The city of Istanbul has been known by a number of different names. The most notable names besides the modern Turkish name are Byzantium, Constantinople, and Stamboul. Different names are associated with different phases of its history and with different languages.
According to Pliny the Elder the first name of Byzantium was Lygos. This may have been the name of a Thracian settlement situated on the site of the later city, near the point of the peninsula (Sarayburnu).
Byzantion (Βυζάντιον), Latinized as Byzantium, was founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC. The name is believed to be of Thracian or Illyrian origin and thus to predate the Greek settlement. It may be derived from a Thracian or Illyrian personal name, Byzas.:352ff Ancient Greek legend refers to a legendary king of that name as the leader of the Megarean colonists and eponymous founder of the city.
After its fall, the name "Byzantine Empire" started being used by the West to refer to the Eastern Roman Empire whose capital the city had been. This usage was introduced by the German historian Hieronymus Wolf in 1555, a century after the empire had ceased to exist. During the time of the empire, the term Byzantium was used only for the city, not for the empire that it ruled.
The city was called Augusta Antonina for a brief period in the 3rd century AD. The Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (193–211) conferred the name in honor of his son Antoninus, the later Emperor Caracalla.
Before the Roman emperor Constantine the Great made the city the new eastern capital of the Roman Empire on May 11, 330, he undertook a major construction project, essentially rebuilding the city on a monumental scale, partly modeled after Rome. Names of this period included ἡ Νέα, δευτέρα Ῥώμη "the New, second Rome", Alma Roma Ἄλμα Ῥώμα, Βυζαντιάς Ῥώμη, ἑῴα Ῥώμη "Eastern Rome", Roma Constantinopolitana.:354
The Third Canon of the First Council of Constantinople (360) refers to the city as New Rome.
The term "New Rome" lent itself to East–West polemics, especially in the context of the Great Schism, when it was used by Greek writers to stress the rivalry with (the original) Rome. New Rome is also still part of the official title of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Kōnstantinoúpolis (Κωνσταντινούπολις), Constantinopolis in Latin and Constantinople in English, was the name by which the city became soon more widely known, in honour of Constantine the Great who established it as his capital. It is first attested in official use under Emperor Theodosius II (408–450). It remained the principal official name of the city throughout the Byzantine period, and the most common name used for it in the West until the early 20th century. It was also used (including its Kostantiniyye variant) by the Ottoman Empire until the advent of the Republic of Turkey.
Besides Constantinople, the Byzantines referred to the city with a large range of honorary appellations, such as the "Queen of Cities" (Βασιλὶς τῶν πόλεων), also as an adjective, Βασιλεύουσα, the 'Reigning City'. In popular speech, the most common way of referring to it came to be simply the City (Greek: hē Polis, ἡ Πόλις, Modern Greek: i Poli, η Πόλη). This usage, still current today in colloquial Greek and Armenian (Պոլիս, pronounced "Polis" or "Bolis" in the Western Armenian dialect prevalent in the city), also became the source of the later Turkish name, Istanbul (see below).
Kostantiniyye (Arabic, Persian قسطنطنية, translit. Qusṭanṭīniyya, Ottoman Turkish قسطنطينيه, translit. Ḳosṭanṭīnīye) is the name by which the city came to be known in the Islamic world. It is an Arabic calqued form of Constantinople, with an Arabic ending meaning 'place of' instead of the Greek element -polis. After the Ottoman conquest of 1453, it was used as the most formal official name in Ottoman Turkish, and remained in use throughout most of the time up to the fall of the Empire in 1923. However, during some periods Ottoman authorities favoured other names (see below).
Cedid Atlas, the first published atlas in the Ottoman Empire, dated 1803, refers to the city as İstanbul. Second map refers to the Bosphorus as İstanbul Boğazı (Istanbul Strait)
The modern Turkish name İstanbul (pronounced [isˈtanbuɫ]) (Ottoman Turkish: استانبول) is attested (in a range of variants) since the 10th century, at first in Armenian and Arabic (without the initial İ-) and then in Turkish sources. It derives from the Greek phrase "στην Πόλη" " [stimˈboli], meaning "in the city" or "to the city", reinterpreted as a single word; a similar case is Stimboli, Crete. It is thus based on the common Greek usage of referring to Constantinople simply as The City (see above).
