There are many places worldwide bearing names of Greek origin, either because of their historical links to Greece -as in the case of cities founded as Greek colonies in the antiquity- or as a result of deliberate choice by philhellenes wishing to pay tribute to the spirit of Hellenism; we recently published an article featuring some examples of country names you probably didn’t know come from Greek, followed by another one on international city names of Greek origin.
There is probably no other country, outside of Greece and Cyprus, with quite as many place names of Greek origin as the United States of America. Given that, in the New World, many cities and towns were established in relatively recent times, the founders were free to choose a name of their preference; sometimes these names would be chosen by the authorities (as in the case of the Central New York Military Tract) and others by the citizens themselves, often through vote.
Especially after the American Revolution, Greek -and also Roman- names were very often chosen either because the cities’ founders were admirers of classical antiquity (a strong trend throughout the West in the 18th and 19th centuries), or to draw a direct connection between the new American republic and the values of the Roman Republic and, of course, Athenian democracy, as well as Greek philosophy and culture in general.
Below is an extensive, though not exhaustive, list of names of Greek origin given to cities, towns, villages and communities in the USA; some information about the names’ etymology and history is also provided, wherever possible. This first installment features places from A through H, while the rest will be included in Part 2.
In Greek mythology, Adonis was a young man renowned for his beauty, and a lover of goddess Aphrodite. His name is probably derived from the Canaanite word ʼadōn, meaning “lord”. There are two unincorporated communities in the USA named after Adonis, in Missouri and West Virginia.
There are four communities called Ajax in the USA (e.g. in South Dakota), directly or indirectly named after Ajax, a mythological hero portrayed as a towering figure and a warrior of great courage in Homer‘s Iliad. His given name is derived from the root of the Ancient Greek verb aiazo “to lament”, thus translating to “one who laments, mourner”, and it is fitting for his tragic fate recounted in Sophocles‘ Ajax.
Panorama of Akron, Ohio (via Wikimedia Commons)
The city of Akron in Ohio, and also the one in New York, take their name from the Greek word akron signifying a summit or high point, in keeping with the Connecticut Western Reserve settlers’ tradition. There are several other towns of this name in various states, mostly named after Akron, Ohio.
There are numerous cities, towns, townships, villages and settlements named Alexandria in the USA (e.g. in Louisiana, Virginia, New York and Indiana). They are named after Alexandria in Egypt, the most renowned among the cities founded by (and named after) Alexander the Great (you can read more about it in our previous feature on international Greek-named cities).
Annapolis, Indianapolis, Minneapolis
These are just a few examples of American cities formed with the use of the suffix –polis, an equivalent of the Old English –burgh and the French –ville, from the Greek word polis meaning “city, town”.
Antioch in California, along with a number of unincorporated communities throughout the USA, is named after Antioch on the Orontes, an ancient Greek city in the territory of modern-day Turkey; Antioch (Antiochia in Greek) had been founded near the end of the fourth century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, who named it to honor his father, Antiochus.
The name Antiochus probably derives from the word ochos, “burden”, and might have meant “adversary” or, more probably, “resistant”. Antioch had later come to be thought as “the cradle of Christianity” as a result of its longevity and the pivotal role that it played in the emergence of both Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity; its name was therefore chosen by many American settlers to signal piety.
Apollo is a borough in Pennsylvania bearing the name of the Greek god of the sun and light, music and poetry, prophecy and healing. The etymology of the name is uncertain, and there have been various suggestions as to its origins, including a family-festival called apellai as well as the verb apollymi “to destroy”.
There are around 25 cities, towns, villages and unincorporated communities in the USA called Arcadia (e.g. in California and New York). Arcadia is a region in the Peloponnese which dates to antiquity; considered the mythical land of god Pan, Arcadia has come to symbolize an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness, celebrated as a pastoral utopia in Greek and Roman bucolic poetry and in the literature of the Renaissance. Its name is of uncertain origins; it might derive from the word arktos “bear”. According to the myth, it was named after Arcas, a hunter who became its king.
