European place names with the word “saint” in them

by on March 2, 2016 at 12:30 pm in Data Source, History, Religion | Permalink

No, they didn’t forget to fill in the map for Scandinavia, those are the actual metrics.  Source here.

1 anon March 2, 2016 at 12:39 pm

All of those Christian place names! We just can’t have that. No need to worry…they’ll be replaced with Arab names soon enough.

2 whatsthat March 2, 2016 at 1:57 pm

sir please read a little history.

3 Nathan W March 2, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Yeah, because when there is a minority of 10% of the population in a country, city names start changing. Next thing you know, Europe will be ruled by sharia law. This all sounds like things that rational people should stay up at night worrying about.

4 So Much For Subtlety March 2, 2016 at 7:50 pm

As Hemmingway said of bankruptcy – first you go bankrupt slowly, then they go quickly. Replacing a population involves exponential growth. So to go from 0% to 10% takes a long time. It will take less long to go to 20%. Even quicker to go to 40%.

10% if probably the limit before it is too late to do anything about it.

5 prior_test1 March 3, 2016 at 1:42 pm

So, the Turks are the inevitable masters of Germany, then?

Probably just like the Poles in the Ruhrgebiet in the 1800s, who reached around 15% of the population in that region in 1910, thus marking that region as Polish until today, right? –

6 So Much For Subtlety March 3, 2016 at 4:45 pm

So basically you think the only salvation for Europe is for the Germans to vote the Nazis into power?

That is an interesting approach I have to say.

7 ad*m March 2, 2016 at 8:32 pm

In 2014, there were slightly less than 5 million men aged 25-35 in Germany. There were then also around 5 million muslims, with a median age of 32 years, thus 2.5M muslims between the ages of 0-32. I allocate 1/6 of these 2.5 muslims to the men in age group 25-35, or 0.4M, this is conservative as you can see.

Now add the 0.8M muslims that came in in 2015, for a total of 1.2M as of today. Thus there are 4.2M non-muslim and 1.2M muslim men aged 25-35 in Germany today, or 22% of men 25-35 are muslims.

Given that it is muslim men in exactly this age range that drove me and my Jewish family out of Europe, your 10% is understating the problem.


8 So Much For Subtlety March 2, 2016 at 6:30 pm

Arab names are just as likely to have Saint’s names as well. If the map was bigger and showed North Africa, it would be covered in place names that have a “Sidi” in them. That refers to the Muslim equivalent of a Saint. Perhaps the most famous used to be Sidi Bel Abbès which was the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion. For World War Two buffs, half a dozen battles were fought in North Africa at places called Sidi Something or Other. The most famous is probably Sidi Barrani.

9 JC March 3, 2016 at 2:45 am

Iberian Peninsula is full of Arab names but it’s nowhere near Christian names, “blames” Romans.

10 Miguel Madeira March 3, 2016 at 8:53 am

Curiously, the city of “Faro”, in the south of Portugal, was named “Santa Maria al-Harun” during Muslim rule.

11 The Devil's Dictionary of Economics & Finance March 2, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Mostly a Catholic custom, obviously. Why Cornwall, though? Why not much in Poland?

12 Brian March 2, 2016 at 12:59 pm

Re Cornwall: Celtic Europe seems to score relatively high. Compare Cornwall not only with the rest of Great Britain but also with Galicia or Brittany.

13 Adrian Ratnapala March 3, 2016 at 11:59 pm

Then why is Cornwall so much more heavily dotted than Wales?

14 Stephen March 2, 2016 at 1:08 pm

Meh – most places were named well before the Reformation. I doubt that Catholic/Protestant is a meaningful split. And the Eastern Orthodox countries which are not Protestant and where veneration of the Saints is a strong historically as it has been in Catholic France and Italy don’t have much density of “Saint Places.” My guess is its more of a cultural and linguistic quirk of the French and Italian (and Basque?) speaking lands.

