Welcome to America! We're a nation of innovators -- except when it's time to name our cities, towns and small, unincorporated townships. Then we borrow. A lot.
In America's earliest days, colonial settlers named towns after the places in the British Isles they'd left behind. The most famous, of course, is "New York," named after the English city of York. Or, because some of them were devoutly religious, they took geographic names from the Bible. Out West, you'll find a variety of places with the names of saints in Spanish, like Santa Maria. Most of those names are shared with cities throughout Latin America.
Do you know, for example, the name of the Washington town that Kurt Cobain was born in? It's named for a Scottish fishing port. Or which American city was named after an Egyptian one, which, in turn, was named for a famous conqueror and was home to a vast library of the ancient world? Do you know which California city shares a name with a Central American capital?
Our place names tell us a great deal about our ancestors: Where they came from, what they valued, and the parts of history they chose to honor. So if you're a geography buff or a student of history, you're likely to enjoy this quiz on American place names. Settle in and take a peek into the pages of history!
Phoenix is the capital of Arizona. It is named for a mythical bird that seems to die, but rises from its own ashes.
The series has deliberately confounded viewers' attempts to locate it; Springfield has a coastline, a desert, a glacier, and it borders more states than is geographically possible. Oregonians like to think it's their Springfield, though, as Matt Groening is from Oregon, and Springfield, Oregon, has a bar named "Mo's."
The town in Minnesota is actually quite scenic. Situated at the edge of Minnesota's low "Iron Range" mountains, this border town sits right on the edge of Lake Superior, with great bridges spanning the lake over to Wisconsin.
Marathon, Greece, was the site of a battle in ancient times. A messenger ran from there to Athens to announce the victory, and so the long-distance running event was named.
Of course, the answer is Paris. Paris, Texas, gained a bit of fame from an independent movie of the same name.
Louisiana was sold to the United States by French leader Napoleon. Louisiana's French roots means that a number of its cities take their names from ones in France.
America has not been wildly original in naming towns. Ohio alone has 11 "Springfield Townships."
Costa Rica is a small, famously friendly country in Central America. San Jose is not only its capital, but its largest city.
Odessa is a lovely smaller city on the Black Sea. It isn't the capital of Ukraine, though; that's Kiev.
Georgia has no shortage of towns named for famous world cities (and one ancient one; that's Smyrna, in Greece). But its capital is named for the Atlantic Ocean. It's a shortening of "Atlanta-Pacifica," an earlier but unwieldy proposed name.
In Latin America, there are a number of "San Antonios" even within one country, state or province. That's because there is usually a descriptor at the end of the name, like "San Antonio Acutla" or "San Antonion de la Cal" in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Ancient Utica was destroyed in relentless fighting over territory among various world powers after the Roman empire declined. It has given its name to several US cities, the most famous of which is in New York state.
The ancient Troy was better known in its day as "Ilium." It was suspected to be solely legendary until ruins were discovered. It's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The old Syracuse is on the coast of Sicily, which once used to be a Greek holding. This inspired the name of a city in New York state and its university.
Aberdeen is a working-class town in Washington, near Seattle, the city with which Cobain and Nirvana are most associated. Nowadays, Aberdeen's city-limits sign reads "Come As You Are" in Cobain's honor.
Salem was a common name in the early US because it is taken -- sort of -- from the Bible. It's short for Jerusalem. Of course, Salem, Massachusetts, is now notorious for the witch trials of its early years.
Bremen is a town in northern Germany. It has gorgeous old churches and quite a few museums.
Locals in the Kentucky town say it wasn't named for the German city, but for an early bar owner. We're not going to argue with them!
Other notable California prisons include Folsom and Pelican Bay. But San Quentin is the most notorious. It's where California's executions are held.
The town in Idaho is pronounced with a soft "oh" at the end, compared to "Mosc-ow," the hard pronunciation of the Russian city. Of course, Russian speakers call their capital "Moskva," so the similarity is somewhat moot.
Lebanon is mentioned several times in the Bible, which may explain its popularity as a town name in early America. Many "Lebanons" are in the East or Midwest.
Riverside is a Southern California town. It's home to one of the University of California campuses.
Austin, Minnesota, isn't a well-known town. Unless you love SPAM, the canned meat product. That's where it's made.
There are many Georgetowns in the US. They might have been named to honor King George III (before the American Revolution), George Washington, or just a prominent local.
Ithaca was the home to which Odysseus sought to return after the Trojan War. Modern Ithaca is home to Cornell University, where Carl Sagan taught and Bill Nye studied. Nye occasionally also returns there to teach.
You want to tell Kansans to their faces that their Manhattan is insignificant? Manhattan, Kansas, has its own airport, just like New York City (although technically, none of NYC's airports are in Manhattan), and proudly calls itself "The Little Apple."
"Lafayette" is a family name in France, not a city. Founding "Lafayettes" have given their names to towns in Louisiana (naturally), California (where Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin is from), and other states.
California shares a number of Spanish-language names (like San Jose) with other states and countries. It does not, however, have a town named for the first president.
Alexandria was named after a Greek conqueror, Alexander the Great. It was also known for the Library of Alexandria, the greatest storehouse of knowledge the ancient world had ever known.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, was renamed from "Hot Springs" in order to win a contest, which got the popular game show, "Truth or Consequences," to broadcast a special episode from the town. Which just goes to show you the lengths people will go to for entertainment when living in the middle of nowhere.
Show Low reputedly got its name from an epic poker game over the ownership of land. Which eccentric name do you like better -- "Show Low" or "Truth of Consequences"?
Memphis was once the capital of Egypt. Today you can only see ruins where it used to stand.
Damascus, in Syria, lays claim to being one of the oldest cities in the world to have been continuously inhabited. It is also the capital of Syria.
Driving around America's back roads, you can find no shortage of towns with exotic names. Cairo, at the southern tip of Illinois, counts as one of these. If you have a choice, we'd recommend a visit to the "city of a thousand minarets" instead of the Illinois town.
If the name sounds familiar, it might be because the Bible repeatedly mentions "Tyre and Sidon." Sidon is a seaside city that was a crossroads of the ancient Middle East.