Ville (French pronunciation: [vil]) is the modern French word of Latin origin now meaning "city" or "town", but the first meaning in the Middle Ages was "farm" (from Gallo-Romance VILLA < Latin villa rustica) and then "village". The derivative suffix -ville is commonly used in names of cities, towns and villages, particularly throughout France, Canada and the United States.

Usage in France and England

In France, after the 6th Century, especially in the North, first of all Normandy (20% of the communes end with -ville), Beauce and French speaking part of Lorraine. In the Southeast, they are exceptional and modern. In the Southwest, -ville is very often a translation of the Occitan -viala (Gascon -viela), sometimes ill gallicized in -vielle (variant -fielle). There 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. Other rates indicate that there are only 1 068 -ville communes out of 36 591 communes in France (if we exclude the -viale, -viel[l]e, -fielle variant forms of the Southwest), but 460 out of 1 068 are located in Normandy (more than 1/3) for a total number of 3 332 communes in Normandy (36 591 in France).[1]

In England, after the Norman conquest 1066, not so much places but some names of individuals have endings in -ville. These names are however still a reference to places, either in Normandy or elsewhere in France, such as Carville found as a lastname in Yorkshire or Dunstanville found as a lastname in Kent (cf. the placename Dénestanville, spelled Dunestanvilla in the 11th century).

Usage in Canada

Although a ville in the predominantly francophone Canadian province of Quebec may be informally referred to as a "city" or a "town" in English, no distinction exists under provincial law between those two types of settlements. The "city" of Montreal, with a population of 1,854,442 in the Canada 2006 Census, and the "town" of Barkmere, with a population of just 58, are both legally villes.

Quebec does have several other types of municipal status, including municipalities, townships and villages, but any distinction between cities and towns in English has no basis in law and no objective criteria to differentiate between the two. However, in villes with a large anglophone population, there may be an established—albeit informal—preference. For instance, Mount Royal is nearly always referred to as a town—as opposed to a city—by its anglophone populace, while places such as Montreal, Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke and Gatineau are virtually always referred to as cities.

Cité is a defunct title that currently is used only officially by Dorval, which is nevertheless legally a ville.[2]

In all other Canadian provinces, although ville is still used as the French translation for both "city" and "town", cities and towns there do have distinct legal status from each other.

As in the United States, -ville may also be a suffix that is part of a city's or a town's actual name. This usage exists in both English and French; examples include Oakville, Brockville and Belleville in Ontario, Blainville, Drummondville, Victoriaville and Louiseville in Quebec, Wolfville in Nova Scotia and Parksville in British Columbia. In Quebec, it may also be used as a prefix, as in Ville-Marie or Villeroy.

Ville, as a suffix or prefix within a geographic name, may also sometimes denote an unincorporated neighbourhood within a larger city, such as Ville-Émard, Davisville, Unionville, or Africville.

There are also places named after people, such as Villeray.

Usage in the United States

According to toponymist George R. Stewart, the use of the suffix -ville for settlements in the United States did not begin until after the American Revolution. Previously, town-names did not usually use suffixes unless named after European towns in which case the name was borrowed wholly. When a suffix was needed, -town (or the word Town) was typically added (as in Charleston, South Carolina, originally Charles Town). In the middle of the 18th century the suffixes -borough (-boro) and -burgh (-burg) came into style. The use of -town (-ton) also increased, in part due to the increasing use of personal names for new settlements. Thus the settlement founded by William Trent became known as Trenton. These three suffixes, -town/-ton, -borough/-boro, and -burgh/-burg became popular before the Revolution, while -ville was almost completely unused until afterward. Its post-revolutionary popularity, along with the decline in the use of -town, was due in part to the pro-French sentiments which spread through the country after the war. The founding of Louisville, Kentucky, in 1780, for example, used not only the French suffix but the name of the French king. The popularity of -ville was most popular in the southern and western (Appalachian) regions of the new country, and less popular in New England.

A few -ville names pre-date the revolution, but most of them are named after European settlements or dukedoms. For example, Granville, Massachusetts was named for the Earl of Granville (he was named himself after Granville, Manche (Normandy)). After the revolution and the decline in the use of -borough and -town, the two suffixes -ville and -burgh/-burg became by far the most popular for many decades. A difference between the usage of the two is that -burgh/-burg was almost always appended to a personal name while -ville was appended to any word.

By the middle of the 19th century the -ville suffix began to lose its popularity, with newly popular suffixes with -wood, -hurst, -mere, -dale, and others taking over.[3] However, the -ville suffix is still associated with the name of settlements and used artificially, such as Hooverville, an area where homeless people generally lived during the Great Depression.

Notable -ville cities in the United States


  1. Site : communes of France ending with -ville
  2. Ville de Dorval - Bienvenue à la Cité de Dorval (accessed August 26, 2008): "Bulletin de la Cité", "© 2008 Cité de Dorval", "La Cité de Dorval est divisée en six districts électoraux", etc. The term Cité de Dorval is also visible on numerous signs locally, as of 2008.
  3. This section on the history of -ville from Stewart, George R. (1967) Names on the Land. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company; pages 193–197, 272.
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