15 Alex Armlovich March 2, 2016 at 2:34 pm

Could probably explain a lot with a filter for Catholic+Orthodox areas; obviously a big part of the Reformation was a reaction against iconography and the cult of saints. Then do one more filter for anti-clerical communism to explain Poland/Eastern Europe. Together those are probably the plurality of the variation

16 Thiago Ribeiro March 2, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Why Northwest Portugal? To be fair, it was one of the few countries (the only?) to replace the old daynames inspired by the Pagan Gods, but why the Northwest?

17 Urso March 2, 2016 at 2:53 pm

That’s not Northwest Portugal, it’s Galicia in Spain, and it’s almost certainly related to Santiago de Compostela.

18 Thiago Ribeiro March 3, 2016 at 6:54 am

Yeah, thanks. I had noticed, then I read “Thursday” comment below. You beat me to comment on my own stupidity.

19 Miguel Madeira March 3, 2016 at 8:59 am

The northwest of Portugal is also much red; it is probably because Braga, “the city of archibishops”.

Note also that the north of Portugal as, simply, more places than the south (the north is a region of small villages, while the south is a region of great, empty, plains in some big villages in the middle), then, automatically, more places with “saint” in the name.

20 Thiago Ribeiro March 2, 2016 at 2:54 pm

Oh, “Thursday” (Thor’s Day) is right. It is too north to be Portugal, it is Galicia.

21 Eric March 2, 2016 at 12:48 pm

Would be nicer if this had density of place names in the number of places (there may be a lot fewer places in Scandinavia) as opposed to the raw # of places, though the observation very likely still stands.

22 Thursday March 2, 2016 at 1:03 pm


23 Thursday March 2, 2016 at 1:08 pm

Not sure how much this measures religiosity. After all Ireland has relatively few hits on this metric, and up until the last few decades it was highly devout.

24 Thursday March 2, 2016 at 1:08 pm

Poland too.

25 Chris March 2, 2016 at 1:18 pm

Very interesting point on both Ireland and Poland. Could it be that the ‘power’ centers of the world at the peak of catholic fervor were France/Spain/Portugal?

26 JC March 3, 2016 at 2:50 am

And Italy. Portugal, France and Spain used the formula to name their overseas possessions, Dutch and Brits not much, most towns named after saints or religious references in America where former Spanish possessions…

27 Ronald Brak March 2, 2016 at 10:48 pm

Well, at times the religious leadership(s) in Europe considered excessive veneration of saints to be the opposite of devout. Or at least, the wrong sort of devout. So if there is any correlation it may go in the opposite direction.

28 stephen March 2, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Query whether this map takes into account
a) the German habit of using heilige rather than sankt
b) the very common Welsh habit of putting llan or capel in front of the saint’s name
d) other linguistic factors I’ve ignored

29 Chris March 2, 2016 at 1:19 pm

Great point. That would be quite consequential.

30 Nathan W March 2, 2016 at 2:06 pm

I checked some Scandinavian translations of “saint” and found hits for saint place names there too, under the translated words. But they don’t seem very common.

31 Hazel Meade March 2, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Yes. I think this is pretty clear. The places with highest red density are places with heavy Latin influence in the language.

Another possibility is that maybe it’s more common in Latin cultures to use ‘Saint’ as an honorific for a person. Maybe there is no true equivalent word in German or Gaelic or Scandinavian languages that would be used like a title.

32 Deek March 3, 2016 at 4:56 am

The Gaelic Scots didn’t really use the word saint, but many places are named after saints, usually starting with Kil- (meaning church of), such as Kilmarnock. I assume the same is true of Eire.

33 ttt March 2, 2016 at 1:19 pm

maybe its denser where the local government had a larger involvement with Rome

34 Nicholas Marsh March 2, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Not just Catholic – lots in Greece. Maybe a better fit is whether the people’s were part of the Roman Empire. The Anglo-Saxons and South Slavs migrated to where they are now in the 5th to 7th centuaries. Most Germans, Scandis etc were never in.