The incorporation of parts of articles and other particles into Greek placenames was common even before the Ottoman period: Navarino for earlier Avarino, Satines for Athines, etc. Similar examples of modern Turkish placenames derived from Greek in this fashion are İzmit, earlier İznikmit, from Greek Nicomedia, İznik from Greek Nicaea ([iz nikea]), Samsun (s'Amison from "se" and "Amisos"), and İstanköy for the Greek island Kos (from is tin Ko). The occurrence of the initial i- in these names, including Istanbul's, is largely secondary epenthesis to break up syllabic consonant clusters, prohibited by the phonotactic structure of Turkish, as seen in Turkish istasyon from French station or ızgara from the Greek schára.
İstanbul was the common name for the city in normal speech in Turkish even before the conquest of 1453, but in official use by the Ottoman authorities other names, such as Kostantiniyye, were preferred in certain contexts. Thus, Kostantiniyye was used on coinage up to the late 17th and then again in the 19th century. The Ottoman chancelery and courts used Kostantiniyye as part of intricate formulae in expressing the place of origin of formal documents, such as be-Makam-ı Darü's-Saltanat-ı Kostantiniyyetü'l-Mahrusâtü'l-Mahmiyye. In 19th century Turkish book-printing it was also used in the impressum of books, in contrast to the foreign use of Constantinople. At the same time, however, İstanbul too was part of the official language, for instance in the titles of the highest Ottoman military commander (İstanbul ağası) and the highest civil magistrate (İstanbul efendisi) of the city. İstanbul and several other variant forms of the same name were also widely used in Ottoman literature and poetry.
Names other than استانبول (İstanbul) had become obsolete in the Turkish language during the late Ottoman/early republican periods. However, Constantinople was still used when writing the city's name in Latin script. In 1928, the Turkish alphabet was changed from Arabic script to Latin script. After that, Turkey started to urge other countries to use Turkish names for Turkish cities, instead of other transliterations to Latin script that had been used in the Ottoman times. Letters or packages sent to "Constantinople" instead of "Istanbul" were no longer delivered by Turkey's PTT, which contributed to the eventual worldwide adoption of the new name.
Stamboul or Stambul is a variant form of İstanbul. Greek for 'the town'. Like Istanbul itself, forms without the initial i- are attested from early on in the Middle Ages, first in Arabic sources of the 10th century and Armenian ones of the 12th. Some early sources also attest to an even shorter form Bulin, based on the Greek word Poli(n) alone without the preceding article. (This latter form lives on in modern Armenian.) The word-initial i- arose in the Turkish name as an epenthetic vowel to break up the St- consonant cluster, prohibited in Turkish phonotactics.
Stamboul was used in Western languages as an equivalent of İstanbul, until the time it was replaced by the official new usage of the Turkish form in the 1930s. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Western European and American sources often used Constantinople to refer to the metropolis as a whole, but Stamboul to refer to the central parts located on the historic peninsula, i.e. Byzantine-era Constantinople inside the walls.
Islambol (اسلامبول, Full of Islam) or Islambul (find Islam) or Islam(b)ol (old Turkic: be Islam), both in the Turkish language, were folk-etymological adaptations of Istanbul created after the Ottoman conquest of 1453 to express the city's new role as the capital of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. It is first attested shortly after the conquest, and its invention was ascribed by some contemporary writers to Sultan Mehmed II himself. Some Ottoman sources of the 17th century, most notably Evliya Çelebi, describe it as the common Turkish name of the time. Between the late 17th and late 18th centuries, it was also in official use. The first use of the word "Islambol" on coinage took place in 1703 (1115 AH) during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III. The term Kostantiniyye still appeared, however, into the 20th century.
Ottomans and foreign contemporaries, especially in diplomatic correspondence, referred to the Ottoman imperial government with particular honorifics. Among them are the following:
The "Gate of Felicity", the "Sublime Gate", and the "Sublime Porte" were literally places within the Ottoman Sultans' Topkapı Palace, and were used metonymically to refer to the authorities located there, and hence for the central Ottoman imperial administration. Modern historians also refer to government by these terms, similar to popular usage of Whitehall in Britain. The sublime Gate is not inside Topkapı palace; the administration building whose gate is named Bâb-ı Âlî is between Agia Sofia and Beyazit mosque, a huge building.