Argos is a town in Indiana; it was named after the city of Argos in the Peloponnese, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; in his epic poems, Homer used the term Argives to refer not only to the inhabitants of Argos, but to all Greeks. The origin of the ancient city’s name is uncertain, with one theory linking it to the word agros, “field”.
Two unincorporated communities -in California and Pennsylvania– are called Argus in the USA. Argus is the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek word Argos, the name of several mythological characters, the most famous of which is probably Argus Panoptes, a many-eyed giant (the epithet panoptes means “all-seeing”).
Arion is a city in Iowa, named for Arion, an ancient Greek poet and kitharode, credited with inventing the dithyramb and first introducing the drama [i.e. action] of tragedy. According to Herodotus, his song and music is said to have once attracted dolphins, which saved his life when he had to jump into the sea, threatened by pirates. The name’s etymology is unknown.
There are over 20 cities, towns, communities and villages named Athens in various states throughout the USA; some of the largest ones include Athens in Georgia, Ohio, Alabama and Tennessee. Athens is the capital of the Modern Greek state, while Classical Athens is celebrated as the cradle of Western civilization, the birthplace of democracy, philosophy and theater.
The root of the Greek word for Athens, Athina, is possibly a remnant of the Pre-Greek substrate of Attica. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, handicraft, and warfare, is believed to have taken her name from Athens, of which she was the patron goddess. The city of Athena in Oregon has in turn been named after the Greek goddess.
The name of Georgia’s capital derives from that of the Western and Atlantic Railroad‘s local depot; the Atlantic Ocean’s name comes from the Titan Atlas in Greek mythology (see below) who appeared as a frontispiece in Medieval maps and also lent his name to modern atlases. There are also several other cities, towns and unincorporated communities in the USA called Atlanta after the capital of Georgia.
There are a few communities in the USA named Atlas; in Greek mythology, Atlas was the Titan who supported the celestial heavens for eternity after the Titanomachy; according to the poet Hesiod, Atlas stood at the ends of the earth in extreme west. The name’s etymology is uncertain; traditionally historical linguists etymologize the word as comprised from copulative a- and the Proto-Indo-European root *telh₂- “to uphold, support”, while others argue that it is of Pre-Greek origin.
Among several towns and communities called Attica the most widely known is the town in the state of New York where Attica Correctional Facility is located. Attica is an historical region -as well as a modern administrative region- of Greece that encompasses the entire metropolitan area of Athens. The name’s origins are uncertain and various theories have been proposed as to its meaning.
The cities of Berea in Ohio and Kentucky are the most famous of about a dozen cities and communities with this name in the USA; virtually all of them owe their name to a passage from the Bible. Αccording to Acts of the Apostles 17:10–15, Paul the Apostle preached the Christian gospel to the Jewish community in the Greek city of Berea (now usually spelled Veria) in central Macedonia, and was welcomed with great acceptance and “with all readiness of mind”. Berea has thus come to be associated with a willing reception of the Word of God.
The Ancient Greek city is reputed to have been named by its mythical creator Beres (also spelled Pheres) or from the daughter of the king of Berea who was thought to be the son of Macedon. The word’s actual etymology is uncertain and subject to debate; some scholars have speculated it originates from the verb phero “to bear, carry”.
Calypso is the name of a town in North Carolina; in Greek mythology, Calypso was a nymph who lived on the island of Ogygia, where, according to the Odyssey, she detained Odysseus for seven years. Her name derives from kalypto, meaning “to cover”, “to conceal”, “to hide”, or “to deceive”.
There are five cities or towns called Clio in the USA, and also one community named Clyo in Georgia. They are named after the muse of history in Greek mythology, referred to as “the proclaimer, glorifier and celebrator of history, great deeds and accomplishments”. Her name –Kleio in Greek- is etymologically derived from the Greek root kleo/kleio, meaning “to recount,” “to make famous,” or “to celebrate” someone.
Corfu is a village in New York, while there is also a community of the same name in Washington; they are named after Corfu, the second largest of the Ionian Islands. The name Corfù, an Italian version of the Byzantine Korypho, meaning “city of the peaks”, derives from the Byzantine Greek Koryphai “crests or peaks”, denoting the two peaks of a Venetian fortress in the city of Corfu. The island’s current name in Greek is Kerkyra, supposedly from the name of the nymph Korkyra.
