40 American Cities That Once Had Completely Different Names

The United States could have been very different if many of its cities had stuck with their original names. Could you really take the place seriously if it had cities called Swilling’s Mill, Flagler, and Hell Gate? And how weird would it have been if a certain large metropolis on the West Coast was called New York instead of the one we know and love today? Sometimes, too, the stories behind the changes are just as interesting as the names themselves.

Detroit, Michigan

Once called: Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit, Fort Detroit


The French were the first European settlers to set up camp in the area that is modern-day Detroit. Military officer and merchant Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac had traveled home to France in 1698 to get the green light on establishing a French outpost situated along le detroit — French for “the strait” — between Lake Erie and Lake Huron. This was established on July 24, 1701, as Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit. Yes, it was named after both the topography and a French minister named Jérôme Phélypeaux Comte de Pontchartrain.

Yet French interest in growing the area waned, and then they were booted out by the British in 1760. By that stage, the settlement had been renamed to Fort Detroit, and the British removed the Fort from the name. In 1805 after the United States had been established, Detroit was named the capital of the Michigan Territory and officially incorporated by the Michigan territorial governor a year later.

Miami, Florida

Once called: Flagler


Miami is one of the most vibrant cities in the United States. But the vast Florida metropolis almost went by another, far less attractive name back at the tail end of the 19th century. You see, a man named Henry Flagler had been instrumental in developing the area that is now Miami, and indeed beyond that too. An oil tycoon, the wealthy Flagler invested at least some of his vast income into building lavish resort hotels and constructing much-needed railway links.

As a result, he was so popular with those living in the small settlement at that time that the citizens actually voted in favor of naming it after him. That was 1896, the year the city was incorporated. But Flagler turned down the naming honor, modestly pushing for the Tequestaq tribe term Mayaimi instead. A variant of that name was thus chosen, and Miami was born.

San Francisco, California

Once called: Yerba Buena


The area that now comprises San Francisco was controlled by the Spanish from 1769 to 1821 as part of its empire’s Las Californias province. The Mexicans took over in 1821 and their control of Alto California lasted until 1848. During the Mexican period, an Englishman named William Richardson became known as a reliable point of liaison between ships and ranchers; in 1835 he set up a settlement at Yerba Buena Cove.

This settlement became the biggest in the Bay Area, and was referred to as Yerba Buena, which is Spanish for “good herb.” But after the U.S. was victorious in the Mexican-American War and raised the Stars and Stripes at Yerba Buena, the Americans changed the name to San Francisco. This was set in stone in January 1847 when a nearby settlement — now modern-day Benicia — tried to call itself Francisca to effectively claim the San Francisco Bay and become the regional capital.

Roanoke, Virginia

Once called: Big Lick


Roanoke sits in the Roanoke Valley with which it shares its name. But it wasn’t always called that. No, back in 1834 the west-Virginian city was called Big Lick, after the salt marshes that are abundant in the area. The settlement was tiny at that point, with a population of roughly 50 people.

Big Lick itself was moved in 1852 when a railroad was completed that reached Roanoke Valley, but didn’t link up to the town. That settlement became Old Lick, whilst the new Big Lick near the railway officially took on the moniker in 1874. This lasted only a few more years, though: in 1881 the name was changed to Roanoke, a word derived from the Native American term rawrenock, meaning shell beads. This change was rubber-stamped in 1884.

Portland, Oregon

Once called: The Clearing


The story of how Portland, Oregon, got its name is an interesting one. But way back in the 1930s through to the early 1840s it was simply known as The Clearing: a treeless spot by a river in a 640-acre area filled with forest. That sounds like a horror-movie name to us! The Clearing was used as a rest-stop for ships and travelers between Oregon City and Fort Vancouver.

But in 1845 it would gain the name it is known by today — on the toss of a coin! Yes, really. After gaining the land, Boston lawyer Asa Lovejoy and Portland, Maine, native Francis W. Pettygrove flipped a coin to see after whose hometown the settlement would be named: Pettygrove was victorious.

