Ambivalent Toponyms

Today Facebook suggested I play a game called Cityville, where you can “build the city of your dreams.” Presumably you have to come up with a better name for the city of your dreams than “Cityville.”

“City City” would be a terrible choice [although this guy is pretty happy with his Cityville creation, which he named “The City of Townsville”], as would “Villageville,” Homer’s app of choice:
But “Villageville” and “City City,” while stupid and redundant, would yet avoid the strange ambivalence fidgeting within “Cityville.” That is, English toponomy tends to associate (albeit weakly) different qualities with the suffixes -town, -ville, and +City.

Ville can mean village, town, or city in French, which is where we get the suffix [the French got the word from L. villa, a farm – originally it designated a suburban or country estate]. In the US, the distinction between country, town, and city is fairly strong. In the UK, villages and towns are further distinguished [with village occupying some of the space that country would in the US], while city is a legal status with a strict use (see the long OED note).

Not that Charlottesville, Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville, etc. aren’t cities, (though many of them probably didn’t start out that way) or that their names seem ill-fitting because of this. Only that the name Cityville seems to be both self-reflexively redundant [the point of the Simpsons spoof] and oddly at odds with itself, with “City” pulling in one direction and “-ville” in another.

Perhaps because I live a few blocks from Avenue Road in Toronto, I’m somewhat sensitive to this weird kind of doubling up. That is, I know that all avenues are roads, and that some roads are avenues, but it produces an odd effect to name a road “Avenue,” and then to designate it as a +Rd, as opposed to a +Ave. But Avenue Avenue would hardly have been better [and disastrous to the name of the current “The Avenue Road Avenue Study“].

Naturally I wondered what other similar acts of self-reflexive, redundant or (or and/or) ambivalent place naming had been committed. LL found “City of Jersey City”. Here’s a few others I’ve managed to wrangle:


  • I believe they run a whole Ville RTS franchise that is meant to reengage players who enjoyed the real time simulation of their first game, FarmVille. CastleVille and CoasterVille make even less sense.

  • D-AW wrote:

    Awesome – from Farmville (etymologically = “FarmFarm”) to Cityville (currently = “CityCity”).

  • Katie wrote:

    With a slightly different but nicely nested kind of redundancy, Los Angeles offers ‘The La Brea Tar Pits’, and (not a toponym, but an extreme example of the form), the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim).

  • D-AW wrote:

    Sports team names appear to be particularly prone to that kind of redundancy: cf. Philadelphia Phillies, Indianapolis Indians. From what wiki tells me, the Phoenix Firebirds and St Paul Saints have also existed. Then there’s the nationally or regionally trusitic team name variety, e.g. Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, New York Yankees, Rochester Americans, etc..
    What would the name of the Cityville franchise be?

  • D-AW wrote:

    The Cityville Urbs?

  • D-AW wrote:

    via @rodney_breen:

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