Though the Hungarians don’t fit into that explanation.

35 Cooper March 2, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Hungary was the eastern edge of Christian civilization during the middle ages. Maybe being right next door to the Ottoman Muslims inspired a lot of religious re-naming of places?

36 bluto March 2, 2016 at 3:36 pm

That would help explain why Galicia has so many.

37 JonFraz March 3, 2016 at 1:39 pm

By the time there was an Ottoman Empire Christianity had long since spread much farther east than Hungary– the Russian Orthodox Church is Christian after all.
Perhaps you meant to say “Catholicism”?

38 Horhe March 3, 2016 at 7:04 pm

Maybe Catholic Civilization. Though you should look to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was even more eastward. The Romanian Orthodox lands of Wallachia and Moldova (with Orthodox peasant Transylvania under Hungarian nobility) fought the Ottomans numerous times and eventually wound up under Ottoman suzerainty. But they never became a pashalic like Hungary, and they were spared Muslim proselytism, with no mosques ever being erected above the Danube. They probably feared the locals getting riled up, since even some of the Phanariot rulers of these lands went native and tried to rebel against the Porte. In the end. Orthodox Russia was the easternmost Christian land.

39 JonFraz March 2, 2016 at 2:55 pm

The Magyars did not convert to Christianity until some generations after they had settled in (more or less) Hungary. Presumably they had already given a lot of places of names before that and saw no reason to change the names.

Another factor: the world in general, and Europe especially, suffered a demographic collapse in the 500s (volcanic winter; famine; plague). A lot of villages and even whole cities became ghost towns and then disappeared. Where people were already Christian they may have used saints names for new foundations (even on old sites) when the population started to grow again.

40 Steve Sailer March 2, 2016 at 4:28 pm

Looks like there is a certain correlation with vulnerability to conquest or pirate raids by Muslims. Galicia in Northwest Spain, for example, was conquered by Islamists in 710 but liberated in 740.

41 Moreno Klaus March 2, 2016 at 4:41 pm

Nah… look at France…

42 Steve Sailer March 2, 2016 at 11:35 pm

France dealt with Muslim invasion in the 8th Century.

Arab pirates remained a massive problem for Europeans for another 1000 years.

43 Ivy March 3, 2016 at 10:17 am

Arab pirates were also a problem for the new Americans, too. We had a little dust-up along the shores of Tripoli to change the course of their misadventures.

44 JonFraz March 3, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Barbary Coast pirates tended to get out of control whenever the great powers of Europe were busy with their own quarrels. That was true in the first half of the 17th century, and true again in the Napoleonic era.

45 Dimitris March 2, 2016 at 1:26 pm

It doesnt seem to correlate with current levels of religiosity at all.
Good points on Rome involvement and Catholicism.

46 Kris March 2, 2016 at 1:28 pm

Lots of red dots in Muslim Albania. Very few in Christian Serbia (and Montenegro.) Why?

47 iluvtacos March 2, 2016 at 1:30 pm

Perhaps the people of Albania are more predisposed to religious fervor and named many places before becoming Muslim?

48 AIG March 3, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Depending on the measures you look at, Albania is as high as 50% Christian. Plus those are Catholics in Albania, as opposed to Orthodox in Serbia. It doesn’t seem to be much of an Orthodox practice.

The same can be seen in Greece. The concentration of Saint names is also the places ruled for centuries by Western Catholic countries, rather than Orthodox rulers.

49 JWatts March 2, 2016 at 1:52 pm

I don’t see Saint Petersburg indicated. Surely it’s got to be one of the biggest cities on the list.

50 inertial March 2, 2016 at 5:47 pm

Must have been missed because Saint is not Russian.

51 JonFraz March 3, 2016 at 1:44 pm

In Russian it’s Sankt Petersburg, an oddly Germanic name for a Russian city. Places names beginning with “Svyatiy” (Russian for saint) are rare in Russian.