Saint Paul, Minnesota

Once called: Imnizaskadan, Pig’s Eye


Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the land which now constitutes the city of St. Paul, Minnesota. The Mdwankton Dakota of the Sioux — who had fled their original home because of attacks from another tribe — named their settlement Imnizaskadan, which translates as “little white rock.” Then in 1819 American established Fort Snelling in the area to help protect the fur industry.

The following tale is doubted by historians, but as the story goes, almost 20 years later, a man named Pierre Parrant — who traded in fur — laid claim to the land. He called it Pig’s Eye’s Landing, after his own nickname, Pig’s Eye. Whatever the truth of this legend, the city’s current name is thanks to the efforts of a Roman Catholic priest named Father Lucien Galtier, who succeeded in getting it changed to St. Paul after he established a church under that name there.

Jacksonville, Florida

Once called: Fort Caroline, San Matteo, Cowford


Jacksonville is now Florida’s most populous city. But way before it was established as the thriving southern metropolis it is today, its area was inhabited by a Native American tribe called the Timucua. Then in 1562 the French arrived, and called it Fort Caroline after a stronghold they built there.

In 1568 the French settlers were usurped by the Spanish, who renamed the fort and area San Matteo. Next to rule the area that is Jacksonville today were the British, who seized the city in the 18th century and called it Cowford. Finally, when the Americans took over in the early 19th century, its name was changed again. This occurred in 1822: Jacksonville was chosen, after the military governor Andrew Jackson. He went on to be President of the United States too, but whether he even visited his namesake city is not known.

Phoenix, Arizona

Once called: Swilling’s Mill, Helling Mill, Mill City, East Phoenix


Arizona’s largest city and state capital Phoenix has gone through numerous names and iterations during its long history. To begin with, it was part of the New Mexico Territory and subsequently the Arizona Territory. Then, in 1868 it acquired the names Swilling’s Mill, Helling Mill, and Mill City in quick succession. Canal Irrigation company-owner Jack Swilling had set up camp there after realizing its potential for farming , provided he could create a reliable water supply.

The veteran Swilling actually favored naming the settlement Stonewall, after Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, whilst others living in the area suggested Salina. It took the intervention of a man named David Duppa to finally arrive at the current name, Phoenix. Duppa suggested it on the basis of it being a new city being built on the ruins of the one constructed by the indigenous tribes: a phoenix from the flames. The name was officially rubber-stamped on May 4, 1868.

San Diego, California

Once called: San Miguel


With its numerous beaches and hip Gaslamp downtown area, San Diego is one of California’s — and indeed America’s — most beautiful cities. But unless you are a history buff, you might not know that the city once went by a different name: San Miguel.

Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first arrived in the area in 1542; it was he who came up with the San Miguel moniker. But around 60 years later, the name of the settlement was changed slightly to San Diego, and that has stuck ever since.

Annapolis, Maryland

Once called: Providence, Town at Proctor's, Town at the Severn, Anne Arundel Towne


The state capital of Maryland, Annapolis is the gem of Chesapeake Bay. But it took a while for it to get its modern name, with various monikers being used prior to its current incarnation. In 1649 Puritan settlers set up the original township on the northern shore of the Severn River; they named it Providence. Those settlers then set up camp on the southern shore, calling the setup there Town at Proctor’s and then Town at the Severn.

By 1694 the area that is now Annapolis had been renamed Anne Arundel’s Towne, in honor of the deceased wife of Lord Baltimore. But later that year, royal governor Sir Francis Nicholson decided to move the Maryland colony’s capital there from St. Mary’s City, and renamed the settlement Annapolis. This Greek-sounding name was in homage to Princess Anne, the heir to the English crown. Anne became Queen eight years later, and in 1708 her charter gave Annapolis city status.

Seattle, Washington

Once called: New York, New York-Alki


Did you know that New York was nearly on the West Coast? Well, it’s true. Modern-day Seattle was almost called New York, or the similar New York-Alki, the latter word being Chinook for by-and-by. This occurred after European and American settlers had built a township in Elliot Bay back in the mid-19th century.

