Christian Place Names

One indicator of dominance is the ability of an institution to rename the people and the geography that they control. Many people around the world were given anglicized names when they were baptized to affirm their existence as a believer in the eyes of God. Many others had their names anglicized by immigration officials or other bureaucrats because their names were “barbaric”—they sounded strange, they were judged to be difficult to pronounce, or they were too long and just didn’t sound Christian or civilized enough.

The European conquest of Africa, the Americas, the Pacific Islands and much of Asia led to the renaming of many landmarks, natural features, and population sites in the European languages of the conquerors.

Often Christian colonizers would build cities on top of indigenous villages and, in particular, they would build churches on indigenous spiritual sites, including cemeteries. This practice continues today. There are recently completed or currently under construction shopping malls, convention centers, sports stadiums and other projects built on recognized Native American grave sites across the United States.

The secularization and normalization of Christian influence may lead us to not even notice the religious roots of the geographic names we use. We may visit St. Petersburg, Russia[1]; Sao Paulo, Brazil; San Jose or San Isidro, Costa Rica; Santa Cruz, Bolivia; Christchurch, New Zealand; Christmas Island in the South Pacific, St. Louis, Senegal; Port St. John’s, South Africa, Holy Island in England, Santo Domingo, San Salvador, Argentina, Devil’s Island in the Caribbean, Santiago, Chile[2], San Fernando, Philippines, the St. Lawrence river, St. John’s Newfoundland, San Juan, Puerto Rico, or the country of El Salvador without recognizing these names as signs of Christian colonization.

There are many cities and other geographic sites in the United States which bear Christian place names such as

Bethlehem

Cincinnati

Dolores, CO[3]

Christian County, MO

Corpus Christi

Holy Cross Mountain

Ignacio Valley

Las Cruces

Lebanon

Los Angeles[4]

Mission Viejo

New Haven

Philadelphia—city of brotherly love

Providence, RI

Sacramento[5]

San Antonio

San Bernardino[6]

San Diego[7]

San Francisco[8]

San Jose

Sangre de Christo mountains

Santa Ana

Santa Barbara

Santa Clara

Santa Cruz

Santa Fe

Santa Maria

Santa Monica[9]

Santa Ynez

Sault Sainte Marie[10]

St. Augustine

St. Cloud[11]

St. Paul

St. Petersburg

Over one thousand cities in the U.S. have Christian biblically derived names including such cities as Salem (OR, VA, MO, NH), Bethlehem, PA, Shiloh, St. Olaf, MN, Mount Olive, NC, Zion, IL, Pella, IA, Palestine, TX. Antioch, CA, Carmel, CA, Progress, (IN, OR, PN, FL), and New Hope (TX, PA, HA, MN). And, of course, there are many other places named after the Devil such as Mt. Diablo and Devils Postpile National Monument, or with the words “Angel” or “Paradise” in them such as the city of Angel’s Camp, (CA) or Paradise Valley.[12]

Christian names show up in many other areas of our lives. To give just one example, recently I was in Costa Rica taking a hiking tour of a jungle river. We spotted a lizard which was running quickly across the water from rock to rock. Our tour guide promptly told us that we had just seen a Jesus Lizard—so named because it appeared to walk on the water.

Human built parts of the environment such as bridges, canals, and tunnels can also reflect Christian language:

Bridges

Golden Gate Bridge, CA[13]

St. Georges Bridge, DE,

Dolores River Bridge, CO

St. George Island Bridge,  FL

St. Johns River Veterans Memorial Bridge, FL

St. Claude Ave. Bridge, LA

St. Johns Bridge, OR

Huguenot Memorial Bridge, VA[14]

Canals and Tunnels

St. Clair Flats Canal, MI

Devil’s Slide Tunnel, CA

San Fernando Tunnel, CA

Devil’s courthouse Tunnel, NC

Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, UT

For more on the impact of Christian language and vocabulary see the booklet “The Language of Dominant Christianity” by Paul Kivel available at www.christianhegemony.org.


[1] This city was named after Peter the Great but the honorific of Saint reflects the Christian influence and power of the (Eastern) Church.

[2] Just in Central and South America alone there are more than 150 towns named Santiago after the apostle James. Salisbury, Blood. P. 73. St. James is the patron saint of Spain and is often call Santiago Matamoros (James the Moor killer) because his spirit was believed to have aided the Christians in defeating the Moors in battle.

[3] Original name was Rio de Nuestra Senora de las Dolores” or the River of Our Lady of Sorrows

[4] Originally named El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula

[5] Named after the Eucharist sacrament-Spanish for “the Most Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ”

[6] Bernardino was a virulently anti-Jewish and anti-gay Italian priest in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

[7] St. James, equivalent to Santiago

[8] Named for Francis of Assisi

[9] Named for Saint Monica of Hippo

[10] Old French for “falls of St. Mary’s” (Sault de Sainte Marie)

[11] named after the city of Saint-Cloud, France, which was named for the 6th-century French monk Clodoald

[12] In a sad irony, Angel Island was the name of the detention camp in the San Francisco Bay Area where immigrants from Asia were held, sometimes for years, before decisions were made to either admit them to return them to their countries of origin.

[13] For both Jews and Christians the Golden Gate is a reference to the oldest of the current gates in Jerusalem’s old city walls

[14] In honor of the French Christian Huguenot settlers who came to the area in the 18th century

2 thoughts on “Christian Place Names

  1. Do your research — “Christian County” has nothing to do with the religion — in both Kentucky and Missouri they were named after William Christian.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Frank.
    And just who or what was William named after?

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