There are a lot of places around the world that used to be called something else, which is to be expected considering a long history of colonization and change in rule. Even the largest city in the U.S. wasn’t always “New York.” Without any further ado, here are five cities that used to be called something else.

Ho Chi Minh City

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Formerly Saigon, this Vietnamese city is today the country’s financial center and most visited place. Long story short, the city in South Vietnam was named after the first leader of North Vietnam after Saigon fell and the country was established as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976. Ho Chi Minh, though dead by the Fall of Saigon, was instrumental in the country’s reunification. Still often referred to as Saigon, the city actually went by several different names in its long history, including Prey Nokor during the Khmer Empire.


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Founded under the name Panyu in 214 BCE, modern day Guangzhou, China, was renamed about 400 years after, when it became the capital of the Guang prefecture (Guangzhou literally means Guang prefecture). Then, by the 1500s, Portugal established a trading monopoly in the province and renamed it to Canton, which is believed to have been a European phonetic mispronunciation of Guangzhou (Guangdong in westernized form). While it was never officially Canton, Guangzhou was formally adopted as the name by the city in 1918.


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Mumbai actually used to be called Mumbai. Wait – let us explain. Today, the city in India is known as Mumbai, which it was known as in the Middle Ages after being called Kakamuchee and Galajunkja in ancient times. But for many years, it was known as Bombay. Nobody is exactly sure why, but it’s seen as an English corruption of “Mumbai,” a name derived from the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi.

However, the city was ruled by Portugal from 1535-1661, and may have come from the Portuguese phrase “bom baim,” meaning “good little bay.” To that point, there had been numerous ways to spell Bombay (Bombain, Bombaym, Monbaym, Boon Bay, and others). Britain took over in 1661 and it was Bombay. India finally achieved independence from the British Empire in 1947, and the city was finally renamed Mumbai in 1995.


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As an ancient city, Istanbul has understandably gone through numerous name changes. Most notably, it had been called Byzantium, Constantinople, and Stamboul. It became Istanbul in 1453, the third and final capital of the Ottoman Empire after Constantinople was conquered.

New York City

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Before it was New York, it was New Amsterdam, a 17th century Dutch settlement at the tip of current-day Manhattan. It served as the seat of the colonial government in New Netherland. It had a population of 1,500 in 1655 and 2,500 by 1664. It was taken over by the English in 1664 and renamed New York after the Duke of York. Now, it’s a world city and the biggest in the United States, having grown to a population of 8.6 million and counting.