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Arts & Culture

Barcelona and Its Many Names

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Written by Lorraine

Barcelona is one the most frequented cities in the world, yet where does its distinctive name come from? The Catalan capital´s title has historically undergone many changes.

However, its origins remain unclear with many theories and myths surrounding its source.

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Barcelona City Nicknames – why so many different names?

Origin of Barcelona’s name

The first of many legends states that the name Barcelona is an adaption of the original name, Barke-no¸ which was given to the city by Iberian settlers. This is supposedly attested in an ancient coin inscription from the Iberian times.

The second suggests that Barcelona was founded by the ancient Phoenicians and Carthaginians. The ruler was the Carthaginian, Hamilcar Barca and therefore the name may have come from the Carthaginian surname Barca, which means ‘ray’.

barcelona city nickname - typical neighbourhood in barcelona

Photo via Visualhunt

Another tale describes the tribe of the Layetanos who were conquered by Cornelio Escipión and that the area subsequently became a Roman colony named Iulia Augusta Paterna Faventia Barcino, from which the name of Barcelona was derived.

A legend from the Roman times states that Hercules set out on a sea expedition in search of the Golden Fleece. During the 9-boat voyage there was a huge storm, the first 8 boats escaped without damage, whilst the ninth was lost at sea.

montjuic mountain

Photo via Pixabay

Hercules set out to find it and found the boat shipwrecked at Montjuic. The navigators were so taken by the place´s beauty that they named it after the lost boat- “Barca Nona” (the ninth boat).

During the Middle Ages the city was subject to a host of various names including Barchinona, Barçalona, Barchelonaa, and Barchenona.

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Barcelona’s nicknames

Whilst the city now retains its modern designation, this doesn’t stop it from being subject to a selection of alternative nicknames used by locals and visitors alike:

What NOT to say!

Firstly, don’t make the rookie mistake of referring to the city as Barca. This Barcelona short name is strictly used only to describe the cities beloved football team, Barcelona FC.

views over Barcelona

Photo via Visualhunt

Nickname #1: Barna

Looking to blend in with the locals? Barna is one of the most popular colloquial terms you will hear. Distinctly used by locals.

Use this nickname to sound like a true Barcelonian, especially amongst the younger crowd where this term is popular.

Nickname #2: BCN

In your time here, you may come across the term BCN, this is written only abbreviation.

Popularized by the council, this contraction corresponds to the International Air Transport Association airport code of the Barcelona-El Prat Airport.

views of barcelona city

Photo via Pixabay

Nickname #3: Ciudad Condal

Ciudad Condal is a synonym commonly used in the Spanish media. It is in reference to the city’s status as a seat of the Counts of Barcelona.

It is also seen as “Ciutat Comtal” in Catalan and translates as County City in English.

Related article: Tarragona, a City With a Roman History

What others used to call Barcelona and why

A Slightly disapproving yet still humorous term for Barcelona particularly used by people from the Girona province is Can Fanga.

This means the House or Farm of Mud, in reference to the cities mucky unpaved streets in the late 19th/early 20th century.

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Were you aware of the many names of Barcelona city centre?
What is your favourite?

About the author


Lorraine has an extensive experience in audiovisual techniques, writing and teaching. She has been living in Barcelona for the past 16 years.

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