal house, and colonized. Once the Bourbons were ousted from the throne and France became a republic, the isle was renamed La Réunion in 1793 to commemorate the reunion of the volunteers from Marseille and the Parisian National Guard for the storming of the Tuileries on August 10, 1792. The local slave-owners were incensed when the French Republic tried to abolish slavery in 1794note  and consequently they were so grateful to Napoleon for restoring it throughout The French Colonial Empire that they renamed the island Île Bonaparte in 1806. After the British took the island in 1810 they called it Île Bourbon again. That name stuck after it was returned to France, even after the Revolution of 1830, which once again deposed the Bourbons (the new reigning House of Orléans being a younger branch of the House of Bourbon). Finally, the February Revolution of 1848 brought back the republican name La Réunion.

East Asia

  • China has lots of cases that look like name changes, although in fact, most of the names have stayed the same in Chinese. The apparent change is due to either the new transliteration system, or due to the government mandating the use of standard Mandarin for placenames rather than local languages/dialects. For further details, see Why Mao Changed His Name.
    • Beijing (formerly Peking) is the most obvious example of the new transliteration system coming into effect.
      • After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Peking ("Northern Capital") became Peiping ("Northern Peace", "Beiping" in modern Pinyin), since the Chinese capital was moved to Nanjing/Nanking ("Southern Capital"), until the PRC was declared in 1949, with Beijing/Peking as the capital again.
      • Peking University still keeps the old spelling officially.
    • Guangzhou: Formerly Canton, which is derived from the Portuguese rendition of the local name for the province (Guangdong) in which the city sitsnote .
    • Xiamen: Formerly Amoy, a local name which got displaced by its quite different-sounding (although still related) Mandarin equivalent.
    • Other examples of the "different attempt at writing the same basic name" type are Xi'an, Tianjin, and Qingdao (formerly Sian, Tientsin, and Tsingtao, respectively). Xinjiang Province (formerly Sinkiang), and Sichuan Province (formerly Szechuan) are just a few more examples. There are countless others.
      • Xi'an actually does have a name change: It was known as Chang'an ("long tranquility") while it was the capital, only becoming "Xi'an" ("western tranquility") from the Ming Dynasty onwards, after the capital had become well established in Beijing.
    • Kaifeng was founded as Daliang in 364 BC, rebuilt as Bian in AD 781 and also went by Bianjing, Bianzhou and Dongjing.
  • Hong Kong is a mild example: before 1926 it used to be spelt as one word, "Hongkong". Some particularly old institutions still use the old spelling, such as The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC).
    • Incidentally there is a company in Hong Kong called "Amoy Food" based on the old name of Xiamen.
    • A case where the city is no longer a city: the central area of Hong Kong on the north coast of Hong Kong Island used to be referred to as the City of Victoria, which was dissolved into the Central and Western District and Wan Chai District with the handover.
  • Transliteration is an occasional problem in other Asian languages also. While elongated "o" sound in Japanese is, in most cases, simply transliterated as plain "o" in English (thus, Tokyo), some insist on writing out the "correct" pronunciation as "ou"—thus "Tokyo" would be "Toukyou". While this is nice, it is also highly confusing; thus some have compromised and come up with macrons for long vowels—thus the capital city is spelled "Tōkyō". The macron system is officially preferred (the system using digraphs for long vowels was developed for typewriters that couldn't produce diacritics).
    • Make that triple in Russian. Not only Cyrillic similarly lacks the easy method of indicating the long vowels, but the official transcription is also phonemic, not phonetic, and if read by the Russian orthography rules, sounds entirely wrong. Nevertheless, there are a lot of know-it-alls who insist on "correct" reading of the Japanese words, making it an ample Flame Bait. Not to mention that the official Russian name of the city is an artifact of an another, long obsoleted system of transcription, and back in the time when it was still called Edo there were at least four Cyrillic transcriptions of its name.