There are over 35 unincorporated communities called Corinth in various states, especially in the Southern and East, as well as a few cities (e. g. in Texas and Mississippi) and also some ghost towns. They are predominantly named after the ancient city-state of Corinth, after which the modern city of Corinth in the Peloponnese is also named. Due to its strategic position on the Isthmus of Corinth, the city used to be a major commercial center of the antiquity.
Corinth is also well known from the Bible, as part of Paul the Apostle‘s missionary travels, and especially from his two letters, known as the Epistles to the Corinthians. The city’s name is of uncertain origin, probably pre-Hellenic.
There are cities and villages called Crete in Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana, although they are supposedly not all named after the famous Greek island where the Minoan civilization flourished in the Bronze Age. The island’s name is first referenced in 18th century BC texts from the Syrian city of Mari as Kaptara. The current name “Crete” is first attested in the 15th century BC in Mycenaean Greek texts, written in Linear B, through the word for its inhabitants, while the name itself (Kriti) first appears in Homer’s Odyssey.
Damon is a Greek given name, mostly linked with the legend of Damon and Pythias which illustrates the Pythagorean ideal of friendship. It may be derived from the verb damazo “to tame”, or from damos, the Doric form of demos “the people”. There are three communities with this name in the USA e.g. in Texas.
Daphne is a city in Alabama; in Greek mythology, Daphne was a nymph who transformed into a laurel tree to avoid the unwanted advances of the god Apollo. Her name means “laurel” in Greek, and the plant is named after, her according to the legend. This myth was made famous through Bernini’s celebrated statue of the 17th century as well as many other artistic depictions of the story.
The city of Delphi in Indiana took its name from the ancient city of Delphi where the famed Temple of Apollo was located; the temple’s high priestess was the Oracle of Delphi known as Pythia, whose prophecies were said to be inspired by the god Apollo himself. The ancient Greeks considered the center of the world to be in Delphi, marked by the stone monument known as the omphalos (navel). There are various theories regarding the origins of the site’s name, including the ancient Greek word delphys “womb” and Delphinios or Delphidios, one of Apollo’s epithets which indicated that he could be transformed into a dolphin.
Demopolis is a city in Alabama, founded after the fall of Napoleon’s Empire and named by a group of French expatriates who had settled in the United States after the overthrow of the colonial government in Saint-Domingue following the failed Saint-Domingue expedition. The name, meaning in Greek “the People’s City” or “City of the People” (from Ancient Greek demos “the common people, free citizens” and polis “city”), was chosen to honor the democratic ideals behind the endeavor.
There are about a dozen towns and communities called Echo in the USA, mostly named due to the occurrence of reverberating sounds in their respective locations. Echo derives from the Greek ἠχώ (ēchō), itself from ἦχος (ēchos), “sound”. In Greek mythology, Echo was the name of a mountain nymph.
There is a village named Eolia in Missouri, as well as a community in Kentucky; although Eolia or Aeolia is in itself the name of two Ancient Greek regions (the region of modern Thessaly in Greece as well as a large part of Asia Minor), Eolia in Missouri has been named for Aeolus, the Keeper of Winds in Greek mythology. As an adjective, the Ancient Greek word aiolos meant “swift”, “changeful” and “shifting”.
Ephesus in the state of Georgia has taken its name from the Ancient Greek city of Ephesus situated on the coast of Ionia, in modern-day Turkey, built in the 10th century BC by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists. A major center of commerce in Roman times, it became especially famous for the nearby Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, while it also evolved into one of the early centers of Christianity. The Greek name Ephesos may ultimately derive from Hittite Apasa.
The town of Eros in Louisiana is named after the 433 Eros Asteroid; the minor planet had been named after the ancient Greek god of love and desire, son of gods Aphrodite and Ares. Eros’ Roman counterpart was Cupid. His name is the Greek word for romantic love, and is the root of the word “erotic”.
The city of Euclid in Ohio is named after the famous Greek mathematician from Alexandria often referred to as the “father of geometry”. Euclid is the anglicized version of the Greek name Euklidis, derived from eu “well” and kleos “fame”, and thus meaning “renowned, glorious”.
