Apr 23, 2023 - Things to Do

You can travel the world without ever leaving Illinois

Data: U.S. Census, Wikipedia; Visual: Will Chase, Jacque Schrag, Tory Lysik/Axios

The U.S. is filled with towns and cities named after foreign locales, letting us take exotic trips to Naples, Florida, and Holland, Michigan, without pulling out a passport.

  • But right here in Illinois we enjoy an unusually high number of internationally named towns — and few we actually pronounce like the original spot.

What's happening: A new project from the Axios Visuals team has mapped out a veritable United Nations of these towns and pinpointed their origins with a handy corresponding map.

By the numbers: Checking in with at least 66, Illinois boasts the fifth-most municipalities named after foreign places.

  • Take that, Florida, with just 19!

The big picture: These names often reflect the origins of early immigrants to an area, explaining why Dutch names cluster in the Hudson Valley and Michigan and Scandinavian names pop up in Minnesota.

  • But they also represent who had money and the ability to legally settle in the U.S. more than 100 years ago.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of names in the data set originate from Europe, while only a small fraction come from Asia, Africa or Latin America.

Zoom in: In Illinois we've lots of towns with foreign names and lots of creative pronunciations for them, including those named after Cairo, Egypt, Palos de la Frontera, Spain, and Beijing, China.

  • KAY-roh
  • PAY-los
  • PEE-kin

Pop quiz: Guess which suburbs were named after:

  • Poznań, Poland
  • Bannockburn, Scotland
  • Volos, Greece
  • Benzen, Germany

Weigh in: Do you live in one of these towns? Did you know about its cultural history?

  • Email us to share any interesting factoids, pronunciation differences or photos.

Go deeper: Check out the full project with interactive maps, graphics and more!


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Chicago stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more