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How Did Atlanta Get Its Name?

by
May 18th, 2020

You may be surprised to know that there isn’t just one Atlanta in the world. Heck, there are over 21 cities, towns and communities named Atlanta in the United States alone!

The biggest Atlanta in the U.S., no doubt, is Atlanta, Georgia. Now, there’s no way of proving this for sure, but it’s likely that the smaller communities are named after the Georgia capital city. So, assuming that these other places were named after the city in Georgia, then how did Atlanta get its name? Where did it all start? Let’s trace it back to the very beginning, shall we?

How did Atlanta get its name?

There are plenty of factors that go into naming a city. A city could be named for an ancient hero; it could be named after a body of water. It could be named for its geographical location, or it could be named after significant figures. In Atlanta’s case, it’s been named after all of those things!

If you live in our luxury Atlanta apartments, then you may not be too surprised to learn that your city is named after the Atlantic Ocean! Or, more specifically, it was named after the last stop in the Western-Atlantic railroad. 

In 1837, what is now the city of Atlanta used to be nothing more than empty land. The state of Georgia had just decided to build a railroad connecting the Midwest and the East Coast, and a place needed to be chosen as the railroad’s end, the “terminus.” A large stone stake was driven into the Georgia earth in 1837 to mark the zero milepost and the resulting settlement named Terminus, meaning “end of the line.”

The settlement was briefly named Marthasville after the governor’s daughter, Martha, in 1843, but the name only stuck for two years before being changed yet again. In 1845, the chief engineer of the Georgia Railroad suggested the name be changed to Atlanta-Pacifica after the route of the railroad, despite the fact that no trains had yet arrived on the railroad. The residents of the town agreed to the name change, and by the time the first train arrived at the terminus in September 1845, the town’s name had been shortened and established as Atlanta, the feminine form of Atlantic.

So, to recap, Atlanta was named because it represented the “Atlantic” in the Western & Atlantic Railroad. A city named after a body of water, a person and geographical location? Check, check and check. Great! Let’s not stop there, though. Let’s take it a step further!

How did the Atlantic Ocean get its name?

If Atlanta was named after the Atlantic Ocean, then what’s the origin story for that name? 

Well, the earliest records of the name “Atlantic” being used to refer to the ocean was way back in 450 B.C. in the writings of Plato, a famous Greek philosopher. The word roughly means “the sea of Atlas” or “the island of Atlas” in Greek.

Who is Atlas?

Who is Atlas, you ask? If you’ve ever seen Greek sculptures of a man holding the earth on his back, then you might already have a clue who he is. In Greek mythology, Atlas was the Greek god of astronomy and navigation and also the one whom Zeus condemned to hold up the sky for all eternity.

Here are a few depictions of Atlas you might recognize, like this bronze Atlas statue at Rockefeller Center in New York City, or this marble sculpture in Naples, Italy.

Atlas led the Titans, an ancient race of immortal giants who lived long before the newer Olympian gods, into battle against the Olympians. After Zeus won the war for the Olympians, he punished Atlas by forcing him to bear the weight of the heavens on his shoulders so as not to come into contact with the earth.

The reason the Atlantic Ocean is named after Atlas is because Atlas was considered to be one of the strongest and most powerful Titans, especially since he was responsible for holding up the heavens. Before the mid-fifth century, the Atlantic ocean was referred to as “the Sea of Darkness” in Latin and Arabic because of the destructive nature of the ocean storms. The ocean was considered a dark and dangerous place, so it’s fitting that it was named after Atlas, one of the most powerful beings to the Ancient Greeks. 

Other details about Atlanta’s name

Remember Martha, the governor’s daughter after whom the settlement Marthasville was named? Well, her middle name was Atalanta, which is the name of a powerful huntress in Greek mythology. Some say that the city of Atlanta was named after her middle name, but there isn’t any solid proof of that being true.

So, to recap again, Atlanta is named after an ancient hero (Atlas), a body of water (Atlantic), a geographical location (end of the Atlantic railroad) and a significant figure (Marthasville and Atalanta, after the governor’s daughter.) Who would have thought that this warm southern city could have such an interesting story behind its name? 

Enjoy!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/1778011

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

View All Posts by Colleen Ford
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