52 required March 2, 2016 at 1:56 pm

Can someone tell me the distinction between the words




These three words seems to be the same word to me; thus, a saint is a god, and a god is a saint.

53 Nathan W March 2, 2016 at 2:10 pm

I’m just waiting for the day that Mother Teresa is declared a Hindu divinity.

54 Dzhaughn March 2, 2016 at 2:15 pm

I wager she already has been declared a divinity by someone who someone else would describe as Hindu.

55 Nathan W March 2, 2016 at 8:45 pm

Lol, You’re probably right. “Hindu” is a primarily cultural identification for many purposes though. As open as Hinduism is from a philosophical or theological perspective, it’s pretty darn near impossible to “convert” except by marriage.

56 Dzhaughn March 2, 2016 at 2:10 pm

Get an education, then read some books.

57 required March 2, 2016 at 10:13 pm

Bene Elohim means Sons (male direct descendants) of Gods, but it also means Angels. Hence Gods are Angels and Angels are Gods.

58 CD March 2, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Holy smokes!

59 Purple Tortoise March 3, 2016 at 11:32 am

Same words, but from different root languages. Saintly is Latinate (sanctus) and holy is Germanic (heilige).

60 Dave Barnes March 2, 2016 at 2:10 pm

High correlation with cheese.

61 uair01 March 2, 2016 at 2:33 pm

A good guess but then the Netherlands doesn’t fit. Soft cheese (non-Gouda type) gives a better fit 🙂

62 Axa March 2, 2016 at 2:32 pm
63 Urso March 2, 2016 at 2:56 pm

I guess I’m the first to note that this is a link to a tweet, and the link for “source” is … another tweet. Anything showing underlying methodology? If they just half-assed this by google-mapping the word “saint,” it’s less interesting.

Also where is the one for America? I assume California wins.

64 Miguel Madeira March 3, 2016 at 10:51 am

About methodology:

“We have searched the names of cities, towns and villages of Europe, using the database of the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and looking for places with „saint” or „holy” in their names.”

65 Larry Siegel March 4, 2016 at 3:14 am

California certainly wins in the U.S., without being more religious or Christian than other states. It’s obviously because of the early settlers, who were in a position to name everything. This may also be true of Europe…

66 Plucky March 2, 2016 at 3:17 pm

– Within the Iberian peninsula, the density is highest in the areas that were never under extended Islamic rule (Galicia & Catalonia)
– Within Germany there is no obvious Protestant/Catholic split
– The density of place-names in Hungary vs surrounding countries (except Austria) is surprisingly close to the modern political border, despite that reflecting mainly 20th-century population shifts and political settlements.
– The closest correlation seems to be roughly “density of Christian population, circa 1000 AD”

Questions I’d be interested to know
– What percentage of the place names were specifically associated with monasteries, and if there is any documented history of intentional re-naming in (historically) protestant countries that forcibly disbanded them during the reformation
– For places that have different names in different languages that aren’t strict transliterations, would the map look different in different languages? e.g., does St. Someone become Somonesburg going from French to German? Based on the Map it looks like “Petrograd” doesn’t get a dot, but it would have had it been rendered “St Petersburg”

67 David March 2, 2016 at 4:33 pm

I think you’re right about the correlation with the extent of Christianity in Europe, though I’d put the date a bit earlier. I think the density of place-names with “Saint” in them corresponds to the extension of the Carolingian empire in the 9th and 10th century, with the re-establishment of what pretended to be a cultural and linguistic “empire” that self-consciously echoed the Roman Empire that had crumbled 3 centuries beforehand. it’s worth recalling that the first “saint” was declared by a Pope in 993 CE. Nevertheless, many places that had been part of the Roman Empire were associated with early Christian martyrs or holy persons, such as Barbara, Eulalia, Hilario and Millan.