But ultimately those settlers would choose the name Seattle for the city. This was in honor of Chief Seattle, who led the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes in the Puget Sound area. Chief Seattle had been warm in welcoming those aforementioned settlers to the area, and they therefore decided to give the settlement his name. He had been there first, after all!

Austin, Texas

Once called: Waterloo


Known for its weirdness, Texas’ state capital Austin was once called something else beginning with a “w”. Waterloo was the name given to the small settlement that was built by frontiersmen such as Jacob Harrell from 1835 onwards. Why? Historians aren’t unanimously sure about that. Perhaps the settlers were military history buffs interested in the epic battle that ended the Napoleonic Wars?

Anyway, Waterloo became Austin a few years later, when Mirabeau B. Lamar recommended the capital for the Republic of Texas should be moved to that settlement. He suggested it was renamed Austin after colonizer Stephen F. Austin, revered by many as “the father of Texas.” This was rubber-stamped soon after; the Texan Republic was annexed into the United States in 1845.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Once : Losantiville


When the area that now constitutes the lovely city of Cincinnati, Ohio, was first settled on, it was given a very different name. Yes, the land that lies directly opposite the mouth of the Licking River was called Losantiville, which was a combination of a few things, which in order are: the first letter of the river, the Greek word for mouth, Latin for opposite, and French for town.

But mercifully, the first governor of the Northwest Territories, General Arthur St. Clair, hated the name given to the settlement. In 1790 he arrived at the Ohio township by boat; he soon demanded its name be changed. Cincinnati was his suggestion, after fifth-century Roman soldier and freedom-upholder Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus.

New York City, New York

Once called: New Amsterdam, Big Orange


When in 1624 Dutch settlers arrived in the area that is now known as lower Manhattan, they named their new colony a different “New” to the one we know today: Amsterdam. Of course, that was in reference to the lovely canal-heavy city in their native Netherlands. But in 1664 New Amsterdam would be taken over by the all-conquering British, and they had other ideas for the name of what is now one of the biggest cities in the world.

The British renamed “the Big Apple” New York, after the city of York in northern England. This name was arrived at by the Duke of York, who was given ownership of this colonial project by the reigning King Charles II. The Dutch took back control of the city in 1673 and called it New Orange, before the British expelled them for good and reinstated the name New York.

Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico

Once called: Palomas Hot Springs, Hot Springs


By far our favorite city name on this list is the remarkable Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico. It’s such a ridiculous name for a city that it is fitting that the story of how it got the name is just as risible. The host of a popular radio and TV show called Truth or Consequences named Ralph Edwards debated with staff how to mark its upcoming 10th anniversary in the 1950s. One suggestion — presumably in jest — was to find a town or city that would be up for changing its name to that of the game show, and then broadcast from there to mark the anniversary.

Incredibly, numerous cities applied for this dubious honor. The winner, though, was New Mexico’s resort town Hot Springs. It had started out as Palomas Hot Springs before being shortened, but now was opting to change its name to that of a popular TV show. An election was held to confirm, in which the name change was approved by 1,294 to 295. With numerous Hot Springs across the United States, the local Chamber of Commerce believed it would make the city stand out more: in fairness, it certainly does that.

Lafayette, Louisiana

Once called: St. Jean du Vermilionville, Vermilionville


Louisiana’s Lafayette enjoyed a few different names before its modern moniker was officially adopted in May 1884. That final name-change was in homage to the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped George Washington’s Continental Army emerge victorious in the Revolutionary War. He had paid a visit to the state from his native France 60 years prior to the renaming.

But before that, Lafayette had been called Vermilionville, a settlement founded in 1824 and named after the river that ran by it. That had been cut from St. Jean du Vermilionville, the name the town’s founder Jean Mouton had initially given it. Lafayette was only available as a viable choice after a previous city named that in the state had been absorbed into New Orleans.

Joliet, Illinois

Once called: Juliet


As name-changes go, the alteration that resulted in the city of Joliet, Illinois, was very subtle. Yes, that switch — which occurred in 1845 after its General Assembly had convened and agreed on it — literally consisted of the replacement of one letter.

