Cairo and Coventry: Place Names for Globetrotters

by appellationmountain on April 19, 2013

Globe terrestre, from: Claude Buy de Mornas: A... Photo credit: Wikipedia

Kids are called London and Paris and Savannah, too.  What other place names could be borrowed for a birth certificate?

It’s a staggeringly long list.  And it isn’t an easy one to parse.  Plenty of places were named after people.  While some place names sound familiar, and are easily adapted for given names, others … not so much.  Can you imagine naming a child Karachi?  Muncie?  Sheboygan?  The capital of Turkmeinstan is Ashgabat.  Regardless of your heritage or travel history, that’s not something you’re likely to embrace for a baby.

Other factors to keep in mind:

  • Some places are garden spots; others, not so much.
  • This raises practical questions – if you’ve never been there, can you still use the name?
  • What happens when a place name your child shares makes headlines in a tragic – or just unflattering – fashion?
  • Place names repeat, too, so even if you love Hamilton in Bermuda, you might not be a fan of the one in the UK or Canada.
  • It’s quite unfair which places work and which don’t.  Nearly anything ending in -ton is fair game.  But -pol, -burg, and -grod don’t really work.
  • Pronunciation issues abound.  Some of these are only wearable if you’re willing to embrace a phonetic pronunciation that may bear little resemblance to the original place name.

Despite all of these issues, it is a rich category, with too many possibilities to include in one list.  I’ve stuck to cities for today’s post, but there’s no shortage of other options.

Read on for a selection of place names that might be very wearable for your little globetrotter.

Place Name from Africa

Alexandria - Though with so many children wearing an Alex- name, this one feels a little bit ordinary.

Cairo - The storied Egyptian city seems like a logical ends-with-o name for a boy.

Dessie - It’s an Ethiopian place name, but she sounds like a retro pick, one of Sadie’s sisters.

Kanye – It’s a place name in Botswana, but most would assume you were a fan of Kanye West.

Kinshasa – I love the sound of this city name in the Congo.  It’s nickname is Kin la belle.

Nyala – Once the capital of the Daju Empire, this Sudanese city has suffered from a host of problems.  And yet, with names like Nahla, Nyla, and Naylee in the news, Nyala feels wearable.

Zaria - She’s a Slavic goddess of beauty, and a Nigerian place name, too.

Place Names from Asia

Adana – This Turkish city has had many names over the ages, and plenty of stories to explain them all.  Adana seems like a natural choice for a daughter in 2013.

Amara – Already in use as a given name, it is found on the map attached to an Iraqi village.  The name’s origins are generally considered Igbo, spoken in Nigerian.  She’s a pan-international possibility.

Bellary – An Indian city with an intriguing sound, part Bellamy, part Ellery.

Damascus - This one reminds me of Biblical appellation Damaris.  Despite the lack of easy nicknames, this city’s history make me think that it might work as a first name.

Fuji – You’ve probably heard of Mount Fuji and the Fuji River, too.  They’re both near a city called Fuji.  How would this wear on a child?  If we can have boys called Everest, why not?

Jericho – With ancient roots and a modern sound, this one could work well.

Jerusalem – Could this one be too weighty for a child to wear?  Maybe, but it has seen some use – for girls and boys – in the last decade or so.

Kobe – My first thought is basketball star Kobe Bryant, but it is also a Japanese city.

Kyoto - Another storied Japanese place name possibility.

Sakura – The Japanese word for the cherry blossom, Sakura is also a place name and a given name in Japan.

Samarinda – This place in Borneo has a fascinating meaning.  Because the houses were once built to the same height, the settlement became known as Samarinda, “equal in height.”  And so Samarinda implies a certain equality and lack of hierarchy.

Sari – It could be a nickname for Sarah or Serena, or a traditional Indian garment.  But Sari is also an Iranian town.

Taipei - The name that inspired this post!  The capital of Taiwan, I spotted a local athlete named Taipei … and have been curious ever since.

Tokyo – You wouldn’t name a child New York or Los Angeles, but maybe this metropolis would work.

Xian - It looks like Ian with an X, and you’d probably hear Zian.  But Xi’an is one of the four ancient capitals of China, and the x is properly pronounced with a sh sound.

Place Names from Australia

Adelaide – There are lots of place name possibilities in Australia, but many of them are borrowed from elsewhere, or attached to a beach or other non-urban setting.  Even Adelaide doesn’t quite count, as the city was named after an English queen.

