It is not uncommon to have a city start with one name then through a series of events change its name to something else. Sometimes it’s a change from one language to another. Originally St. Paul Minnesota was named Imnizaska, for example. Other times it is because it was changed due to either being sold or part of a treaty, think New York City. Sometimes they are renamed to show patriotism for example, St. Petersburg in Russia being changed multiple times depending on who was in power at the time. From tongue-twisters to unintentional double meanings, some city names across the globe end up getting lost in translation, with sometimes humorous results.
Let’s start with Bitsy Kovongo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was intended to be named after, most likely, a person named Bitzy. Somehow the name changed into Bitsy. Several attempts by the government to correct the name or rename it to Bitzyville have failed and the name persists. And to this day, Bitsy Kovongo still remains sounding a little like a place in a cartoon. Sometimes names describe a physical location, for example in Wales we have the city called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. With a whopping 58 letters the name means, when translated from Welsh, “The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool and the church of St. Tysilio near the red cave”. Fortunately, most of the locals call it by the shortened name Llanfairpwll or even Llanfair PG. Not to be out done, New Zealand has a town named, wait for it… Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, this hill in New Zealand has an extremely long name derived from the native Maori language. At 85 letters, it holds the Guinness World Record for longest place name. The name roughly translates to "The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one". On the other side of the spectrum, there are over 30 towns that have one letter name scattered across the globe.
Some names due to translations end up being funny when it is translated. Take Eggy, Egypt. This Egyptian village may have a cute, funny name, but linguists suspect it comes from a case of misinterpreting Arabic vowels. Its real name is likely al-Ji but became Engy or Eggy from how locals pronounced it. The whimsical name adds to its charm and humor for visitors. And some names are purposefully made funny. Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Canada. The founders of this French-Canadian village were so delighted by the beauty of a nearby lake, they expressed their joy by naming it "Ha! Ha!" yes it intentionally has two exclamation points. The quirky name of admiration stuck, surprising all who come across this spot of French wordplay. Finally, there are instances where a city name has a coincidental meaning in another culture. Take Batman, Turkey for example. Yes, there is a city in Turkey called Batman. No, it has nothing to do with the superhero. The name Batman comes from the nearby Batman River, which itself is named after the unit of weight used in the Ottoman Empire. The city was formerly a village called Iluh, but it grew rapidly after the discovery of oil in the 1940s. To take advantage of this coincidence, in 2008, the mayor of Batman tried to sue the director of The Dark Knight for using the name without permission, but the lawsuit was dismissed.
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