The final name of Joliet was selected as a nod to explorer and fur trader Louis Jolliet, who had set up camp on the site back in 1673 when traveling with his missionary pal, Father Jacques Marquette. A proper town was not established until around 1834 though, taking the name Juliet after one of the pioneer’s daughters. Joliet noticeably has one fewer ‘l’ than the explorer after whom it was named.

Atlanta, Georgia

Once called: Canebreak, Terminus, Deanville, Thrasherville, Marthasville


Before the U.S. government pushed them out in 1821 the Native American Creek tribe lived in the area that would later become Atlanta, Georgia. A year after the expulsion of its indigenous inhabitants, settlers began to arrive in their numbers; they initially called the settlement Canebreak. Then 15 years later, the burgeoning township was widely referred to as Terminus, referencing the end of the railroad that occurred there, and following the lead of Colonel Abbot Hall Brisbane.

Terminus never got official confirmation though, and the competing names of Deanville and Thrasherville were also in circulation from 1837 until December 1842. That was the month when the settlement formally adopted the name of Marthasville, after Governor Wilson Lumpkin’s daughter, Martha Atalanta. But that lasted a mere five years and six days, because on December 29, 1847, Marthasville became the city of Atlanta. Fortunately for Lumpkin, his daughter’s name was still represented, as well as giving props to the railroad.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Once called: Fort Duquesne, Pittsbourgh, Pittsburg


Pittsburgh had several different names before the Pennsylvanian city’s current moniker was finally confirmed on July 11, 1911. The saga basically began in 1754 when Fort Prince George was jointly built by the British and merchant William Trent. This stronghold was taken over by the French a few months later; they built another bigger fort in its place, naming the site Fort Duquesne after New France’s governor general the Marquis du Duquesne.

Then four years later the British — led by General John Forbes — took the site back. In November 1758 Forbes wrote to British Prime Minister William Pitt, telling him they’d renamed the camp after him, with the spelling of Pittsbourgh. The city got its charter in March 1816 but was remarkably misspelled Pittsburg on official documents. Public defiance and pressure over several decades eventually led to it being changed to Pittsburgh.

Eugene, Oregon

Once called: Skinner’s Butte, Eugene City, City of Eugene


Before the second-most-populous city in Oregon acquired the name Eugene, it had been known by three different monikers. The first of these was Skinner’s Butte, which was named after Eugene Skinner, a white settler who was the first of his ilk to lay claim to the land in that area. Skinner built a cabin on the butte there, giving the new settlement a very matter-of-fact sobriquet.

After more settlers arrived in 1862 and the settlement became more significant in size, the name was officially changed to Eugene City, after Skinner’s first name. A couple of years later that was altered to City of Eugene, before the final change in 1889.

Boston, Massachusetts

Once called: Shawmut, Trimount


Boston is one of America’s oldest cities. But Massachusetts’ capital didn’t always have the name that was given to it by the pilgrims from the town of Boston, Lincolnshire, in England. No, before it was Boston, the city was called both Shawmut, then Trimount. Shawmut was the name the Native Americans gave the area, after the peninsula where the land lay.

But when the first colonists arrived, they began to call the area Trimountaine or Trimount, due to it being set around three hills. Episcopalian minister William Blaxton — the pioneering European settler there — eventually invited some Puritan friends from Charlestown, MA, to join him. Boston was later selected as the name in 1630 after a number of the key settlers — including John Winthrop — had arrived from that town in England.

Anchorage, Alaska

Once called: Ship Creek, Knik Anchorage, Woodrow Creek


The biggest city in Alaska was known by a few different names before Anchorage was finally settled on in 1915. Ship Creek and Knik Anchorage were two of the earliest monikers used to describe the settlement there, the latter denoting the ability of ships to put an anchor down across the water from the town of Knik.

Ship Creek would be removed as the name in November 1914 by the United States Board on Geographic Names, which deemed it too similar to Sheep Creek in Juneau. Then, the following year, there was an almighty confusion as names including Woodrow Creek — named after President Woodrow Wilson — Alaska City, Lane, Matanuska, Winalaska, Terminal, Gateway, and Homestead were put up to a public vote. Anchorage didn’t win the vote, as is often suggested: it only came third. But it somehow wound up as the name of the city anyway; Washington ignored the results of the vote, which had revealed Alaska City was the locals’ preferred choice!

