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 James 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.


Photo of a decorated manhole cover in Nagano
Photo by jpellgen (flickr)

Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano, Japan has a name that’s tough to track down. According to both Placenames Of The World and namelab it is derived from the Japanese words naga meaning “long” and no meaning “field.” I haven’t been to Nagano, but a quick Google Image Search reveals that the city itself does seem to be in a flat area.

Salt Lake City

Continuing continuing on with the names of winter olympic cities today we’re featuring Salt Lake City, Utah. There are no surprises here. Salt Lake City was originally called “Great Salt Lake City” after Great Salt Lake the nearby salty lake. Over time the name was shortened to Salt Lake City, and that’s what we have today.

So, how did Great Salt Lake get its name? Well, it’s big, (great), and salty, I can’t find any other mention of how it got its name, so I assume the most obvious answer is the right one.


The Coat of Arms of Turin
The Coat of Arms of Turin

While the Winter Olympics are on in Vancouver, we’ll be exploring the origins of the names of former host cities of the winter olympic games, working more or less in reverse chronological order. Today we’re looking at Turin, Italy.

Turin, (Torino in Italian), was originally founded as Taurasia byt the Taurini Gauls around 300 BC. It was destroyed by Hannibal around 218 BC but didn’t get completely wiped off of the map. Rome rebuilt Taurasia as Augusta Taurinorum in 28 BC. After the collapse of the Roman Empire Turin was occupied by various groups, then finally became part of the Duchy of Savoy at the end of the thirteenth century, when its existence became relatively peaceful.

You might be thinking that “that’s all very nice, but where did the name come from?” I was thinking that after reading a bunch of history articles. There isn’t a lot of information out there about the Taurini Gauls who founded Turin, but it appears that the is either derived from the Taurini word “thor” which means “to mount” or is named after a bull because the river Po, which Turin lies on the bank of, looked like a bull with golden horns to the first inhabitants of the area. Apparently the modern Italian name of the city, “Torino” translates roughly to “little bull,” and the symbol of the city is a bull, which lends some weight to the bull story.