Monthly Archives: February 2010

Cortina d'Ampezzo

Cortina d'Ampezzo Centre

Photo by Leo-setä (flickr)

Cortina d’Ampezzo, an Italian city surrounded by the Dolomite mountains, hosted the 1956 Winter Olympic Games. Because of its location, Cortina d’Ampezzo has been part of both Austria and Italy, but since the end of the first world war it has been part of Italy.

So, how did Cortina d’Ampezzo come to be called Cortina d’Ampezzo? That is difficult information to find if you don’t speak or read Italian – there’s a whole section on the origin of the name on Italian Wikipedia. I, however, don’t speak or read Italian, so I had to look elsewhere.

The name Cortina d’Ampezzo has two parts, and, at least according to Placenames of the World, the first part, Cortina, means “little court,” cortina being the diminutive of corte, the word for “court.” Some places seem to suggest that there may be a small fence or curtain involved, but that may simply be a result in translation errors. And for the second part of the name, Ampezzo, Cortina d’Ampezzo is in the Ampezzo valley, (hence the d’ part of the name, in English we would say “Cortina of Ampezzo”), and Ampezzo comes from the Italian in pezzo meaning “piece of land.”

Squaw Valley

Squaw Valley under a blanket of snow on Christmas Weekend 2006

Photo by via flickr

The smallest place in the world to ever host the Olympic Games, Squaw Valley is actually a ski resort, not a town, however because the resort is so popular, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot else in the area, the whole community is known as Squaw Valley, (the official name is Olympic Valley, California). Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1960.

So, how did Squaw Valley come to be called Squaw Valley? Much like Lake Placid we’re not 100% sure, but we do know a little more about Squaw Valley. According to Historical Notes by Hal V. Hall:

Before the white settlers migrated and established their homes and way of life in the valley. During late summer and early autumn, prior to the migration of the abundant deer herds and before the winter snows, it was the ancient custom of the Washoe men, the hunters of their tribe, to harvest winter food with an annual hunt in the high ridges radiating from the Squaw Pass area. While the men were thus engaged, the Squaw camp remained in the valley. The first white men to visit Squaw Valley found it occupied by a camp of “squaws” and children, engaged in food gathering.

So, when the first white men came to Squaw Valley, they found the valley occupied by only “squaws,” (at the time, “squaw” simply meant “native woman”), and their children, and, we assume, called the valley Squaw Valley. We need to speak about the word Squaw. It comes from the Algonquian family of languages and translates roughly to “woman” in english. Its origins are not derogatory at all, but unfortunately it has come to be viewed as a derogatory term by many. To learn more about the history of the word I highly recommend reading Reclaiming the Word “Squaw” in the Name of the Ancestors by Marge Bruchac.

So, to recap, when white people first came to Squaw Valley, the only native people they found were women. Since, the word that was being used by white people at the time for native women was squaw, the valley was named Squaw Valley, and the word Squaw is borrowed from the Algonquian languages, and means, roughly, “woman.”

Special thanks to Katherine at Squaw Valley USA for filling me on on some historical details of Squaw Valley.


Photo of the river in Grenoble, France.

Photo by Lady_Elixir (flickr)

Host of the 1968 Winter Olympic Games, Grenoble, France, is situated at the foot of the alps and the junction of the Drac and Isère rivers.

To find the origins of the name Grenoble, we have to cast our gaze back through history. Grenoble is derived from the name Gratianopolis, latin for City of Gratian. The name Gratianopolis was bestowed upon Grenoble in the year 381 after the Roman Emperor Gratian visited the city and was pleased by the welcome he received from the people, (Gratianopolis was originally founded as Cularo in 43 BC).

So, if Grenoble comes from the name Gratianopolis, then we need to find out where the name Gratian comes from. Gratian, (or Gratianus in Latin), simply means Grace, so, we could say that Grenoble is the City of Grace.


A photo of a huge snow sculpture of a palace.

Photo by Christopher Chan (flickr)

Sapporo, Japan, hosted the 1972 Winter Olympic Games, the first winter games ever held in Asia. Many of us know the Sapporo brand of beer, which comes from the city of Sapporo, but how did the city get its name?

Sapporo is in a Ishikari Plain, a wide flat plain in an otherwise mountainous region. Before the city was established the Ainu people lived there, and when the city was created the name was taken from the Ainu phrase sat poro petsu, which translates roughly to “dry, great river.”

Not only did Sapporo host the winter olympics, but it is also home to the yearly Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan’s largest winter events, featuring amazing snow and ice sculptures.


Buildings along the river, Innsbruck, Austria

Photo by Leo-setä (flickr)

Innsbruck, Austria, host of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympic Games has a fairly straightforward name. You see, there’s a river, the river Inn, and there’s a bridge over the river. In Austria they speak German, and the German word for bridge is brücke, so, Innsbruck means, simply “Bridge over the Inn.”

