Why is Köln called Cologne?

Have you ever wondered how place names came to be so different, depending on the language? Paris is still Paris in French or English, although the Italians prefer to call it Parigi. We get the Italians back, though, by calling Firenze Florence. It doesn’t even sound the same! But it does offer a clue as to what’s going on. Firenze, formerly Fiorenza, comes from the same word, flower, as the name Florence.

But when it comes to alternate naming, Germany wins some kind of prize, I think. Even the name of the country is variously given as Allemagne, Deutschland, and Germany. In Estonian, Germany is Saksamaa, and in Hungary it goes by Németország, but if I start throwing around Hungarian we’ll be here all day. And how do I know, you may well ask, the Estonian and Hungarian words for Germany? Because I was lucky enough to come across a multilingual map of Europe and European exonyms. With it you can see what Europe looks like to a Hungarian, but perhaps most intriguing, you can make it so that each country displays its own preferred local name in the appropriate script. Of course even this doesn’t help the Swiss much, who still need all four labels Svizra, Schweiz, Svizzera, and Suisse. Sheesh. What would a similar map of India look like?

I learned about all this from a good post on Geoff Cohen’s Coherence Engine blog. Geoff took a stab at making his own Real Map of Europe before somebody pointed him to the much slicker site described above.

Finally, why is Köln commonly called Cologne outside of Germany? I once had an argument with a German person who blamed this sad fact on post-WWII American hegemony. She was unconvinced when I pointed out that Cologne is a French name that’s been around since before 1945. Still, I was curious. I found a dandy page from a genealogy site that explains it all. Like Firenze (and so much of Europe) both names spring from the same Latin root name, in this case Colonia Agrippina (named by Emperor Claudius in honor of his good-for-nothing wife). So the word colony is the source of the name. So there you go.

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