Eureka is a famous exclamation attributed to Ancient Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes, who is supposed to have shouted it out after he had stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose, thus suddenly realizing that the volume of water displaced must have been equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. This eventually led to the formulation of Archimedes’ principle.
Eureka (εὕρηκα eúrēka in Greek) simply means “I have found (it)”; it is the first person singular perfect indicative active of the verb heurískō “to find”. It has come to be used as an interjection to celebrate a discovery or invention. The expression is also the state motto of California, referring to the momentous discovery of gold in the state. California is also the location of the largest US city named Eureka, while there over twenty more cities, towns and unincorporated communities in the USA named after the expression.
The town of Greece in the state of New York was established on March 22, 1822, a year after the start of the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire. Its name was chosen because of the then-current wave of sympathy toward the Greeks and their fight.
The English names “Greece” and “Greek” are considered an exonym by Greeks themselves, since in Greek they instead use Hellas, Hellene and Hellenic. “Greece” is however derived, via the Latin Graecia and Graecus, from the name of the Graeci (Graikoí), who were among the first ancient Greek tribes to settle Magna Graecia in southern Italy.
According to the Parian Chronicle, as well as other ancient sources, Hellenes as a nation were initially called Graikoí. The term is of unknown etymology; according to one theory, it is ultimately derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *ǵerh₂-, “to grow old”. In Greek mythology, Graecus was the son of Pandora II and Zeus.
Halcyon is the name of two unincorporated communities, the most well-known of which is in California. In Greek mythology, Alcyone was the daughter of King Aeolus and later queen of Trachis; she and her husband were transformed into birds by the gods when they died together. These birds are the common kingfishers, known in Greek as “halcyon birds”; “halcyon days“, a period of calm during the winter, are named after the birds because, according to the myth, King Aeolus restrained his winds temporarily so that his bird-daughter could lay her eggs. The roots of the name Alcyone/Halcyon are unknown, possibly coming from Pre-Greek.
Hector was a Trojan prince, champion of Troy and one of the central characters in Homer’s Iliad. His name is a derivative of the verb ekhein (archaic form hekhein) meaning “to have, to hold”; Héktōr, or Éktōr as found in Aeolic poetry, is also an epithet of Zeus in his capacity as “he who holds [everything together]”. Hector’s name could thus be taken to mean “holding fast”. There are five cities and towns with this name in the USA, all of which have however been named after local personalities, and not directly after the mythological figure.
The state capital of Montana, founded as a gold camp during the gold rush, was named after the Helena Township in Minnesota, which in turn had been named for the famed Helen of Troy; there are also some small towns and communities with the name Helen in the USA. Helen is the English version of the Greek name Eleni, which is of uncertain etymology.
Hercules is the name of a small town in California and a community in Missouri; Hercules is the Roman adaptation of the most famous Greek mythological hero, Heracles, son of Zeus, renowned for carrying out the “Twelve Labours“. Heracles derives from the name of the Greek goddess Hera and the word kleos “glory”.
Hesperia in California is named after Hesperus, the personification of the Evening Star (the planet Venus). The Greek adjective hesperos meant “western” as well as “(of the) evening”, since the sun sets in the West.
Homer was the legendary author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems that are the central works of Ancient Greek literature and have had a lasting influence on Western literature as a whole. His name is of unknown etymological origin, around which many theories were erected in antiquity. One such linkage was to the Greek hómēros, “hostage” (or “surety”).
There are over a dozen cities, towns and unincorporated communities called Homer in the USA (e.g. in Louisiana, Nebraska and New York); some of them are directly named after the legendary poet, while others take their names from important local figures called Homer.
Nefeli Mosaidi (Source: Wikipedia)
Read also via Greek News Agenda: USA city names of Greek origin – Part 2; International city names of Greek origin; Country names of Greek origin; Vassilis Papadopoulos on the lasting influence of the Greek language; Reading Greece: A.E. Stallings on Greek Mythology as a Source of Inspiration and the Greek Language as a Landscape in Poetry