Missoula, Montana

Once called: Hell Gate


The second-most-populated city in Montana after Billings, Missoula is the state’s cultural hub. But “the Garden City” almost had a really unusual — and kind of threatening — name: Hell Gate. So, how had that come about?

Well, the dark-sounding moniker came along sometime after entrepreneurs Christopher Higgins and Frank Warden initially founded a trading post at the area where the Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers converged in 1860. Eventually the town’s site was relocated closer to Hellgate Canyon, which sits at the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek and the Clark Fork River. The name was chosen to reflect the Canyon, but it was eventually renamed Missoula, which came from the Salish name for the Clark Fork River; it roughly translates into English as “place of frozen water.”

Nashville, Tennessee

Once called: Fort Nashborough


Nashville, Tennessee, is a beautiful city in the American South that is renowned for its musical heritage; it is hailed as the birthplace of bluegrass and the spiritual home of country music. Yet it didn’t always go by that now-iconic name.

No, after it was first settled in the late 18th century, the site that is now Nashville was named Fort Nashborough, after the fort that had been built on the site. Nashborough was derived from Francis Nash, a hero of the American Revolution who hailed from North Carolina. But in 1784 the name Nashville was chosen to replace Fort Nashborough. At least Nash still gets paid his dues!

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Once called: Bronson


The city of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is situated halfway between Chicago and Detroit on the I-94. Originally it went by a name arguably much less memorable than the one it holds today: Bronson. The town of Bronson was established by a settler who first made it to south-west Michigan in June 1829. This pioneer got hold of the first plot of land there, and after recording it with the Register of Deeds office, established a settlement.

His name? Titus Bronson. Yet those who followed in Bronson’s footsteps did not like his clean-living, puritanical ways. Yes, Bronson had been opposed to gambling, tobacco, alcohol, and even dancing. As a result, the other settlers rebelled, and teamed up to have the then town’s name changed to Kalamazoo in 1836; a presumably disillusioned Bronson later left the area. Exactly what Kalamazoo means is debated by historians, with “reflecting river” and “boiling pot” among the suggestions.

Bismarck, North Dakota

Once called: Edwinton


The capital of North Dakota, Bismarck is its second-biggest city by population after Fargo. Of course, that’s in a sparsely populated state: its inhabitants only number around 73,000. The city was founded back in 1872 by European-American settlers, but it had a different name back then. That name was Edwinton, an homage to transcontinental railway champion Edwin L. Johnson.

But that name would last only around a year, because in 1873 the city was renamed Bismarck. Why? Well, it was essentially an attempt to curry favor by the Northern Pacific Railway. Basically they believed that if they named the city after the-then German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, then it would flatter him into investing into the railway line there and also attract German settlers. The investment play came to nothing, but the settlement did attract German settlers and retained the name.

Orlando, Florida

Once called: Jernigan


What is now Orlando, Florida, was once known as Jernigan. A settlement going by that name was first established in around 1840 during the Second Seminole War, and continued to grow after it. Jernigan was situated around the area where the United States established Fort Gatlin to protect settlers from Native American resistance: the name was reportedly arrived at in homage to the first family that had settled in the area. But it would be changed in 1856 to Orlando.

Incredibly, in 1875 Orlando only had 85 inhabitants. What the name Orlando was inspired by has fascinated historians; there have been several different accounts and myths surrounding the switch. One story suggests it was named after a character from William Shakespeare's As You Like It by Judge John Speer. Another involved a dying settler named Orlando who reportedly fell ill on his way to Tampa, prompting a bystander to say “There lies Orlando.” Or was it named after soldier Orlando Reeves, slain during the Seminole Wars?

Aspen, Colorado

Once called: Ute City


The beautiful city of Aspen, Colorado, is widely known for being a luxury ski resort and wellness retreat for the wealthy. However, when it was initially founded back in 1879 it had quite a different and decidedly less attractive name.

