U.S. City Names That Have Changed

If you’re like many Americans, you have an “I ♥️ N.Y.C/Chicago/L.A.” t-shirt in the back of your closet. Because of our love for these big cities, we know N.Y.C.’s nickname is the Big Apple and that it’s quite windy in Chicago (thus its nickname). We’re also cognizant that L.A. is where most Hollywood stars reside. However, we might not know that these cities didn’t always have the same names we’re familiar with today.

For instance, L.A. used to be dubbed “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de la Porciúncula.” This translates to The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula and was shortened to Los Angeles in the 19th century. Many more cities have cycled through various names throughout the years, including nearly every city in one particular midwestern state. See these changes for yourself via the map.

View U.S. City Name Changes in a full screen map

We used Wikipedia’s List of city name changes to create the map. You may filter the locations by the total number of name changes (five is the most!), or read on to learn how colonial names like Swilling’s Mill, Arizona morphed into the large city of Phoenix.

Cities with Many a Former Name

There are plenty of reasons why a city may wish to spruce up its name. Perhaps the current one is offensive to a group of people or it’s simply no longer a good representation. Why not improve colonial names used centuries ago? Several places take it further than just one or two changes. The following cities have undergone five name changes throughout the years.

  • Albany, New York
  • Concord, New Hampshire
  • Kinston, North Carolina
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Each of these cities has had periods being called five different names, though previous names were often recycled. The city of Albany has previously been dubbed Fort Nassau, Fort Orange, Albany, and Willemstad, before going back to Albany. Kinston cycled through former names like Atkins Bank, Kingston, Kinston, and Caswel, before reverting back to Kinston. Pittsburgh was known as Fort Duquesne, Fort Pitt, Pittsburgh, Pittsburg, and then Pittsburgh once again.

Remarkably, both Concord and Phoenix have had five unique former names. Concord was originally settled by the Pennacook Native Americans and was later called the Plantation of Penney Cook, Penney Cook, Pennacook, and Rumford, before ultimately landing on Concord. Concord comes from a new concord or peace between two towns after a boundary dispute.

As for Phoenix, the city was named Swilling’s Mill, after the surname of a Civil War veteran who erected crop fields in the east of modern-day Phoenix. Swilling’s Mill evolved into Hellinwg Mill, and then Mill City before a settler suggested Phoenix as it described a city born from the ruins of a former civilization (the Hohokam people and their descendants). East Phoenix was then adopted before the East was dropped entirely.

Now that we know how the Plantation of Penney Cook became Concord, New Hampshire and Swilling’s Mill morphed into Phoenix, Arizona, let’s see how the states fare with their cities’ name changes.

Illinois & Other States with Varying City Names

Not only are there several cities that have gone through plenty of names, there are also some states with more finicky cities than others. Only 36 U.S. states have cities with at least one reported name change. The states listed below are home to the most.

  • Illinois
  • New Jersey
  • Massachusetts
  • Pennsylvania
  • Connecticut

Illinois is practically a whole new state with all of its cities’ name changes. Of the 323 U.S. cities with former names, 157 are located in IL (that’s over 48% from one state!) Further putting Illinois cities’ name changes into perspective, the state with the second-most city name changes (New Jersey), has 20 cities with varying names. Then comes Massachusetts, where 14 cities with former names are located. As for Pennsylvania and Connecticut, these states are home to 12 and 11 cities with newer names, respectively.

However, most of the states have between 1-3 cities with former names. For example, while Phoenix, Arizona was notable for its five unique name changes, Phoenix is also the only city in the Grand Canyon State with a former name.

Build an International Name Change Map

Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

While we didn’t include international city name changes on our map above, you could create your own. Then you could explore some of the fun name changes we discovered in our research: Edo was the city of Tokyo’s former name before it was changed in 1868. Casablanca was known as Anfa in ancient times (and, indeed, the oldest district of the city still bears that name). And what was the former name for Paris? The City of Lights used to be known as Lutetia, which means a place near a swamp or marsh. We prefer Paris.

To make your own map:

  1. Find the cities you want to map
  2. Format your location data in Excel
  3. Copy-paste it into our Excel map builder

You can easily map up to 500 data points for free, using an open data source or any location data you have available. If you need more than 500 locations, take advantage of BatchGeo Pro, which allows you to map 20,000 data points at a time. Depending on your data quantity, you save time with our automated mapping tool. Get started with more insights into your data at batchgeo.com.