The lack of extension into Germany probably represents the relative lack of Roman influence beyond the Danube (therefore the lack of early martyrs and predominance of native Germanic place names), and the lack of extension in central and southern Iberia reflects the areas dominated by Islam starting around 750 CE.

Monasteries began to have a great deal of cultural influence during the Carolingian period with the consolidation of the power of the Benedictine movement, especially with the founding of the powerful Benedictine monastery at Cluny. The cultural sway of the monastic movement probably influenced place names.

68 JonFraz March 3, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Re: it’s worth recalling that the first “saint” was declared by a Pope in 993 CE.

Saints goes back a good long ways before that. However that’s when canonization was taken over by Rome in the Catholic west. Before that it was done by local bishops– with the result that a lot of rather dubious local characters were canonized, something for on better reason than so the area could set up a shrine and attract pilgrims to fleece like modern day tourist traps. Final straw was when a drunken, debauched monk was canonized as a martyr after he was killed in a brothel in a fight over a prostitute.

In the East saints are still canonized locally, but only placed on the calendar if the governing synod of bishops agrees.

69 Qespicheq March 2, 2016 at 3:36 pm

Yet another infographic that is so poorly researched that nothing can be made out of it. I am seeing quite a number of these on Facebook and wasn’t expecting an academic to be promoting something like this without a proper disclaimer (I would have expected a “speculative” rather than “those are the actual metrics” Mr. Cowen!).

Let me just point out a few major shortcomings:

– The choice of “saint” and “holy” to indicate holiness, forgetting such words as “church” and other variants. To give an idea of the impact of this in France, only 55 “places” have “église” in them but 1,036 do in Germany (“kirch/kirchen”). In the same way many villages and towns in the Netherlands have “kerk” in them, quite a few in England have “church” but next to none have “iglesia” in them in Spain.

– The use of a “geographic names database” that includes polders, canals, forests. The selection is rather random and seems to include all municipalities but a varying number of other places.

– The absence of any hierarchy in the visual representation (regional density of “holy placenames” would have been preferable given that a country like France has 3 times more municipalities than Germany).

Interesting factoid regarding France: according to the French Wikipedia, 11.8% of France’s “communes” have “Saint” or “Sainte” in them. Given the figures above, it seems Germany is in the same ballpark.

Spanish place names seem to be much more religious. So much so that Spanish has a word for religious place names (“hagiotopónimos”) and entire books have been written on the subject. Beyond saints, place names may come from religious festivities (Todos los Santos de la Nueva Rioja), from saintly attributes (Cruz, La Sangra), buildings, religious orders, etc.

70 Moreno Klaus March 2, 2016 at 4:44 pm

This is a good post. Chapeau!

71 Joël March 2, 2016 at 5:32 pm

But Saint and Church are not the same thing. When a place is named
Saint-X or Sainte-X, that means that it is named after a person who existed and was after his/her life canonized by the Church. It is not the same as having Church in its

But I agree with your third objection.

72 Deek March 3, 2016 at 5:05 am

There are places named after saints like Kirkcudbright which translates to Church of Saint Cuthbert, or Kilwinning (Church of Saint Finian) which have church in the name but don’t explicitly have saint.

73 Hazel Meade March 2, 2016 at 3:43 pm

This is really a map of the influence of Latin in the local language. French, Italian, and Spanish are all Latin-derived languages, so they have variants of the word “Saint” (latin root sanctus) in them. Has nothing to do with how religious people are in these areas.

74 Joël March 2, 2016 at 5:06 pm

But Greece has also many red points. That must be places whose names begin with Hagio (Saint in Greek).

75 AIG March 3, 2016 at 6:04 pm

Those areas of Greece were ruled by Western Catholic kingdoms during periods of time.

76 dearieme March 2, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Some places named after saints in Scotland don’t carry the word “saint”. Could the same be true of Scandinavia?

