City Names of Tongue-twisting Proportions

Buenos Aires is a city with an evocative name: ‘Fair Winds’ in Spanish. But how about Ciudad de la Santísima Trinidad y Puerto de Santa María del Buen Aire? This translates as ‘City of the Most Holy Trinity and Port of St Mary of the Fair Winds.’ Evocative, yes, but not easy to fit on a postcard, shop front or flight boarding pass.

The lengthy name was given to the city in 1580. Not surprisingly it only took a few decades before it was routinely shortened to Buenos Aires.

South America map, 1585

1585 map of South America: Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin

The Spanish Conquistadors who marched through Central and South America in the 16th century established a trend for naming their settlements with religious zeal (and perhaps a good amount of homesickness).

San Cristóbal de la Habana was named for St Christopher in 1519 but is now better known as Havana in Cuba. Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (‘Our Lady of the Assumption’) was established in 1536 and is now known simply as Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. Pueblo Nuevo de Nuestra Señora de la Paz (‘New Town of Our Lady of Peace’) is Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, founded in 1548. Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura (‘St James of New Extremadura’, named after a region in Spain) appeared in 1541 and has likewise been shortened to Santiago, the capital of Chile.

Others have kept their extended holy names as the formal name of the city for more than five centuries. Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is officially San Francisco de Quito and San Salvador in El Salvador is La Ciudad de Gran San Salvador (‘The City of the Great Holy Saviour’) in full.

But the name that surpasses them all can be found in South-East Asia, given to a capital established around two hundred years later, in the 18th century.

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

This impressive name translates into English as ‘The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarma’.

Locally, the city is known as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (or simply Krung Thep). Globally, this now massive metropolis is better known by the name of the fishing village which used to be on the same spot: Bangkok.

Archived under Geography.

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2 Responses to City Names of Tongue-twisting Proportions

  1. Lauren says:

    Fascinating! (Especially love Bangkok.)

    Did you know that Los Angeles is also an abbreviation? “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula” (The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the River Porciúncula).

    And, of course, we modern folk further abbreviate to their intials: LA, NYC, DC, to name but a few…

    • “Río de Porciúncula” is quite a mouthful, though perhaps not for a speaker of Spanish. Thanks for sharing the Los Angeles example.
      The initialization of city names in recent times makes me wonder if in many decades’ time acronyms like NYC will have become the default name, even on maps and signs.

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