Many peoples neighboring on the Byzantine Empire used names expressing concepts like "The Great City", "City of the Emperors", "Capital of the Romans" or similar. During the 10th to 12th century Constantinople was one of the largest two cities in the world, the other being Baghdad.
The medieval Vikings, who had contacts with the Byzantine empire through their expansion through eastern Europe (Varangians) used the Old Norse name Miklagarðr (from mikill 'big' and garðr 'wall' or 'stronghold'), later Miklagard and Micklegarth. This name lives on in the modern Icelandic name Mikligarður and Faroese Miklagarður.
East and South Slavic languages referred to the city as Tsarigrad or Carigrad, 'City of the Tsar (King)', from the Slavonic words tsar ('Caesar' or 'King') and grad ('city'). Cyrillic: Царьград, Цариград. This was presumably a calque on a Greek phrase such as Βασιλέως Πόλις (Basileos Polis), 'the city of the emperor [king]'. The term is still occasionally used in Bulgarian, whereas it has become archaic in Russian, and Macedonian. In Croatian, Serbian and Slovene, Carigrad is a living alternative name for the modern city, as well as being used when referring to the historic capital of the medieval Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire. In Czech (a West Slavic language) this Slavic name is used in the form Cařihrad (used in the 19th century, now only occasionally). It was also borrowed from the Slavic languages into Romanian in the form Țarigrad, though Constantinopole remained the far more widely preferred term.
Besides Kustantiniyyah, Persian, Arabic and other languages of the Islamic world used names based on the title Cesar ('Emperor'), as in Persian and Urdu Kayser-i Zemin, or on the ethnic name Rum ('Romans'), as in Arabic Rūmiyyat al-kubra ('Great City of the Romans') or Persian Takht-e Rum ('Throne of the Romans').
The city is referred as Kostandina or Kostantina (an alteration of Kostantiniyye) and more often as its short form Kosta (קושטה) or Kostán in most Judaeo-Spanish publications during the Ottoman period. Kosta was the name for the entire province of Istanbul, while the word Estambol was used for the area of the old city and Pera. Today the word Kosta is restricted only for historical purposes and is no more in common use.
The word Estambol has widened in meaning to include exclusively the entire European side of Istanbul. The Asian side is usually not considered as Estambol, however the expression la civdad de Estambol would encompass the boundaries of the present-day city. There are few expression denoting the Asian side. Anatol, from Anatolia and Asya, meaning Asia are common words to denote the Asian side of Istanbul. Moreover, el otro lado (literally the other side) is a quite simplistic and descriptory expression for the Asian side of Istanbul, especially for those living in the European side. Those living in the Asian side however do not use this expression to denote the European side, but simply call it Estambol. The inhabitants are called Estambulí or Estambullí.
In Hebrew, the city was sometimes referred to as "Kushtandina" קושטנדינה, and sometimes "Kushtandina Rabati" קושטנדינה רבתי, literally, Great Kushtandina, or shortened to "Kushta" קושטא, probably due to a distorted pronunciation of the Judaeo-Spanish Kostandina. This usage was common among non-Sephardic Jews until the early 20th century; however, in present-day Israel it has virtually disappeared, replaced by the Hebrew transliteration of the Turkish "Istanbul" (איסטנבול).
Present-day Chinese use transcriptions of the name Istanbul (Yisitanbu'er 伊斯坦布尔 or Yisitanbao 伊斯坦堡) when referring to the modern city.
Most modern Western languages have adopted the name Istanbul for the modern city during the 20th century, following the current usage in the Turkish Republic. However, many languages also preserve other, traditional names. Greeks continue to call the city Constantinople (Κωνσταντινούπολη Konstantinupoli in Modern Greek) or simply "The City" (η Πόλη i Poli). Languages that use forms based on Stamboul include Russian, Polish (though the alternative form of Istambuł is also universally accepted and employed in many translations), Latvian, Lithuanian, Georgian and Albanian. The Albanian form is Stamboll; the Spanish form is Estambul; the Portuguese form is Istambul, with an m instead of an n. Armenian uses Bolis, based on the Greek Poli(s) 'City'. Icelandic preserves the old Norse name Mikligarður, though the form Istanbúl is generally used. In Slovene Carigrad is still largely used and often preferred over the official name.