The etymology of Melbourne's suburb names

1) Language origin

language

2) Namesake

language1

Melbourne has about 340 suburbs within its contiguous built up area. All of these have names which each have unique origins. This map explores the etymology of Melbourne’s suburb names through both the language(s) and namesake(s) of each on two different maps.

These maps cover all suburbs located in the 34 local governments classified as being in ‘Metropolitan Melbourne’ by the Municipal Association of Victoria.

You can hover over each suburb to see details. Moving your mouse over the legend items will also highlight all of the suburbs covered in each category.

Language

See the map here.

I have chosen to combine all Australian indigenous languages into a single category. During my research, I tried to record each individual language because these are very different and varied across an entire continent. They are not a single homogenous entity by any stretch of the imagination.

However, I ran into difficulties pretty quickly. Many of these suburbs use local words that do not have confirmed providence. One reason for this appears to be that words may no longer be in use. Another is that early European settlers, surveyors and explorers routinely misspelled or interpreted local words into English quite badly, making it difficult to work out which word(s) they were trying to record.

As a result, rather than trying to make a determination one way or the other, I have instead included them all into a single category. Again, this is not meant to mean that these are all part of a single language, but because of the difficulties outlined above.

suburbnameorigin

Namesake

See the map here.

This map shows the namesake of the suburb name – i.e. what the suburb is named after.

Finding each suburb’s namesake is not an easy task. There are sometimes conflicting claims about its history. Other times, there is no reliable documentation with the necessary historical backing.

As a result, I have relied only on what I’d call ‘reliable’ sources, mainly via the VicNames database as a starting point. These include things like academic books and primary historical sources. Where even these are in disagreement, I have listed all possibilities. Where there is none of this documentation but there is other strong evidence pointing in a particular direction, I have included ‘probable’ and/or ‘disputed origin’ in its record . In other cases, there may some theories out there but no concrete evidence. Here I have listed these as ‘Unknown’. The ‘Notes’ column of the data spreadsheet contains more information if appropriate.

There are lots of interesting things to pull out from the data. The most obvious is the clear British influence – more than one in four of Melbourne’s suburbs are named after a place or person in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Some other observations of mine:

  • If anyone wants a local history project to work on, there are 25 suburb names where the origin appears to be unknown.
  • There are six suburbs which are portmanteaus – i.e. they are a combination of two different words (usually other suburbs). These are Ashwood (Ashburton and Burwood), Donvale (Doncaster [Road] and Springvale [Road]), Kealba (Keilor and St Albans), Warranwood (Warrandyte and Ringwood), Wesburn (West and Warburton) and Westmeadows (West and Broadmeadows).
  • The suburb of Dallas in the northern suburbs is not named for Dallas in the United States, but rather for Sir Dallas Brooks, former Governor of Victoria
  • Three Bridges is, unsurprisingly, named for having three bridges

Note that in the full data spreadsheet linked below, there is more detail on the namesake than the map. For design purposes I combined some into broad categories so that there are not too many colours all displaying at once. If you’re interested, I’d highly recommend downloading the data below.

Data

You can view and download the data behind these maps in both a CSV and GeoJSON file format on this page on Github.

Big thanks to Jayen who helped with the map’s code, wouldn’t have been possible without his assistance! Check out his site here.

I have compiled this information from several sources.

Suburb names are taken from the Vicmap Admin data source, available here, used under CC-BY 4.0.

For name origins, I have used authoritative (e.g. academic) sources for all of the information in this map. In some cases, there are multiple theories for a suburb’s etymology. In these cases I have chosen the one most commonly cited and/or put forward by the most authoritative source(s). In other cases, there may some theories out there but no concrete evidence. Here I have listed these as ‘Unknown’. The ‘Notes’ column of the data spreadsheet contains more information if appropriate.

The ‘Notes’ column of the data is not meant to be a historical reference point. It’s just there to provide a snapshot of the etymology to be used as a starting point in case people are interested in researching more.

The primary source for this historical information was through VicNAMES, available under CC-BY 4.0.