Welcome to London. Bienvenido a Londres. Benvenuto a Londra. Three different names for three different languages. Why does culture impose a change of name when it comes to translating names of countries and cities. Another more relevant example is that of Deutschland: ”þeudō” meant “people” in Common Germanic, so “Þeodisk” means “belonging to the people“; Germany is therefore “the land belonging to the people“. Yet the English call the country “Germany” and same applies for Italians with the term “Germania“: the name is simply the name the romans used to indicate the land inhabited by Germanic people. How about the Spanish and the French calling Germany “Alemania” and “Allemagne“? It apparently means “Foreign men“. These are legitimate questions to which etymology and history can give quite an accurate response. It is not a cultural statement, it is simply the result of invasions, war, language changes that occurred through the centuries.
What this post wanted to highlight, though, was to see how different names for cities came about. Is it the same process we’ve just presented in the examples above? Yes and no. For instance, if we follow the same process of analysis, we will find out that Paris was once called “Lutetia Parisiorum” and no hint is here available for us to understand why, for example, in Italian the french capital is called “Parigi“. Where does the “g” comes from and why is it not “Parisi” or “Parisia” then? Translating city names is a legacy of the past in Europe (some countries in particular). There is no valid etymological explanation as to why “Parigi” is Paris’s name in Italian or “Londres” is London’s name for the Spanish, but it all comes down to someone starting to name cities this way. The answer may be found in a manual, some old book from the Middle Ages or other periods in the history of time.
But one thing is for sure. This trend has now stopped. “New York” is today barely translated as “Nuova York” in Italian, although this attitude is still present in Spanish speaking countries (“Nueva York“, in this specific case). But a more subtle analysis will have to be taken into account: is it not a sort of linguistic protectionism to make the name of a foreign city one you would see as a more familiar one? Is it not a sort of linguistic conquest?