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5 Big Cities That Changed Their Names

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The Four Lads sang a song in 1953 about a city that changed its name.

Take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks'

Constantinople isn't the only city to change its name. I grew up learning about Bombay, Canton, Leningrad, and Saigon (especially Saigon), but those names aren't used much anymore. Here are the stories of a few city names, new and old.

1. Bombay is now Mumbai

The big city in the state of Maharashtra, India was called Kakamuchee and Galajunkja in ancient times. In the Middle Ages, it was referred to as Manbai. There is still disagreement about how the name Bombay came about. On the one hand, Bombay is seen as an English corruption of Mumbai, which is a name derived from the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi. On the other hand, the name may have come from bom baim, a Portuguese phrase meaning "good little bay", although there are doubts due to the issue of the word genders. The city was ruled by Portugal from 1535 to 1661. Variation of the name included Mombayn, Bombay, Bombain, Bombaym, Monbaym, Mombaim, Mombaym, Bambaye, Bombaiim, Bombeye, and Boon Bay, all of which are documented spellings. When the British took possession of the city in 1661, they put a stop to all this nonsense and decided the name would be Bombay. India achieved independence from the British Empire in 1947. The idea of a new, purely Indian name gained favor over the years and became a political campaign in the 1980s and 90s. When the Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena won a majority of seats in the state assembly in 1995, the name Mumbai, which was commonly used in some local languages, was officially adopted. The name is a return to India's past and a homage to Mumbadevi, the goddess who is the patron saint of the city. Image by Flickr user d ha rm e sh.

2. Canton is now Guangzhou

The city of Guangzhou, China was founded under the name Panyu in 214 BC. Four hundred years later, it was named the capital of Guang prefecture and people began to call the city Guangzhou, which literally means Guang prefecture. Portugal established a trading monopoly in Guangdong province in the 1500s, and the name Cantão began to be used, which became Canton. No one is quite sure how the name Cantão or Canton actually came about, but it is believed to be a European phonetic mispronunciation of Guangzhou or Guangdong. The name Guangzhou was officially adopted by the city in 1918. So the city was never officially named Canton at all! Nevertheless, westerners used Canton on maps and travel schedules, and in geography and travel books until the late 20th century. Image by Flickr user Gijs Budel.

3. Saigon is now Hồ Chí Minh City

The original name of the Kmer village that eventually became Saigon was Prey Nokor. The earliest reference to the name Sài Gòn was in 1698, as the village was taken from Cambodia by the Vietnamese. It is thought that the term Sài Gòn was a Vietnamese translation of the Kmer words Prei Kor, which means Kapok Tree Forest or City of Kapok Trees. The area was actually a swamp, but its location made it a strategic seaport. The small fishing village grew into a modern city under the French, who took over in 1859 and called it Saigon. Saigon became the capital of Vietnam in 1949, and when the country split in 1954, Saigon remained the capital of South Vietnam. About that time, Saigon merged with Cholon on the other side of the Saigon River. No matter how it evolved, the name Saigon was a symbol of colonialism, so when the north defeated the south in 1975, the city lost its status as capital. The following year it was officially renamed for the deceased communist leader Hồ Chí Minh. Image by Flickr user Andrin Villa.

4. St. Petersburg is now St. Petersburg (again)

The original name of the small Russian town that became St. Petersburg is long gone, but it was only a tiny village before the Tsar arrived. Tsar Peter the Great, in his quest to make Russia more modern and therefore more European, named it St. Petersburg in 1703 and moved the government and the royal family to the city in 1710. He named the city in honor of St. Peter the evangelist, although most folks knew it was a roundabout way to name the city after himself. The "burg" was a nod to his relatives and allies in Germany. It became a large and modern city under Peter's rule. In 1914, World War I broke out and Germany was suddenly Russia's enemy. St. Petersburg became Petrograd, which still meant the City of Peter, rendered in the Russian language. After the communist revolution, even the name Petrograd didn't seem Russian enough. After Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, the city was renamed Leningrad in honor of the Soviet leader. In 1991, Russia held its first presidential election following the collapse of the Soviet government. On the same day, citizens of Leningrad voted in a referendum to change the name of Leningrad back to its historic moniker, St. Petersburg. Image by Flickr user Archie Dinzeo.

5. Constantinople is now Istanbul

The former capital of Turkey has been known by many names: Byzantium, Augusta Antonina, New Rome, Constantinople, Kostantiniyye. Ä°stanbul, Stamboul, and Islambol, among others. The city was founded in 667 BC and named Byzantium by the Greeks after Byzas, the king of Megara. The city was later absorbed into the Roman Empire, where it had several names. Emperor Constantine made it his eastern capital and it became Constantinople, the name that stuck in western ears for over a thousand years while the locals called the city by different names. Istanbul is a word that means "the city" and had been used colloquially for the last few hundred years to refer to the Turkish capital. Officials used the name off and on, but in 1930 the postal service decreed that all addresses in the city would be "Ä°stanbul". The i is dotted on the initial capital because the pronunciation is different from the dotless i in Turkish, although Istanbul is accepted in all other languages. Image by Flickr user maistora.

Bonus: Truth or Consequences

In 1950, the town of Hot Springs, New Mexico changed its name to Truth or Consequences after the radio quiz show of the same name. The change was in response to the show's host promising to broadcast from the first town that named itself after the program. Thus began a fifty-year tradition of broadcasting the show from the town once a year, first on radio and later on television. The name stayed, although residents call it "T or C" now. Read more stories of American towns that changed their names for one reason or another in the post 7 Towns That Changed Their Names (And 4 That Almost Did). Image by Flickr user Kristen Taylor.

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Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
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If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing

INGREDIENTS

1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.

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