- Italy = Italia
- Florence = Firenze
- Rome = Roma
- Venice = Venezia
- Munich = München
Different reasons for different cities? Anglicised for pronunciation? The name changed and English didn't follow suit?
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
The section on Anglicised place names in wikipedia states that many have been taken directly from the French name, which itself may come from Latin or a corrupted form of the local name.
There is an interesting example that confirms your idea that some names may have been 'stuck' in English while the local version has changed:
Sometimes a place name can appear anglicised, but is not, such as when the form being used in English is an older name that has now been changed. For example, Turin in the Piedmont province of Italy was named Turin in the original Piedmontese language, but is now officially known as Torino in Italian.
The English/French name for Florence in Italy is closer to the original name in Latin (Florentia) than is the modern Italian name (Firenze).
This is not an English phenomenon. The French, for example, call London "Londres" and Dover "Douvres".
The technical name for this is
Fortunately enough there is not a single reason to all these idiosyncrasies. Among all the examples you have cited, I'll just pick up Munich.
The German for Munich is "München". The origin of both Munich and München names is the same older spelling Munichen. In one case, the final "en" disappeared, in the other, the intermediate "i" disappeared.
The origin of the old name Münichen is that the city was founded next to a Benedictine monks settlement (see also West-minster for instance) - in present day German, "Mönchen" means "monks".
The English name "Munich" has no particular signification but in Italian, they have translated it to Monaco (Monaco di Baviera) because the Italian for monk is precisely "monaco". It is also the folk-etymology for the Monaco situated on the French Riviera because the current Grimaldi dynasty took over the citadel in the 13th century disguised as monks (or so the legend says).
This is actually quite confusing if you live in Italy and you don't know this peculiarity: if you want to spend a week end watching bikinis and decide to take a return ticket to Monaco at your favourite travel agency, there is a possibility that you actually end up contemplating Lederhosen.
A picture is probably better than a thousand words.
Generally the English name is the closest pronunciation - which given the English's historic skill with foreign languages can be a bit off.
Sometimes the modern spelling comes from a particular historical usage and since in English, at least until printing caught on, spelling was a bit chaotic - this can be anything.
It also sometimes gets political. Bombay->Mumbai, Peking->Beijing, could be argued that it's none of India or China's business to decide how words are pronounced in English
It is only fairly recently that speakers of any language have been open to the idea that what they hear in another language is heavily coloured by their own language.
Example one: the area just south of Sydney is called "(The) Illawarra", based on a placename given by the former indigenous inhabitants. Except the original word was more like "Eloura", which has much more recently been re-borrowed.
Example two: when the Japanese first encountered US armed forces some decades ago, the US would identify themselves as "A-MER-ican" unaware that the Japanese language does not have the same cadence as English. This meant the Japanese heard "Merrikan" and so that's the word in Japanese for a US national.
English spelling did not become fixed until the advent of printing and of dictionaries. Many English people would have travelled to those places centuries before then and, in their journals and letters, would have phonetically transcribed the names using a spelling that made sense to an English speaker. I imagine this is one way that English acquired it's own spellings for foreign places.
Some of those places may not have had a standardised pronunciation or spelling in the language of their inhabitants and neighbours.
For example, in the country currently called Myanmar, there is a city called Moulmein in English. The is the garbled form of Mawlamyine, easily pronounceable by locals but an awkward struggle in English which undoubtedly led to its reworking to Moulmein during the times when Burma was a British colony.
"By the old Moulmein Pagoda, Lookin' eastward to the sea, There's a Burma girl a-settin', And I know she thinks o' me; For the wind is in the palm-trees, And the temple-bells they say: "Come you back, you British soldier; Come you back to Mandalay!"
(and the only thing East of the Moulmein Pagoda, and Moulmein, is about a thousand miles of land.)
Once upon a time, each of these places had a name in Latin. Latin literacy preceded native literacy in some of them, and there was a scholarly parallel latin long after that. Heck, there still is one in some quarters.
So, it's not terrible surprising that various languages then localized the words further.
Names of places were decided at some time or other, and it depends on when and why they were imported how they ended up being spelled and pronounced.
Mostly names are slightly altered to fit in the English language, some names are even closer to translations.
Take for example the English name for Göteborg, which is Gothenburg. It's more of a translation than an adjustment, because if it would have been based on the pronunciation it would have been something more like Djutiborj.
In some cases, like Peking, the pronunciation has actually changed to Beijing in Chinese, while the English version (among others) remained the same until recently.