20 July 2011

How Istanbul got its name

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the late 15th century, the name "Constantinople" fell into disuse, with no obvious replacement.  But over the centuries in which Constantinople was the urban hub of the area (and, as you'll see, even after its fall), people referred to it as "the city."  The Greek phrase for "in the city" is "εις την πόλη" which is pronounced "is tin Poli."  Over time, this became  "Istanbul."  
Found at Now I Know, via Reddit.  Reminds me of the story of the naming of Torpenhow Hill, which I was sad to recently learn is probably not quite accurate.


  1. My understanding is that Istanbul, is a contraction for, /Islam bul/, 'City of Islam'.

  2. Timeshadows: I somehow doubt that Kemal Ataturk who secularized and westernized the old Ottoman Empire into modern Turkey would have used a religious name. In Turkish it would be something like "Islam Sehir."

    Now, I've got that danged song stuck in my head!

    Istanbul was Constantinople
    Now it's Istanbul not Constantinople
    Been a long time gone Constantinople
    Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

    Every gal in Constantinople
    Lives in Istanbul not Constantinople
    So if you've a date in Constantinople
    She'll be waiting in Istanbul

  3. Fester: It was known as Istanbul by the Turks long before Ataturk.

  4. Yeah, don't delve into the reasons for the name change. That's nobody's business but the Turks'.

  5. Original version (Four Lads, 1953):

    Bad A$$ Russian's cover:

    --Swift Loris

  6. There is a folk tradition that Istanbul is a corruption of "Islam Bol," but the name predates the modern Turks. The modern city name became official in 1930.

    Here is a link to the source I found:

  7. as a native of istanbul, i've never heard anything like "islam-bul". as far as i know, "is tin poli" is the origin. and also, combination of islam(arabic) and pol(greek?) looks unlikely.

  8. Even old New York was once New Amsterdam!

    Good 'ole They Might Be Giants for coming up with one of the more effective ohrwurms ever created!

  9. Thank you, -2. I'm delighted when I can write a post about Istanbul, generate some informed discussion from readers, and then get a reply from someone living in Istanbul. Excellent.

  10. The problem of the city's name is vastly more complicated than you present it in your post.

    "Constantinople" didn't 'fall out of use'. Ottoman documents refer to the city as both "Istanbul" and "Constantinople", among other things, until the end of the Ottoman empire. Greeks in the 1950s regularly used "Constantinople", not because they were resisting changes under the new Republic of Turkey, but because that's what their parents had called it. However,the Turkish postal service stopped delivering packages labeled with any name other than Istanbul in the 1930s.

    The Wikipedia article on the subject is long, for good reason – it has a nice summary of the various historical and linguistic details that led to the phrasing "Istanbul", backed with examples from similar name changes in other Greek/Turkish cities. "Islambol" ('full of Islam'), is a Turkish invention that had a run in official documents after the conquest in the 1453. It was a play on "Istanbul", which had preceded it by a few hundred years at least.

    So, basically, everyone who has an opinion on the matter is correct.


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