A satellite town is a town that is located in the outskirts of a major city. What is the origin of this name, satellite town? What does "satellite" exactly mean here?

5 Answers 5


At OED.com* the 6th noun definition of satellite is firstly of a state (country, principality, etc.,) that is politically or economically dependant on and subservient to another. Their earliest quote:

[1776 T. Paine Wks. (1796) II. 24 In no instance hath nature made the satellite larger than its primary planet; and as England and America‥reverse the common order of nature, it is evident that they belong to different systems: England to Europe, America to itself.]

As you can see, satellite is being used in a metaphorical sense, so the origin is the astronomical definition of satellite. The meaning of satellite with regards to towns being:

A community or town that is economically or otherwise dependent on a nearby larger town or city.

Which you can see is parallel to the definition for states.

* OED.com requires a subscription, which might be provided by your library. Try your library card number to find out.

  • N.B. of course it isn't the earliest quote that is necessarily very interesting, but rather quotes of the early 1900s (when "satellite town" appears to have been coined). Though... taking usage from that time, I think you arrive at the same conclusion :) Commented May 16, 2012 at 13:48
  • The OED has an entry for satellite town, first is from 1925.
    – Hugo
    Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 16:39

In space, a satellite is something that orbits (or goes around) something else. Usually the smaller object orbits the bigger one.

Geographically, then, a satellite town is a community located near a big city. Typically, there is some "attachment" between the satellite town and the nearby city (for example, a large percentage of the workers in the satellite town are employed in the city).

  • 1
    Well, technically both always orbit each other. :)
    – vsz
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 19:19
  • @vsz: Maybe we should migrate this to Physics.SE? :^)
    – J.R.
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 19:26

'Satellite' simply means a 'follower' -- a smaller object or person following a bigger one.


1540s, "follower or attendant of a superior person," from M.Fr.satellite (14c), from L. satellitem (nom. satelles) "attendant" ...

The term was used in the astronomical sense by Kepler in the 1610s.

By extension, a thing dependent, and typically found around, a larger one of its like is a satellite.

  • As I say in my other comment, this is an interesting observation from a historical viewpoint. But it doesn't reflect the meaning of "satellite" in 2012. Commented May 16, 2012 at 13:39
  • And looking at usage of "satellite" in the decades leading up to "satellite town" being coined, the use to mean "attendant" doesn't appear to have been common at all-- the planetary use had apparently already supplanted it by a long way. Commented May 16, 2012 at 13:53

Well, a "satellite" of a planet is an object in its orbit. As far as I'm aware, it's simply an analogy on that. Doing a quick unscientific Google Books search and looking at how "satellite" appears to be predominantly used in the 19th and early 20th century ("satellite town" appears to have been coined in the 1910s/1920s), this would seem to be how speakers have always conceived of the term.

It is true that "satellite" is occasionally used in other contexts to mean "adjoining"/"accompanying", e.g. the term "satellite vein", which apparently predates "satellite town" by some decades, but this usage appears to have been marginal compared to the use of "satellite" in the planetary context.

  • 1
    A planet's "satellite" is itself an 'analogy'.
    – Kris
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 12:13
  • 1
    Kris -- I suspect that nowadays that's not the case and that the word has evolved so that the planetary context is the main meaning. However, it's interesting to note that etymologically, the word has come 'full circle'. Commented May 16, 2012 at 13:38
  • Have you heard of the cronies hanging around a political lightweight being called 'satellites'? This usage has been around for ages. Plus, the term has been in use in an 'analogous' sense in many specialized fields as much as in astronomy -- only not as popularly known. I know of engg & medical terms.
    – Kris
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 17:03

It is taken from the Sanskrit word Sathiya, which means follower. The French spelled it their way from Sanskrit/Hindi.

  • This does not answer the question as currently written. Adding some detail as to how the word "satellite" led to the term "satellite town" would fix that.
    – user867
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 0:29

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