Only historians working on the subject know: the name of Paris, the French capital, has an astonishing origin and meaning.
Paris, City of Lights, city of elegance and romance… That’s today, because imagine that the origin of the name Paris is very far from all that! Behind this iconic name hides a history of several millennia, where neither glamor nor chic have their place.
To delve into the etymological roots of Paris, you have to go back to around the 3rd century BC. The region that is now home to Paris was inhabited by Celtic tribes called the Parisii. These Celts had chosen to settle along the banks of the Seine, creating a strategic location for trade, thanks to easy access to the river and nearby waterways.
The arrival of the Romans, led by Julius Caesar, around 52 BC, changed the history of the city. The Parisii resisted bravely, but were ultimately defeated. The Romans then founded a colony located on the site of the current Île de la Cité, which they called “Lutetia,” the famous “Lutèce” found in the Asterix albums! Designating the historic heart of Paris, the name “Lutetia” had Celtic roots meaning “marsh” or “muddy,” due to the humid nature of the terrain. The name of the city therefore meant “The place of the swamp” or “the city of mud”.
In the 5th century AD, when the Roman Empire began to decline, Germanic tribes invaded and the dominant Latin language began to evolve. Vulgar Latin, the form of Latin spoken by the people, morphed into ancient “French”.
But what does “Paris” mean then?
This linguistic evolution also had an impact on the name of the city. “Lutetia” transformed into “Lutetia Parisiorum” then “Parisius” in Old French. Eventually, the name was simplified to “Paris,” which is the form we know today.
As you will have understood, it was the Celts Parisii who gave the name to the city. But what is the meaning of this word? The ancient Celtic language remains a mystery due to the lack of written records. Several theories have been put forward to decipher this enigmatic name. One of them, proposed by Celtic language specialist Xavier Delamarre, suggests a connection with the word “pario,” meaning “cauldron.” Celtic societies attached great symbolic importance to the cauldron and, according to this theory, the name Parisii could mean “people of the cauldron”.
Some scholars, such as Alfred Holder, suggest adding an ethnic suffix to the Celtic term “peri,” meaning “to command” or “to provoke.” This could mean that the Parisii were seen as “leaders” or ambitious and arrogant people. Well…