Place Names from Europe

Aberdeen – Scotland’s silver city on the North Sea.

Avila - A Spanish village, complete with medieval walls, Avila makes this list for two reasons: first, Ava has made any Av- name feel possible.  Second, Saint Teresa of Avila makes this one meaningful.

BerlinJeremy Renner chose this for his daughter’s middle name, but the bearish Berlin could wear well for a boy, too.

Bilbao - The heart of Basque country in Spain, Bilbao is home to a Guggenheim museum, giving it an edgy, artistic vibe.  But even with our affection for ends-with-o names, this might be over the top.

Bordeaux – A French city, but it might be too closely associated with the wine for wear.

Bremen – This German place name brings to mind the fairy tale.

Bristol – The Palin family put this one on the map.

Catania – An Italian place name, and maybe an unexpected way to get to Cate.

Chester - He’s a jazzy possibility, a Top 100 choice in the US through the 1920s.  With easy nickname Chet, and that -er ending, could this former Roman fort town make a comeback?

Coventry – Another English place name with history to spare.

Dover – With white cliffs and a connection to France, Dover is memorable.

Dresden – The city was decimated by bombing during World War II, but as history fades, Dresden has attracted some attention.

Dublin – Irish names are all the rage.  Why not the capital?

Florence – As a name it has separate roots, but brings to mind the enduring Italian city.

Geneva – Once relatively common in the US, and perhaps due for a revival thanks to the success of the sound-alike Genevieve.

Genoa – Another one that fits with the Genevieve trend.

Leiden - Sometimes spelled Leyden, this Dutch city feels like the kind of name modern American parents might invent.

Lille – Take Lily, mix in our affection for French names and geography, and you’ll arrive at Lille.  Lille comes from l’isle - the island – as the original settlement was on dry land in the middle of a marsh.

MilanMike Tyson gave the name to a daughter.  Shakira used it for her son.

Odessa – This Ukrainian city and seaport sounds just like a girl’s name.

Oslo - Is the Norwegian capital wearable?  With Otto sounding fresh, never say never.

Paris - If not for Ms. Hilton, Paris would be popular for children right now.  But the celebutante gives us pause.  And she definitely makes us hesitate before considering Paris for a son, even though the mythological figure is nearly as well known as the city of lights.

Patras – Also known as Patrai, I’m curious about this Greek place name.

Pristina – We would rhyme Kosovo’s capital city with Christina, but the actual sound is slightly different in Serbian.  The s takes on a sh sound.

Ravenna – An Italian place name every bit as wearable as Florence.

Rome - A place possibility for a boy.

Samara – Located on the Volga and Samara rivers, this Russian city isn’t terribly well known.  But the sound is perfect for an unexpected girls’ name.

Tallinn – This Estonian place name brings to mind Talon, a surprisingly popular pick for boys in recent years.

Toulouse - Is this a non-starter?  In English, Toulouse sounds like, well, to lose.  Not auspicious.  But then there’s that cute kitten in The Aristocats.  And Toulouse-Lautrec, first name Henri.  So … maybe in the middle spot.

Valencia – Two parts Veronica, one part Clementine.

Valletta – It’s the capital of Malta, a city named for Jean Parisot de la Vallette, Grand Master of the Order of Malta.  Vallette successfully defended Malta from an Ottoman invasion in the sixteenth century.  It also brings to mind model-actress Amber Valletta.

Verona – The hometown of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet.

Vienna - A tempting sound, though the tendency to think of sausages might put some parents off.

Warwick - A small town on the River Avon, and another English place name with rich history.

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North America, South America, and the Caribbean are up next Friday!  Would you use a place name for a child?  Which one?  And are there any destinations I’ve left off this list?  What would you add?

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Jayden February 18, 2014 at 12:07 AM

I’m pretty late here. In the African American community place names are extremely common. I quite a few people named Asia, India, China, Kobe, Zaria, Egypt, Jericho & Zaire. I’ve even met a Kobe, a Sicily, a Cairo and a Nyala. I’m positive that majority of these people’s parents have never been to these places(although Zaire’s dad is from the Congo and Zaria’s parents are Nigerian). Jericho is called Rico by his siblings since they(and everyone else) think it’s terrible that their baby brother is named after a biblical city that was destroyed. Oslo and Florence are my favorite names from the list.

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Jemima June 6, 2013 at 5:57 AM

My favourite place names are Vienna, Geneva and Florence. Gorgeous!