That name was Ute City, and it had been founded by a group of miners who’d ignored the then-Governor of Colorado’s calls to not travel there for fear of sparking an uprising by the Native American tribe indigenous to the area. Their name? The Utes. Anyway, a year later, the settlement was rechristened Aspen, after the tree native to and abundant in the area.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Once called: All Saints, Hennepin, Lowell, Addiesville, Adasville


Prior to 1867 — the year it was officially incorporated and established as Minneapolis — Minnesota’s largest city went by numerous different names. So let’s go through them: firstly, the pioneer of St. Paul hoped it would be absorbed into that city and St. Antony, and called it All Saints. An early settler named John H. Stevens called it Hennepin, whilst others called the settlement Lowell in reference to its water features.

Then there was settler Charles Hoag, who pushed for Addiesville or Adasville, in reference to his daughter. Others who lived there put forward Brooklyn, Albion, and Winona, the last an attempt to preserve the indigenous language. Eventually, Hoag would put forward Minnehapolis, combining the Dakota term for waterfall with polis, which is of course the Greek word for city. This eventually prevailed, minus the silent “h.”

Honolulu, Hawaii

Once called: Kou


The city of Honolulu is located on the American paradise island of Hawaii, way south of the mainland United States in the Pacific Ocean. It is the state capital, a business hub, and its biggest city. But did you know that it used to go by an entirely different name?

Indigenous natives of Hawaii had long called the settlement in what is modern-day Honolulu Ke ‘Awa Ob Kou, which translates to English as “the harbor of Kou.” This was often shortened to Kou. Still, in 1796 the British, who had taken over the settlement, renamed it Fair Haven: the Hawaiian translation of this is Honolulu.

Reno, Nevada

Once called: Lake’s Crossing


Today, Reno is a thriving metropolis, famous for its casinos and bright lights, and a magnet for tourists. But back in 1860 it was just becoming established. The first settler arrived and constructed a toll bridge out of logs that went over the Truckee River; his name was C. W. Fuller, and the settlement he founded became fittingly known as Lake’s Crossing.

Yet that name would only be in use for around eight years. By 1868 the Central Pacific Railroad had reached the area, and as a result of these transport links more homes soon sprung up at the new settlement. The township was renamed Reno after General Jesse Lee Reno, a martyred Civil-War hero for the Union cause who had perished in the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland in 1862.

Fargo, North Dakota

Once called: Centralia


Modern-day Fargo is the biggest city in North Dakota, known for its lively downtown and university, and that ’90s movie by the Coen Brothers. But way back when, the city had been named something else entirely.

Yes, before being renamed Fargo — in honor of the Wells Fargo Express founder and Northern Pacific Railway director William Fargo — the settlement was called Centralia. Its renaming — which occurred in February 1872 — was influenced by several towns in the area which bore the moniker, including Fargo on the Prairie and the comparatively lawless Fargo in the Timber.

Portland, Maine

Once called: Machigonne, Indigreat, Elbow, The Neck, Casco, Falmouth


The city now known as Portland, Maine, was first settled by two Englishmen named George Cleeve and Richard Tucker in 1633. The settlement went through a lot of turmoil and name-changes in the century-and-a-half after that; monikers that were used by locals for the town up to 1786 included Machigonne, Indigreat, Elbow, The Neck, Casco, and Falmouth.

The last of those names was the most widely-used, but the city was attacked by Native Americans in 1676 and again in 1690 — this second time with French support. In 1775 during the Revolutionary War, the British effectively razed Falmouth to the ground. Over the next decade or so it was rebuilt, and it was incorporated as Portland in 1786. The new name was a nod to a small island off Dorset, England.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Once called: Tallasi


Tulsa is second only to Oklahoma City in terms of population in the “Sooner State.” The land on which it was built was inhabited by numerous Indian tribes including the Osage, Creek, Caddo, and Kickapoo. The Muscogee Creek Nation would eventually claim ownership of the land though, and the tribe officially settled there in 1836.

