Here’s How These 4 Indian Metro Cities Were Named

Ever wondered why Kolkata was named Kolkata? Or Mumbai as Mumbai? Your questions about etymology are answered right here.

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Here’s how the names were given:


Photo: Dr PS Sahana * Kadamtala Howrah via / CC BY

There are number of legends that explain the reasons of etmylogy behind the name ‘Delhi.’ Three out of those are very popular. One says that Delhi (Dilli) was named after Raja Dhilu (Dilu). He reigned during the first century B.C. and belonged to the Mauryan dynasty. The second explanation says that Delhi was named after the Hindi word ‘dehleez’ which translates into ‘entrance’. Historians believe that this entrance could be the entrance to the Indo-Gangetic plain during the ancient times.

The third explanation says that Delhiwals was the name of the coins used during the reign of the Tomars in the area and that is how the Delhi came into existence.


Initially known as Bombay (called Bom Bahia – meaning good bay by the Portuguese) the city was renamed to Mumbai in 1995.

The Shiv Sena played an active role in changing the name to Mumbai from Bombay.

Mumbai originates from the words Mumba or Maha-Amba—the name of goddess (Kuladevi) Mumbadevi of the native Agri, Koli and Somvanshi Kshatriya communities residing in the city.


Photo: Smeet Chowdhury via Visual hunt / CC BY

Before being renamed to Kolkata, the city was known as Calcutta. There are several explanations to the name ‘Kolkata’. Firstly,  one theory says it is derived from two words ‘kali’ and ‘kata’. The place was known for it’s manufacture of shell-lime. Kali means lime and kata means burnt-shell. Secondly, as per various historical sources like Akbar’s rent roll the city was originally called as ‘Kolikatta’ – it is believed that Calcutta/Kolkata was derived from this.

As per Wikipedia, there is an interesting theory to this name. It states, “a British merchant was traveling through the village, when he came upon a peasant stacking hay into the barn. Not knowing where he was, the merchant asked the peasant about that place. The peasant, unfortunately did not understand English, and he guessed that the Sahib must be inquiring about the date the crop was harvested. In his own language, he replied “K?l K??a” which in Bengali language means “harvested yesterday” (Kal – Yesterday, K??a – cut, which here means harvested). The merchant was happy in the knowledge that he had learned about the name of the place, and left the place. Following English transcription, “K?l K??a” became “Calcutta”.


Renamed from Madras to Chennai in 1996, Madras is said to have originated from a Portuguese phrase ‘mae de deus’ which means ‘mother of God.’ According to some sources, Madras was derived from Madraspattinam, a fishing-village north of Fort St George. A Vijayanagar-era inscription dated to the year 1367 mentions the port of Maadarasanpattanam, which could have been the origin of the name ‘Madras’.

The name Chennai has one clear explanation. It is derived from the name of a general, ‘Damarla Chennapa Nayakudu’ who served in the Vijayanagar empire. The first use of ‘Chennai’ is said to be in August, 1639 in a sale deed to East India Company.

Heer Khant
Heer Khant

Traveller | Writer | Photographer | Maverick | Social Worker | Lawyer | A freedom-loving woman for whom words are like wings to her soul. She believes in aliens, hates boundaries and lives like the first human on Earth.

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