  • While on the matter of Japan, in 19th century, Tōkyō was also known as Tokei, based on now obsolete pronunciation.
    • It used to be called Edo (roughly "estuary", being built on one), renamed when the official capital moved there from Kyōto in 1868. Of course, the move of the "official capital" merely meant that the Emperor moved there; the city had been the seat of government since the 17th century, with the Emperor as a ceremonial figurehead. The period during which Edo was the most powerful city in Japan despite not being the official capital is therefore called the "Edo-jidai" ("Edo Period").
    • The former capital of Japan, Kyōto, was originally called Heian-kyō ("The Capital of Tranquility and Peace"), giving the golden era of the Imperial Court, the Heian-jidai, its name. It was renamed to Kyōto ("Capital City") when that era came to a close. According to The Other Wiki, it was also briefly renamed Saikyō ("western capital") when Edo was renamed. Before it was the capital, it was named Uda.
    • One more example from Japan and one more former capital (or at least one more site of an emperor's palace - Japan has lots of those): Nara, formerly Heijō-kyō.
    • Japan itself is an exonym. The Ancient Japanese called their country Nifon. One of the old Chinese dialect made it Ciphon. The Portuguese who interact with Japanese call them Jippon. Then English speaking people call it Japan. Modern Japanese for the country is Nippon (a formal, slightly archaic reading) or Nihon (a modern, but also more colloquial, variant).
    • Japanese colonies. Ezo becomes Hokkaido and Ryukyuu becomes Okinawa, though, strictly speaking, Ezo traditionally referred not just to Hokkaido (which was often referred to as Matsumae, after the ruling clan based in Hakodate), but to all lands to the North-East that are claimed, but not directly ruled by the Japanese, including Sakhalin and Kurile islands. When the new Imperial government finally begun to develop the island after the Meiji restoration, they had to invent a specific name for it because it did not have one. And the islands to the southwest are still called Ryukyuu archipelago, they're just administered as the Okinawa prefecture, named after the largest and most populous one.
  • Formosa (from "Ilha Formosa" (the beautiful island) by early Portuguese explorers) => Taiwan. Of course, that's just the beginning...
    • The state that controls the island of Taiwan is the Republic of China (ROC). Contrast the People's Republic of China (PRC), which rules the Chinese mainland (what most people mean by just "China"). Taiwan and mainland China essentially regard each other as rebellious provinces. The ROC lost a civil war on the mainland and was left in control of only Taiwan; decades later, the de facto situation is that Taiwan and mainland China are separate countries. But both the ROC and PRC consider Taiwan to be an inseparable part of China, so anyone who proposes making the de facto situation on the ground official — or who uses terminology that implies that — will attract the ire of both sides.
    • In international sports, to allow people from Taiwan to compete without implying (a) support for either the PRC or ROC over the other or (b) acceptance of the status quo, they need a team name that both sides can accept. "Chinese Taipei"note  is the name in the Olympics and many other major competitions.
    • Naturally Taiwan has independence movements, people who would like to renounce the claims to the mainland and make the de facto situation official. But even if they ever gained a supportive majority in the ROC government, the PRC would respond forcibly to any assertion of independence.
  • Another example is the disputed islands in the East China Sea that China, Taiwan, and Japan all claim as their territory. Japan, which currently controls the islands, calls them the Senkaku Islands. Though China and Taiwan are allied in this dispute, they too have different names for the islands. China calls them the Diaoyu Islands while Taiwan calls them the Tiaoyutai Islands.
  • The capital city of South Korea was originally Hanseong (City [by] the Han [River]). When Korea was annexed by the Japanese in 1910, it was renamed Keijou or "the Capital City" in Japanese. Korean independence caused it to be renamed Seoul, meaning simply "capital city".
    • However, in the Chinese Language the name was still a cognate of Hanseong (Hànchéng) up to mid-2000s, when Seoul requested the city should be called Shǒu'ěr, a closely phoneticized form, in Chinese. The shock waves at the time caused several local songs to be written to incorporate this event.