The settlement that the Creek Nation founded was centered on the Creek Council Oak Tree, which today lies at the intersection of Cheyenne Avenue and 18th Street. The tribe called the settlement Tallasi, which means “old town.” This was later amended to Tulsa: essentially a shortened pronunciation of the Creek term.

Rapid City, South Dakota

Once called: Hay Camp


The second-biggest town by population in South Dakota, Rapid City has a population of around 75,000. A settlement there was developed in the Gold Rush years, which saw a mass arrival of European and American miners and their families in 1874.

Then a couple of years later, some of those miners announced the formation of a city that they originally called Hay Camp. They promoted it as “the Gateway to the Black Hills” to attract Gold Rush pioneers. In 1877 they changed the name of their growing metropolis to Rapid City, after the creek that runs through it.

Casper, Wyoming

Once called: Strouds


Casper would go on to gain the nickname “The Oil City” for its storied history with that particular industry. But did you know that the charming Wyoming city was once known as Strouds? This occurred shortly after the Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley Railroad reached the area in June 1888.

The name Strouds — after homesteader Joshua Strouds — didn’t last long though, and the settlement was soon renamed for nearby Fort Casper, by then a ruin. Interestingly, the person after whom Casper had been named was Lt. Caspar Collins. But when the Army dedicated the fort to his memory, they misspelled his name with an “e” instead of an “a!” That typo has never been corrected though, and Casper retains its spelling error to this day.

Scranton, Pennsylvania

Once called: Unionville, Slocum Hollow, Harrison, Scrantonia


The area that became the city of Scranton was initially inhabited by Native American tribes, the Lenape and the Capoose. It wasn’t until the mid-18th century that white settlers from Europe and America first arrived, and they only began to put down roots there from 1788 onwards.

The first settlement established by these white settlers — who constructed a sawmill, gristmill, and charcoal furnace along the Lackawanna River — was named Deep Hollow. Several new names were then used for the township, including Unionville, Slocum Hollow, Harrison, and Scrantonia. Finally in 1851 Scranton was settled on, so-named after brothers Selden and George W. Scranton, iron and coal company proprietors who had done much to develop the area. The town of Scranton was incorporated in 1866.

Bend, Oregon

Once called: Farewell Bend


Prior to the arrival of white settlers, Native American tribes the Wana Łama, the Wasq’u, and the Northern Paiute lived on the land that is now Bend, Oregon. This long-standing occupation was ended for good in the mid-19th century by the influx of pioneers.

In 1855 a series of treaties were signed between the Native Americans and the settlers, led by Joel Palmer, the Oregon Territory’s superintendent. These effectively relocated the indigenous inhabitants away from most of the millions of acres of land they had once called their own and pushed them onto a much smaller reservation called Warm Springs. It was in 1877 that a claim was made to set up Farewell Bend, a ranch that gave the settlement its first name. In 1886 that was altered to just Bend, the result of a successful application for a post office for the township.

Helena, Montana

Once called: Crabtown


The beguiling Helena is the state capital of Montana. But that pretty name was not immediately bestowed upon the city. No, originally, the so-called “Four Georgians” — a quartet of gold prospectors who had founded the settlement there — had called it Crabtown after one of their number, John Crab.

Eventually, those living and working there decided that this terrible name should be changed. A debate was called, at which names including Pumpkinville and Squashtown were reportedly suggested. Then, John Somerville spoke up: he proposed Helena after the Minnesota town of his birth. The name was agreed by the residents — minus the Saint — and on October 30, 1864, the city of Helena, Montana, was formally established.

Sparks, Nevada

Once called: East Reno, Glendale, Harriman


Sparks is the ninth-biggest city in Nevada by population. But the town, which was first incorporated on March 15, 1905, used to go by a number of different names. Yes, settlements in the area of modern-day Sparks were at various points known as Glendale, East Reno, and Harriman.

Then in 1904 during the governorship of John Sparks the population approved renaming the city after him. The cattleman-turned-Governor was obviously pleased about this: he duly threw a massive barbecue at his Alamo Ranch and invited every inhabitant to attend!