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Words aren’t created in a vacuum, and when you trace their origin to the source, you often find that they come from unexpected places. For this list, I’ve found 40 toponyms: words that are named after the place in which they were created or inspired by.
You may know some of them already, but most of these surprised me. Please add your favorites in the comments.
Named after the breeds of rabbits, cats and goats that frequented the region around Ankara, the present capital of Turkey.
Plato taught classes to his pupils (which included Aristotle) at Akademeia, which translates roughly to the “grove of Akademos”, an enclosed garden located near Athens. Akademos is named after the Trojan war hero of the same name.
The word ‘attic’ literally means “Athenian”, and was a decorative but addition placed upon the top of many ancient Greek buildings (The top part of the parthenon is an example of an Attic aesthetic).
Named after the seat of the Duke of Beaufort in Gloucestershire, the game was invented at Badminton House in rural England. Before the sport came to fruition, Badminton House also inspired the name of a mixed drink that includes claret, sugar and spritzer.
The Balaclava is named after The Battle of Balaklava, which occurred during the Crimean War in the 1850’s. Ironically, though, the garment was never worn there, and the name actually derives from the beards donned by many of the British veterans returning from the war.
The word often used to describe age and weight groupings in sport derives from a small town in Indonesia, Banten, which hosted a small-to-midsize chicken popular with traders at the time.
The word actually comes from the name of the English city, and not the other way around. Famous for it’s Roman-era hot springs, the town is still a big draw among tourists.
The bikini is named after the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where Americans conducted atomic bomb testing in 1946. In 1947, French engineer Louis Reard named his two-piece swimsuit invention after the place.
During the 15th century an influx of gypsies arrived in Paris from Egypt, but many misattributed their home of origin to a small province in the Austrian Empire called Bohemia (now around the Czech Republic). The term was later used to describe the poor artist communities of the city.
It kind of sounds like an obvious one, but 13th century Belgian farmers deliberately developed the small vegetable long before it became a staple in both French and English cuisine.
Originally from Armenia, the town of Cantalupo in Sabina grew the first cantaloupes in Europe. A few miles north of Rome, Cantalupo contains a Papal villa.
The horrific color comes from the liqueur of the same name, which was first distilled by the monks of the Carthusian order near Grenoble, France.
The word ‘cherry’ was taken from the Norman cherise, which was taken from the latin cerasum, which literally means ‘of Cerasus’, an ancient Roman town now known as Giresun in modern-day Turkey.
The slang tem for prison comes from the London prison, formerly located on Clink Street. It was destroyed during the Gordon riots of 1780, where TK
The title of goatskin leather is named after the Spanish city of Cordoba, which was once the heart of Muslim Europe, and even spawned the so-called “Golden Age of Poetry” during the 11th century.
The famous movie dog comes from the Croatian region of Dalmatia, but was largely bred for its spotted pattern in England.
Duffel bags were actually produced in the small town of Duffel, Belgium, which is located near present-day Antwerp.
The type of expanding bullet were produced at a small military outpost in Dumdum, India, near Kolkata.
Epsom Salts are named after the Epsom Spring, a popular spa among Londoners in the seventeenth century. the spring contained high levels of magnesium sulphate.
popular in North America among the Shriners, Fez hats come from the Moroccan city of Fez, where muslim worshippers would not be able to kneel and pray with a brimmed hat, and therefore needed something practical to cover their head.
Geysers are a natural phenomenon caused by the shooting of hot water through a vent. Popular with tourists, the word ‘geyser’ comes from Geysir, the location of a hot spring in Iceland.
Possibly derived from the Medieval-Venetian word for ‘founding’ (as in a foundry). A large foundry was located in the poor and walled Jewish district of Venice in the sixteenth century, which is of course featured in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.
the word ‘italic’ literally means “Of Italy”, and were invented by Italian printer Aldus Manutius in 1501. He wrote an edition of Virgil’s works using the font style in hopes of imitating genuine hand-writing.
Part of the United Kingdom, the Channel Island of Jersey made the majority of garments from the cattle they bred. In time, they become a fashionable sweater, and from then on, sports teams adopted them as uniforms.
Laconic is word describing people who are tight-lipped and generally quiet in speech. The word comes from Laconia, the Ancient Greek district where Sparta was located. Legend has it that Alexander the Great threatened to invade Laconia and uttered:
“If I enter Laconica, I will level Sparta to the ground.”
Then, the Spartans replied with:
The type of poem famous for its brevity and bawdiness comes from the Irish city of the same name, but its origins are largely unrelated to the town itself. Rather, a famous chorus sung between limericks during performances contained the line “Will you come up to Limerick”.
Magenta was the location of a battle during the Franco-Austrian war (The Austrians Lost), and it turned out that an aniline dye could be developed from the coal-tar located near that battle. Magenta ended up being the first synthetic dye used in textiles.
Mayonnaise was supposedly created for the first time in Mahon, a small town in Minorca where the French were battling the Spanish. Apparently, the chef of the Duke of Richelieu created it to make the local food taste better.
It’s origins get even more interesting, though, if you consider that Mahon is named after Mago, a carthaginian admiral, making ‘mayonnaise’ the only word in the English language to have a Punic etymology.
The beige-colored enveloped used for sending documents and mid-sized packages is named after Manila hemp, which was taken from the tree of the same name grown around the Philippines.
The popular type of race is named after the legendary spring of an Athenian sold, who supposedly jogged from Marathon to Athens to let to locals know that they had beaten the Persians, then subsequently dropped dead (Herodotus claims that he ran from Athens to Sparta to get reinforcements for the battle of Marathon). Nevertheless, the Greeks commemorated the event by holding an inaugural marathon race during the 1896 Olympics in Athens.
This fairly common word comes from a fairly unlikely source—the river Buyuk Menderes in Turkey. The river is known in the region for taking a very lengthy, sinuous route.
The word comes from the cotton fabric once produced in the city of Mosul, Iraq. The city recently made headlines when it was successfully invaded and occupied by ISIS.
Ottomans were actually a popular fixture among the royalty of the Ottoman empire, and became popular in the West when Victorian England and France grew obsessed with the Orientalist imagery of Eurasia and the Middle-East.
The type of fortified wine was mostly exported out from Oporto, Portugal, which is today also known for a successful soccer team.
The popular sporting event is named after the Rugby School in England, a high school which has long been associated with Oxford. In the nineteenth century, two types of football were popular among schoolboys, Rugby football and Association football. At the time, it was popular slang to called the former rugger and the latter soccer.
The word often describing a mocking, funny look comes from the island of Sardinia, or more precisely its endemic grass herbs sardonia, which when eaten, causes us to grimace and chuckle. Side note: Sardines are also named after the island, as they were bountiful off its coasts.
Siamese twins are a popular if not archaic term for conjoined twins. The phrase comes from the Chang and Eng, conjoined twins from Siam who toured the world in circuses and so-called freak shows during the 19th century.
Spas are actually named after the town of Spa, in Belgium, a town famous in the 16th century for its mineral springs. The city is also famous for having a pump-room built by Peter the Great. Spa is also where Kaiser Wilhelm II officially abdicated the German throne in 1918, leading to the end of the First World War.
The name of a dance originating in Taranto, Italy called the tarantella—meant to cure a disease called Tarantism—inspired the naming of a local spider who was rumored to cause the disease.
The tuxedo was actually commonly-known as the dinner jacket before a man called Griswold Lorillard started wearing them to a local haunt called the Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo, New York.