Example: “Kilpatrick”; you’re expected to know who Patrick was. “Kirkcudbright:” ditto for Cuthbert.

77 Deek March 3, 2016 at 5:13 am

Not to my knowledge. the -kloster ending means monastery but it’s not usually attached to a person’s name. There are a handful of Kirke- places as well, but again it’s attached to a place name rather than a saint.

78 Joël March 2, 2016 at 4:00 pm

There is a clearly a strong correlation between the time a place became Christian (and Catholic or Orthodox doesn’t matter much) and the density of red points.
The first part of Europe to become Christian was the Roman empire before 400AD
(and Armenia, but that’s not in Europe, though it would be interesting to have statistics for there too). Germany (as opposed to many German tribes who invaded the Roman empire) was only completely evangelized around 800 by Charlemagne. Poland and Russia even after. The south of Great-Britain was Christian before Ireland, which was christian before Scotland. Etc.

79 Joël March 2, 2016 at 5:20 pm

More evidence (that it is a question of how long has been a region Christian, not a question of what kind of Christianity or what language, or not directly of whether the region was in the Roman empire):

Romany speaks a Latin language, but there is almost no red points there.
It was in the Roman empire for about three centuries, but it left it before that empire became Christian. In fact it became Christian late, around 1000, even if there was some Christian presence before.

The south of Spain has much less red points that the north. Well during a long period that region was under Muslim rule, not Christian.

80 Deek March 3, 2016 at 5:18 am

One of the first words I learnt in Armenian was vank, meaning monastery. They are everywhere. I’m not sure if they’re named after people or places though. Nearby Georgia were early converts too and still highly religious, there are a few places after saints there, but probably more at German levels than French.

81 sam March 2, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Amazing how many places are named after Saints. This is a awesome website.

82 March 2, 2016 at 7:34 pm

Re: No, they didn’t forget to fill in the map for Scandinavia

Norway has a lot of hellish place names

83 March 2, 2016 at 7:42 pm

The train to Hell,_Gods_Expedition.JPG


Gods = Goods

Expedition = Front desk/office

84 Axa March 3, 2016 at 5:19 am

thanks a lot for the link

85 Jody March 2, 2016 at 8:19 pm

I see Camino de Santiago when I look at this map…

86 Jody March 2, 2016 at 8:26 pm

Which is my way of proposing that I’m supposing that along pilgrimage routes, locales adopted Saint whatever as a way to get pilgrims to stay the night and spend some coin.

87 Jonatan March 3, 2016 at 3:50 am

There are no dots in Denmark, because we call the places “skt” not “saint”.

88 scout March 3, 2016 at 5:48 am

“why Galicia?”


“According to the Spanish National Institute of Statistics, over the 50% of all the Spain’s populated places (towns, cities, hamlets…) are in Galicia.”

89 jk March 3, 2016 at 8:46 am

I do not trust this map. For example I can’t even find the dot for St. Petersburg.

90 AIG March 3, 2016 at 6:05 pm

It’s there, if you look at the bigger version of the map.

91 Tom March 3, 2016 at 8:59 am

Don’t worry, once Merkel’s migrants get settled, they’ll move to change the names. Be patient.

92 JonFraz March 3, 2016 at 2:22 pm

Place names tend not to be changed by new inhabitants. In fact linguists investigate the linguistic prehistory of a region by analyzing its place names. There are still plenty of Celtic place names all over Western Europe. And in the Americas native American names are still common. 24 of our 50 states have names derived from Native American words.

93 AIG March 3, 2016 at 6:15 pm

Here’s the bigger version of the map:

There’s definitely some places missing. I tried it for some countries using their native words for “saint”, and got pretty similar results, but not exactly the same.

The map may miss a few where “saint” is joined with the name, rather than as a noun, which is common practice in some languages. But overall, it seems relatively accurate.

Certainly it is not a map of “holy places”, however. Just the ones with the name saint or holy in it (saint and holy are the same word in most languages)

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