They can remind us of a favorite place or a hometown. Some place-inspired baby names honor our roots. Others might inspire our children to a life of globe-trotting.
Like nature names, they’re often easy to spell and pronounce – but not terribly common.
Then again, a handful of geographic names for babies have gone mainstream. Savannah and Austin. London and Cairo.
So what other names borrowed from the map might be just right for a child’s name?
It’s a staggeringly long list.
And it isn’t an easy one to parse.
First, plenty of places were named after people. Georgia and Adelaide make great names, but they don’t necessarily bring to mind the locales.
Other locations just don’t sound like given names. Can you imagine naming a child Karachi? Muncie? Sheboygan? The capital of Turkmeinstan is Ashgabat. Regardless of your heritage or travel history, that’s probably not topping your shortlist for given names. But then again … maybe it does.
CONSIDER THESE FACTORS BEFORE CHOOSING GEOGRAPHIC NAMES FOR BABIES
Some places are garden spots; others, not so much. And that’s okay! Just make sure you can explain why you chose the name. Because if your family lived in Albany for three generations, it could be an amazing possibility.
If you’ve never been there, can you still use the name? I say yes. But you should know something about the destination – even if it’s an idealized “I’ve always wanted to visit Paris and see the Eiffel Tower.” And, of course, cultural appropriation is a concern, particularly with Asian and African place names.
What happens when a place name your child shares makes headlines in a tragic – or just unflattering – fashion? This is both unpredictable and unavoidable. The fact is that most news stories pass, so it’s often just a case of waiting a season. Of course, it’s a strength of the most widely-discussed places as names. There are good stories, bad stories, and just plain quirky tales out of Chicago every day, so guessing that Chi West won’t be too worried about any of them.
Place names repeat, too, so even if you love Hamilton in Bermuda, you might be surprised when others think of the one in the UK or Canada.
It’s downright unfair which places work and which don’t. Nearly anything ending in -ton is fair game. But -pol, -burg, and -grod don’t work nearly as well.
Pronunciation issues abound. Some of these are more wearable if you’re willing to embrace a phonetic pronunciation that may sound a little different from the original place name.
Despite all of these issues, place names represent 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 NAMES from AFRICA
Though with so many children wearing an Alex- name, this one feels less borrowed from the map.
The storied Egyptian city seems like a logical ends-with-o pick.
It’s an Ethiopian place name, but she sounds like a retro pick, one of Sadie’s sisters.
It’s a place name in Botswana, but most would assume you were a fan of Kanye West. Given his struggles in recent years, that might give some parents pause.
I love the sound of this city name in the Congo. It’s nickname is Kin la belle.
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.
Inspired by the desert.
A Slavic goddess of beauty, and a Nigerian place name, too.
PLACE NAMES from ASIA
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 today.
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. It’s a pan-international possibility.
An Indian city with an intriguing sound, part Bellamy, part Ellery.
It’s slightly similar to Biblical appellation Damaris. Despite the lack of easy nicknames, this city’s history make me think that it might work as a first name.
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?
With ancient roots and a modern sound, this one could work well.
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.
My first thought is the late basketball star Kobe Bryant, but it is also a Japanese city.
Another storied Japanese place name possibility.
The Japanese word for the cherry blossom, Sakura is also a place name and a given name in Japan.
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.
It could be a nickname for Sarah or Serena, or a traditional Indian garment. But Sari is also an Iranian town.
The name that inspired this post! The capital of Taiwan, I spotted a local athlete named Taipei … and have been curious ever since.
You wouldn’t name a child New York or Los Angeles, but maybe this metropolis would work.
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
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.
A long-time favorite for girls in the US, and an international destination, too.
It won’t necessarily bring to mind the Australian city, but it belongs here every bit as much as Adelaide.
ON THE MAP in EUROPE
Scotland’s silver city on the North Sea.
A Spanish village, complete with medieval walls, Avila makes this list for two reasons: first, Ava has made any Av- name feel possible. Plus Saint Teresa of Avila makes this one meaningful.
Jeremy Renner chose this for his daughter’s middle name, but the bearish Berlin could wear well for a boy, too.
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.
A French city, but it might be too closely associated with the wine for wear.
This German place name brings to mind the fairy tale.
The Palin family put this one on the map.
An Italian place name, and maybe an unexpected way to get to Cate.
A jazzy possibility, Chester was 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?
Another English place name with history to spare.
With white cliffs and a connection to France, Dover is memorable.
The city was decimated by bombing during World War II, but as history fades, Dresden has attracted some attention.
Irish names are all the rage. Why not the capital?
