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Old 11-27-2019, 06:26 PM
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Earliest -ville


Towns and cities with the suffix -ville are very common in the US and Canada. The suffix is derived from the French word for city, but the practice of tacking that suffix to names of towns seems to be primarily a North American practice. But where did it begin? What was the first -ville?

Now you might think Albertville, where the 1992 Winter Olympics were held, might be the first. But it turns out that that was named in 1836, well after there were numerous examples in North America. So far, the earliest example I can find is Louisville KY, which was named in 1778. The next one was Nashville, named the year after that, which gives me the impression that this practice was well established by that time. Now I've mainly looked at the larger cities and probably the first will be a smaller one. So anyone have any idea?
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Old 11-27-2019, 06:49 PM
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Trois-ville dates back at least to 1607.

Tocqueville-les-Murs has a church dating back to the 12th Century.

Tocqueville-sur-Eu has a church dating back to the 12th Century.

Ancienville has some landmarks dating back to the 16th Century.
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Old 11-27-2019, 06:50 PM
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Boucherville (Quebec) was founded in 1667.
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Old 11-27-2019, 07:51 PM
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According to Wikipedia, the -ville ending appears to originate in northern France. These French -ville place-names are "almost all combined with the landowner's name. f. e : Colleville, Normandy, with Colle- that represents the Old Norse personal name Koli". The oldest recorded example of a -ville place-name in Normandy is Bourville as Bodardi villa in 715.

In modern French, ville means "city" or "town", but its etymology derives from ancient Roman villas, the mansions of their day, perhaps more specifically the villa rustica, which was a countryside mansion/estate. Villas had many uses and were often centers of the local economy, involved in agriculture and production.
Quote:
Large villas dominated the rural economy of the Po Valley, Campania, and Sicily, and also operated in Gaul. Villas were centers of a variety of economic activity such as mining, pottery factories, or horse raising such as those found in northwestern Gaul. Villas specializing in the seagoing export of olive oil to Roman legions in Germany became a feature of the southern Iberian province of Hispania Baetica.
...
Villas were also centres of production, and Gallo-Roman villa appear to have been closely associated with vineries and wine production. The owners were probably a combination of local Gallic elites who became quickly romanised after the conquest, as well as Romans and Italiens who wished to exploit rich local resources. The villas would have been the centre of complex relationships with the local area. Much work would have been undertaken by slave labour or by local-tenant farmers "Coloni". There would have also have been a steward in addition to the inhabiting family.
Also from Wikipedia:
Quote:
[T]he first meaning in the Middle Ages [of ville] was "farm" (from Gallo-Romance VILLA < Latin villa rustica) and then "village".
So it seems the word ville has evolved in meaning over time, and appears to represent the stages of growth of a settlement that began as a countryside mansion/estate: country house > farm > village > town > city.
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Old 11-27-2019, 08:02 PM
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The district of Pentonville, in London, was developed in the 1770s and was named after the developer, Henry Penton, so the fashion for coining -ville names was not confined to North America.

We should also note the practice of coining fictitious or symbolic place-names, usually derogatory, by adding the suffix to a common noun = Hicksville, for example, or Dullsville. The OED has a citation from 1567.

According to Wikipedia, which as we know is never wrong, the phenomenon of placenames coined by combining a personal or family name and the -ville suffix is widespread in France, but especially in Normandy, where nearly 20% of the commune names have a -ville suffix. Following the Norman invasion, these names then turn up in England but as family names - Carville, for example, a family name most likely first applied to someone from any one of several places called Carville in northern France, or possibly to someone with a title of nobility that referred to such a place (as Alexis de Tocqueville, for example, is so called because his family were Counts of Tocqueville).
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Old 11-27-2019, 08:23 PM
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OK, I guess the answer is unknown, since most European placenames do not have documented origins.

So what's the earliest North American example? And what I mean is places named by adding -ville to another name, not naming a place after a European name that already has -ville in it. So far we have Boucherville QC from 1667. Any earlier? Also, what's the earliest US such name?
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Old 11-27-2019, 08:52 PM
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I used Wikipedia's List of North American settlements by year of foundation.

The earliest US -ville is unclear. The list reports 1720 for St. Martinville, Louisiana, but that date isn't reported in the actual article, and besides, it seems it didn't get that name until the 1800s.

Charlottesville, VA (1762) is probably a better example.
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Old 11-27-2019, 10:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dtilque View Post
OK, I guess the answer is unknown, since most European placenames do not have documented origins.
Actually, a lot of placenames which happen to be medieval do have documented origins, or at the very least a documented "first appearance" which often is in its foundational grant, or in a privileges grant given to an already-existing location. For example the one Villafranca ("free town") with no further words found in Spain is known to have acquired the name in the 12th century, when its name was changed from Alesves in a privileges grant.
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Old 11-27-2019, 11:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dtilque View Post
OK, I guess the answer is unknown, since most European placenames do not have documented origins.
This doesn't mean that the answer is unknown. It's true that most European placenames do not have "documented origins" in the sense of documented registration or grant of the name (although, as Nava points out, there are exceptions). But, then, most place-names do not arise out of registration or grant, but simply out of usage. And it may well be possible to date usage, including through documentation, but also from other clues.

Carville, which I mentioned earlier, is from the Norse given name Kári; it means Kári's farm. This dates it to the settlement of (what became) Normandy by the Vikings in the early tenth century. While we can't date it precisely, we can confidently say that it's centuries older than Charleville, County Cork, names after Charles II of Great Britain. By these and other means, while we probably can't identify the very first place-name with a -ville suffix, we can certainly identify some very early ones, and others which are later.
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