Shikaakwa, al-Qāhira and Guichéng?

What do these three have in common? Any ideas?

Here’s a hint: they are NOT the secret ingredients of an international stew served at United Nations banquets. Shikaakwa, al-Qāhira and Guichéng are the original names of cities that start with the letter C in English.

Welcome to Part III of my alphabetical series on the origins of city names, in which I provide readers with a handy overview based on (possibly inaccurate) information copied from all corners of the web.

I’m proud to say that I’ve visited four of the cities on the list (Cardiff, Cape Town, Chicago and Copenhagen), and that I’ve previously blogged about no fewer than five of them (Calgary, Cape Town, Chicago, Copenhagen and Curacao). Hooray for me! I’ll be limiting myself to KLM destinations starting with C, but if you live in some other C-town, I look forward to reading about the origins of your city’s name. Here goes:

Cairo: One source says the Egyptian capital’s name derives from the Arabic “al-Qāhira”, which means “The Vanquisher” or “The Conqueror”. Another suggests that the name derives from “khere-ohe” (“place of combat”), referring to a battle between the gods Seth and Horus that is said to have taken place here.

Calgary: This Canadian city was named in 1876 by Colonel James F. Macleod, whose relatives owned a small castle on Calgary Bay on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. Apparently, the name derives either from the Gaelic words “caladh” and “garaidh”, meaning “the haven by the dyke”, or from the Old Scandinavian “Kali” and “geiri”, meaning “Kali’s triangular plot of land”.

Cape Town: This city on the southern tip of Africa was named “Kaapstad” by the first Dutch settlers. It is a town situated near a cape, which means the name will forever remain testimony to the immense lack of creativity of our Dutch forefathers.

Cardiff: The Welsh capital is known locally as “Caerdydd” (previously “Caerdyf”). The name probably refers to the original Roman fort (“caer”) and the river Taff (“dyf”) on which Cardiff Castle stands.

Chengdu: The capital of China’s Sichuan province has had various names and nicknames over the centuries. Chengdu literally means “become the capital” (possibly the work of a very tired civil servant). Fortunately, the city’s nicknames are more colourful: Róngchéng (“The City of Hibiscus”), Jinchéng (“The Brocade City”) and Guichéng (“The Turtle City”).

Chicago:  This American city derives its names from the “stinky onion” plants that were once common along the Chicago River. The Miami-Illinois people referred to these plants as “Shikaakwa”. At least, that’s what the first French settlers heard.

Cologne: This German city owes its name to the original Roman settlement at Köln: “Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium”. Understandably, this was soon abbreviated to colōnia (“colony”), which means we’ve been sprinkling “water from the colonies” (eau de cologne) on ourselves for centuries.

Copenhagen: The Danish capital is actually called “København”, which derives from the Danish words for merchant (“køber”) and harbour (“havn”). The Danish are clearly on par with the Dutch in adopting a pragmatic approach when naming their cities.

Curacao: This Caribbean island’s name derives from the Portuguese word “curação”, which means “medical cure”. According to my wife, it is indeed a cure-all for the world-weary globetrotter.

So, that wraps up the C-towns. Feel free to add your own below. My son suggested “Colorado” this morning, which just goes to show that he has inherited his father’s talent for geography.