As a name it has separate roots, but brings to mind the enduring Italian city.
Once relatively common in the US, and perhaps due for a revival thanks to the success of the sound-alike Genevieve.
Another one that fits with the Genevieve trend.
Strictly speaking, Holland is a province and the Netherlands is the country. But they’re often used interchangeably. And Holland has history as a given name in the US, too.
Sometimes spelled Leyden, this Dutch city feels like the kind of name modern American parents might invent.
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.
Mike Tyson gave the name to a daughter. Shakira used it for her son.
This Ukrainian city and seaport sounds just like a girl’s name.
Is the Norwegian capital wearable? With Otto sounding fresh, never say never.
We tend to think of Paris as feminine – thanks to Ms. Hilton and Gilmore Girls, but the mythological figure is male – and nearly as well known as the city of lights.
Also known as Patrai, an intriguing Greek place name.
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.
An Italian place name every bit as wearable as Florence.
A place possibility, rising for boys.
Located on the Volga and Samara rivers, this Russian city isn’t terribly well known. But the sound is perfect for a girls’ name.
An Italian island that sounds almost exactly like Cecily.
This Estonian place name brings to mind Talon, a surprisingly popular pick for boys in recent years.
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.
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.
A tempting sound, and a storied city.
A small town on the River Avon, and another English place name with rich history.
PLACE NAMES from NORTH AMERICAN & THE CARIBBEAN
I love the cowgirl vibe of this Texas town, plus the easy nickname Abby.
This could work for a son or daughter.
A ski town and a trending favorite, especially for girls.
It’s so close to the mythological – and equally rare – Atalanta. It was rumored to be a favorite of the Beckhams, too, back when they welcomed daughter Harper Seven.
A color, a university, and many a town, that Au is popular for boys and girls – think of Autumn and …
Wildly popular, both as a destination and a child’s name.
An easy choice for a son, Boston could appeal to sports fans, patriots, Patriots fans, or parents looking for a way to signal their new New England roots.
Toronto and Montreal didn’t make the list, but Calgary’s Cal might put Calgary on parents’ radar.
It’s not very name-like, and yet it somehow works for the Kardashian-West daughter.
A place name powerful enough to inspire a television series, there’s some serious swagger to Dallas.
It brings to mind Ohio, though others may hear it as a brother to Jayden and Payton.
Another Georgia place name. And Illinois. And Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Alabama, Texas … Most – if not all – of them were named in honor of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century American naval hero Stephen Decatur, Jr.
A musical name thanks to John Denver, the mile-high city is also capital of Colorado.
A preppy, unexpected surname worn by a city in Ontario, but also tied to American history, with at least half-a-dozen US cities named for Alexander.
A logical successor to Savannah.
Another storied Texas city, though the associations with NASA’s mission control are so close that Houston might feel like a problem.
Explorer Henry Hudson’s last voyage resulted in mutiny, but not before his surname dotted the map, including a river and a bay. Formed from Hud, once short for names like Hugh and Richard, Hudson could be an update for more classic names.
Another choice found all over the map and in a nursery school near you.
JOLIET and JOLIETTE
The first is in Illinois; the second, Quebec. It sounds like Josephine means Juliette.
An Alaska place name, even rarer than the sound-alike goddess name Juno.
Gwen Stefani put this regal place name on the map.
Rhymes with bacon, and brings to mind Top Ten Mason.
It’s the capital of St. Martin in the Caribbean, named for a swamp, but it feels like a pretty mash-up of Marie and Margot.
An ancient place name long before Tennessee existed. Singer Bono named his daughter Memphis Eve, but she’s known as Eve now.
A Florida city with endless style, and an appealing sound.
Popular for many reasons, including its status as a place name.
A New England name with a serious virtue vibe.
As in Sir Walter, and the capital of North Carolina.
The witchcraft trials make this lean a little bit Goth, but on sound alone Salem is winning.
If names like Lorna and Gilda were stylish, Tulsa would almost certainly be wearable.
SPOTTED in SOUTH AMERICA
A double name by way of Brazil.
A common place and given name with a religious meaning – savior. Painter Salvador Dali also comes to mind.
Another saintly name, this time after either Andrew, or the more obscure Emeterius. The Colombian location is named for European Santanders, too.
Smoosh together Saint and James and you’ll arrive at this popular choice.
A common place name, could Serra might be an update to classic Sarah.
This Ecuadorian place name looks like “quit,” but the pronunciation: kee TO is appealing.
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?
First published on April 19, 2013, this post was revised and re-published on June 3, 2021.