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Kaeli April 22, 2013 at 9:16 PM

I haven’t really seen anyone answer whether or not they think a place name is usable if you haven’t been there. Are place names so common that it’s ok to use them even if you’ve never visited? Thoughts, opinions?

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appellationmountain April 23, 2013 at 5:36 AM

Kaeli, I’ll ask on the Facebook page a little later this morning: http://www.facebook.com/AppMtn

My thought is that you always can, but it is better if a) the name is well-established; b) you have heritage that links you there; c) it has meaning beyond the place. So … anyone can have a daughter called London now, and I’d bet the parents of most Brooklyns haven’t been there. I’ve never been to Sicily, but my grandmother is Sicilian, so I think I could use Sicily. And Biblical place names like Galilee have meaning that probably trumps actually visiting for lots of people.

So I’d say that you don’t need to have a corresponding stamp in your passport, but it helps to have a story or a reason.

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Tracy April 22, 2013 at 4:06 PM

I’ve always liked Thessaly for a girl.

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Jordanna April 22, 2013 at 9:50 AM

My favourites are probably Ravenna, Margaux, and Clare.

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Lola April 22, 2013 at 8:47 AM

Oh I also knew a sibset of croix, cayman & Lucia!! For next week!!

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Lola April 22, 2013 at 8:39 AM

Wow so many in this topic. I knew a sydney victoria. Her parents loved oz!! we thought about Cairo a lot and also Auburn, Atlanta, Oslo, Niagra and Fez.

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Megan M. April 20, 2013 at 5:40 PM

There’s something intriguing about Kin la belle…

I’ve been a fan of Aberdeen for a while now. You could use Abby, Berdee, or Deen as nicknames.

I also like Waltzing More than Matilda’s suggestion of Elanora.

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Arden April 20, 2013 at 1:17 AM

I think Petra (in Jordan) would make an excellent girls name, and we actually considered it for our daughter.

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Julie April 19, 2013 at 10:26 PM

I like Leiden, Rome and Bellary.

Until 1877 Oslo was called Christiania (Kristiania), it’s elaborate, but charming.
Bergen is another Norwegian possibility.

Kassel (Cassel) is a city in Germany (the Brothers Grimm lived there in the 19th Century.) It’s a homophone of Castle and it gives you the nickname Cass.
Bremen, another charming city and it sounds enough like Brennen/Brenden to feel “namey.”

Breda is a city in the Netherlands, it’s also a Irish variant of Bridget.

Delos, Thera, Paros and Milos, all Greek Islands. (Paros is my niece’s middle name.)

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Blue Juniper April 19, 2013 at 8:16 PM

Perth and Darwin are other Australian cities that would make good names.

Dresden is one of my favourites, but mainly due to the wizard Harry Dresden from ‘The Dresden Files’ books. I think the books have helped the name a lot recently.

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KatieB April 19, 2013 at 9:45 AM

I feel that “place” names that aren’t too closely associated with a destination are more my style. Florence, Toulouse (I actually have a great-great-aunt Tulaine :)), Odessa, Ravenna, Adelaide & Alexandria.

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Waltzing More Than Matilda April 19, 2013 at 5:45 AM

I think has Australia has quite a few place names from Aboriginal languages that could make nice names.

Berri, Elanora, Kareela, Maleny, Tamar, Yarra …

I am interested to see what the names from the US are going to be!

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Jordanna April 24, 2013 at 6:15 AM

Leumeah? Could see it. Listed on some sites as meaning “Here I rest.”

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Waltzing More Than Matilda April 25, 2013 at 9:23 PM

I know of someone who had a baby girl named Leumeah a few years ago. Apparently it is a family name. I think it sounds pretty, and it is on trend at the moment.

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Kaeli April 19, 2013 at 4:08 AM

Petra could also be added to the list, even though it is an ancient city (Petra, Jordan). I know of a Petra (female). On a side note, we may be visiting Petra later this year, along with Israel! :)

As an avid traveller, we have visited many of these places and I have often thought of them as names. I’ve always thought Cairo would be a great name for a son, and I have visited there. However, Geneva is a favorite as well but I have not visited. Is it tacky to name a child after a place you’ve never been? Although for those using names such as Dakota, Kingston or Georgia, do people think of them as just names, and not places anymore? Perhaps it depends on how unusual the name is and how often it’s been given as a first name. What do others think?

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Jemima June 6, 2013 at 5:56 AM

My aunty’s name is Petra! I love it :)

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vivi April 19, 2013 at 2:54 AM

For Australia, Canberra might work as a name.

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