Innsbruck is at an historically important crossing point for the river Inn, it is the easiest way across the Alps by land, (these days an airplane is pretty easy too). In Roman times it was called Oeni Pontum which is Latin for Inn, (Oeni), bridge, (pontum), so, it seems that Innsbruck has always been called Innsbruck, at least in whatever language was being used at the moment.

Lake Placid

Photo by Cliff (flickr)

Lake Placid, NY, hosted both the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. It is not only the home of the Miracle on Ice but the only place in the USA to have hosted a Winter Olympics twice.

Originally, the area where modern-day Lake Placid is located was called The Plains of Abraham, (not to be confused with the Plains of Abraham in Québec). It doesn’t seem to be known who came up with this name.

Later, in 1809, the Elba Iron Works were established creating industry in the area which lead to the town’s growth, and in 1849 a post office was established with the name North Elba.

The first use of the name Lake Placid for something other than a body of water appears to be in 1878 when a second post office was established with the name Lake Placid, and in 1900 the village of Lake Placid was incorporated.

Where does the name Lake Placid come from? It comes from the nearby lake, Lake Placid. And why is Lake Placid, the lake, called Lake Placid? I don’t know. The first mention of Lake Placid is on a map of Township 11, Old Military Track prepared by Stephen Thorn, State Surveyor, in 1804. At the time there were already settlers living in the area and we must assume that it was some of the first settlers in the area that named the lake. It seems that the name of the person who first named Lake Placid is lost to time, but we can guess that the lake is named for being a quiet and peaceful place.

For those of you hockey fans, here’s the last few minutes of the Miracle on Ice for you:

Thanks to Beverley P. Reid, Historian of the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society for her help in finding some of the information here, especially the origins of the name of the lake Lake Placid.


An old Sarajevo 1984 logo.

Photo by Adam & Jessica Lofbomm

In 1984 Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympic Games. At the time Sarajevo was part of Yugoslavia, however, since the Bosnian War it has been part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Sarajevo has been inhabited since the Neolithic era, (9500 – 4500 BC), but the city of Sarajevo was founded by the Ottomans in 1461, (the exact year is not clear, but 1461 or 1462 seems to be generally used as the year of the founding of the city). The name Sarajevo comes from a contraction of the Turkish words saraj, (meaning court), and ovaši, (meaning field). Apparently there were fields to the west of the government buildings.

So, there you have it, the origin of the name Sarajevo.


A photo of the skyline of Calgary, Alberta

Photo by maureen (flickr)

Host of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, Calgary, Alberta, was founded by the North West Mounted Police as Fort Brisebois to control American whiskey traders operating in the area. In 1876 Colonel Jams Macleod changed the name to Fort Calgary, after the town of Calgary, in the Island of Mull, in Scotland, and in 1894 the city was incorporated as the City of Calgary.

So, if Calgary, AB, is named after Calgary, Mull, Scotland, then how did Calgary, Scotland get its name? It turns out that there are two possible stories, and there is some disagreement within those stories:

First Story: The name Calgary comes from two Gaelic words. In this story Calgary comes from Cala ghearraidh meanining “beach of the meadow/pasture” This makes sense since Calgary, Mull, has a meadow beside a beach. Or, the Galic words could be caladh garaidh meaning “Haven by the dyke.”

Second Story: The name Calgary comes from two Old Norse words, (vikings inhabited the region for a while). Again, there are at least two stories on the exact words and meaning of those words, they could be kalt gart meaning “cold garden” or they could be Kali geiri. Kali is a person’s name, so this means “Kali’s triangular plot of land.”

I’m not sure which story to believe, but the first story, (Gaelic names), seems to be slightly more accepted and definitely more believable than “Kali’s triangular plot of land.”


Photo of the Chateau de Conflans in Albertville at night.

Photo by alexandre74 (flickr)

Continuing on the theme of host cities of the Winter Olympic Games, today we are featuring Albertville, France.

Albertville was created in either 1836, (according to Wikipedia), or 1835, (according to Placenames Of The World), when the neighbouring villages of L’Hôpital and Conflans were combined by Charles Albert of Savoy, who, it appears, named the city after himself.


Photo of Lillehammer in winter.

Photo by Carey Akin, (flickr)

Host of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, Lillehammer, Norway, has a much easier name to track down than Nagano, Japan. According to Wikipedia Lillehammer was named after the old Hamar farm that was already there when the town was established on January 1, 1838. There was a slight problem, though, there was another town called Hamar close by, so the town became known as Lilþlæ Hamar or Litlihamarr, which means “little hamar,” and eventually that was shortened and modernized to Lillehammer.

The Lillehammer Coat of ArmsInterestingly, Lillehammer has the only coat of arms, (pictured here), with the image of a skier on it.