South-East Asia

  • Ho Chi Minh City: Formerly Saigon, a name still used by a lot of the locals, the name was changed after The Vietnam War, although its three-letter airport code is still SGN.
    • Coincidentally, this removed a possible confusion in Hong Kong, which has a district with the same name in Chinese (西貢, albeit written as Sai Kung in English).
  • Myanmar and Thailand, entire countries whose names changed from Burma and Siam, respectively. The former change is highly controversial, with several governments and the opposition not accepting it. This is because the name was changed by a military junta which overthrew the democratically elected Burmese government.
  • Singapore — formerly Temasek.
    • An interesting example in that it was permanently changed by a colonist, Sang Nila Utama, who named the place after an animal he reckoned had to be a lion — hence Singa(lion)-pura(city).
  • The Philippines, curiously enough, is the exception to the rule, as it's retained its Spanish colonial name, although it was originally lumped with other islands into a group collectively called the Spanish East Indies. Most likely this is attributable to Spanish still being a primary official language, not to mention the fact that the country didn't exist as a political unit before Spanish occupation.
    • During the Martial Law era in the 1970s there were plans to rename the Philippines to "Maharlika", after the precolonial warrior class (but only of Tagalog kingdoms). That proposal has lately resurfaced in the late 2010s as a show of anticolonial symbolism.
    • The entire Philippines itself actually counts—having been named for the Spanish King Philip II. Prior to Spanish colonisation the archipelago was ruled by a number of largely independent but interconnected royal city-states, such as the Kingdoms of Tondo and Maynila, the Rajahnate of Cebu, the Kingdom of Butuan, the Sulu Sultanate, and others.
    • The term "Manila", the name of the current Philippine capital, is a sort of inversion; its meaning has evolved over the centuries. Originally it referred to the precolonial Kingdom of Maynila south of the Pasig River (which itself used to be named "Selurong" or "Seludong"); after the conquistadores arrived, "Manila" became Intramuros, the Citadel City the Spanish built over the ruins of the Kingdom of Maynila. Much later, during the American occupation, Manila's jurisdiction expanded beyond Intramuros and grew to encompass surrounding districts. Today "Manila" has come to refer to both the country's capital and the conglomeration of sixteen cities (and the single municipality of Pateros, and the disputed-over central business district of Bonifacio Global City) situated in the region—which is more accurately called "Metro Manila", but visiting foreigners and out-of-towners don't make the distinction.
    • There's also an old Filipino joke that street names tend to change with every new administration, largely out of a need to satisfy political egos.
      • In the most recent case, several Filipino politicians, in a bid to ingratiate themselves to the (second) Aquino administration, even filed a bill to change the name of EDSA, Metro Manila's main highwaynote , to Corazon Aquino Expressway (after the mother of the previous President, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, who was also a former President). In their defence, the Aquinos are intimately associated with the highway, the site of popular protests that threw the Marcos dictatorship out in 1986 and installed Cory Aquino in power. Quite a number of Filipinos continue to believe, however, and not without good reason, that the politicians pushing the name change have a slight case of Skewed Priorities, given much more urgent issues like disaster management, poverty, and of course their own corruption—not to mention the monstrous daily traffic jams and train breakdowns now a feature of present-day EDSA.
      • The bill never passed, however, and there are no plans so far to refile it in the 17th Congress (that is, the Congress that assumed office after the May 2016 elections).
    • A few major streets may or may not have changed names for ostensibly nationalist reasons. For instance, Dewey Boulevard, which borders Manila Bay, was later renamed Roxas Boulevard, after the Philippine President Manuel Roxas. Ironically the said President was extremely subservient towards American interests—when the Americans granted the Philippines its formal "independence" in 1946, Roxas was promptly installed as the Republic's first chief executive, and in order to finance the rebuilding of the country after the devastation of World War II, he had to play nice with the U.S. government. (The American legacy associated with Dewey/Roxas Boulevard is still evident in the fact that the U.S. Embassy is still headquartered there.)
    • The barangay of 1896th Street in General Trias, Cavite was formerly known as 96th Street, but was later renamed to commemorate Andres Bonifacio who once resided in the village during the Philippine Revolution, though residents would sometimes colloquially refer to the street under its old name.
  • Indonesia:
    • The country itself, known before 1945 as Dutch East Indies.
    • Before that collectively (Indonesia as a national identity didn't exist until Dutch colonization) as Nusantara (Lands in Between [referring to Indonesia's position "between" South China Sea and Indian Ocean and role as trade hub]). Another name was Majapahit, the only pre-colonial Indonesian state whose territorial expanse matched the Dutch rule (in fact, it's actually larger, spanning parts of modern-day Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. However, it was also much looser, because Majapahit seemed to consider nominal tributaries enough to claim lands as their own).
    • Sunda Kelapa received the Sanskrit name Jayakarta (City of Glory) after Fatahillah, the general of the Sultanate of Demak, defeated the Portuguese in the 16th century. When the Dutch took over a century later, they gave it the name Batavia (after Bataaf people who are believed to be ancestors of Dutch). When Japan took over, Jayakarta was restored, albeit shortened to "Jakarta".
    • The country's second largest city, Surabaya, was called Hujung Galuh before the 14th century.
    • One of Jakarta's satellite cities, Bogor, was called Buitenzorg during the Dutch era. And before the Dutch arrived, when it was the capital of a precolonial kingdom, it was Pakuan Pajajaran.
    • Papua Barat to Irian Barat (Barat means "West" in Indonesian) to Irian Jaya then changed back to the local preferred name Papua. Western literature still calls it "West Papua", but in Indonesia, Papua Barat technically refers to a province split off from Papua in 1999.
  • Portuguese Timor: Timor Timur (Indonesian for East Timor) since 1976 to 1999 and after that Timor Leste.
  • Batang Berjuntai, a town in Malaysia was renamed to Bestari Jaya.
    • Lots of other examples in Malaysia too, where English city/town/road names were replaced with Malay ones. One entire state in one case: as mentioned above, British North Borneo became Sabah. Its state capital as well: Jesselton became Kota Kinabalu. Averted in some cases: George Town, the capital of Penang, though there is a common Malay name (Tanjung).
    • Malaysia as a whole country counts as well. It was the Federation of Malaya when independence was gained in 1957. The country name was change to Malaysia in 1963 when British North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore joined the federation.
  • Cambodia was (briefly) renamed to Democratic Kampuchea during the reign of Khmer Rouge. This didn't last long.


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