Town names

I was in Paris part of this week-end, where I had planned to attend the Bourbaki Seminar lecture of E. Breuillard on the recent works of Einsiedler, Lindenstraus, Michel and Venkatesh. Embarrassing scheduling mistakes on my part forced me to miss it, however, and to take an earlier train to Holland (where I am now, attending the conference on the analytic theory of automorphic forms coinciding with the 65th birthday of R. Bruggeman). Fortunately, I did manage on Saturday to pick up a copy of the physical Bourbaki report, so this was not entirely a disaster.

From Paris to Holland, I took the Thalys train, which is distinguished by having wireless on board and by quadrilingual announcements: French, because it starts from Paris and goes through parts of French-speaking Belgium, Dutch, because it crosses also Dutch-speaking Belgium and one branch reaches Holland, German, because of the other branch going to Köln, and finally English, for good measure.

In this multilingual environment, one notices that the names of a number of towns changes with the language; for instance, Köln is Cologne (famous for its eau) in French and English. The prize of variation on this trip was Liège, alias Luijk, alias Lüttich (alias Liege, if one wants to be picky). Hence the question of the day: which town has the most different names? (Say within same-alphabet countries, to avoid issues of transliteration).

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I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

8 thoughts on “Town names”

  1. I have worked in Essen and Bonn while residing in France, so the Paris/Köln Thalys has been a second home to me. The worse part for me is that with these quadrilingual announcements signaling the next station, welcoming new passengers and announcing the existence of a bar, a voice is speaking to you for a good 25% of the time of your travel.

  2. Along the same lines: Bruxelles seems to be pronounced the French way most of the time (the Belgian French pronunciation of the x is similar to the Flemish pronunciation of Bru_ss_el).
    Rijsel is not bad either…

  3. There are lots of those in parts of Eastern Europe (Old Habsburg lands, Baltics) with a multicultural history… for example Novi Sad/Újvidék város/Neusatz an der Donau/Mlada Loza or Cluj/Napoca/Klausenburg/Koloszvár/Klazin. And those are all names used by locals in the not too distant (pre-WW I) past.

    And then of course many cities of importance have long had their own names in many languages, like Genoa/Genova/Zena/Gênes/Genua/Janov or Venice/Venise/Venezia/Benátky/Venedig/Venediku.

  4. The following is not a city name, but just a word which has really different-sounding translations (it’s remarkable that even related languages have so different words for it, I think):

    butterfly (english)
    schmetterling (german)
    vlinder (dutch)
    fjärilar (swedish)
    sommarfuglar (norwegian)
    papillon (french)
    farfalla (italian)
    mariposa (spanish)
    borboleta (portuguese)

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