Our ever changing Geo-political place names

Your hometown is still going to be named that tomorrow right?

How about within the next year, or next decade? I wouldn't be too sure.

As it turns out, our world and its many place-names staying the same cannot be taken for granted.

Here are some notable places that have had their name changed (some more than once) in the past 100 years.


Istanbul > Constantinople > New Rome > Byzantium

Ancient city Byzantium was around as early as 657 B.C. In 330 AD the Roman emperor Constantine the Great changed the city’s name to New Rome, which didn't really stick, so he name the city after himself and called it Constantinople (wouldn't we all?).

It's a mouthful, and the people of the time agreed, by the 1400's it was often referred to as Istinpolin, a shortening of the tongue twister.

Then came the Turks in 1930 with the no-nonsense decision to change the name formally to Istanbul. Rumors has it the reason was to make it easier to print on stamps.

Kyiv > Kiev

When Ukraine gained independence from the USSR in 1991 they promptly changed names from the historical Russian spelling to a Ukrainian spelling, faithful to the city founder's name Kyi. Hopefully another name change will not be happening any time soon.


Ho Chi Mihn City > Saigon > Gia Dinh > Prey Nokor

This city in Vietnam started out as a trading port of the Khmer Empire and was originally called Prey Nokor. 

The Vietnamese were moved in around 1800 and changed the name to Gia Dinh or "Blissful Peace".

When the French took over the city in 1862, it was given the name Saigon. It eventually became the capital of South Vietnam. Saigon is said to be an etymology of the word Sai (meaning “firewood”) and Gon (meaning “stick”). More importantly those Frenchmen introduced Baguettes into Vietnamese cuisine (Bánh Mì)

In 1975, South Vietnam lost the war against North Vietnam. The country was then reunified and the city was given the name that it has today. It’s been named in honor of North Vietnam’s most revered leader - Ho Chi Minh.


These days, the name of Saigon has stuck with the locals. Perhaps, as a way of defiance by the south towards the north.

St. Petersburg > Leningrad > Petrograd > St. Petersburg

The city was founded by Peter the Great - the first Emperor of Russia. With his intent on modernizing his empire, he sought to have a strategic trading port to the rest of Europe. Supposedly, it was named the "City of Peter" to honor the Apostle, not himself. Sure...

When war broke out in 1914, the city was renamed Petrograd in order to have a more Russian sounding name. 10 years later in 1924, it was renamed Leningrad, meaning Lenin’s City after. Who else? 

In 1991, as a way of honoring their history, the Russians living in the city voted in a referendum to bring back the original name of the city to St. Petersburg. Affectionately, they call it simply “Peter”.


Lake Calhoun (Minnesota) > Lake Maka Ska

Right before I moved to Los Angeles I lived next to a major lake in the Minneapolis area, Lake Calhoun. The neighborhood next to it shared the same name.

Apparently the guy Calhoun was a right bast**d and the locals finally decided he didn't deserve a whole place named after him. So they went with the Dakota name Bde Maka Ska.

This is incredibly jarring to me when I visit, but you can't argue with this stuff. Change moves forward. Still trying to figure out how to pronounce the whole mouthful though. Bee-dee Mah-kah-skah? or Boh-dee?

Let us know in the comments.


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