Was it Shakespeare who once penned the profound words, ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a Rose Bay any other name would sell as high?’ No, that was me.
But his original prose is what inspired this search—a journey through postcodes and school zones to uncover the weird and wonderful meanings behind Sydney’s suburbs. Some are quite obvious (looking at you, Bayview), and others are a bit boring (Beaconsfield’s namesake is simply Lord Beaconsfield), but among the mundane there are some memorable meanings.
Previously known as Woronora, the leafy suburb in the Sutherland Shire officially become Como in 1922 thanks to a wealthy settler named James Murphy who basically owned the Shire back in the day. Murphy suggested the rebrand because of its resemblance to Lake Como in Italy and took the Italian inspiration even further by naming a bunch of Como’s street names after Italian cities, including Tivoli Esplanade and Genoa Street.
On the other side of the Georges River, the quaint suburb of Lugarno boasts similar picturesque views. Much like Como, Lugarno owes its name to a foreign body of water—the Alpine lake Lugano, which sits on the border between southern Switzerland and northern Italy. But legend has it that some early settlers had a bit of a hard time pronouncing the word, so they threw in an ‘R’ to sweeten the deal. Classic convict culture.
The inner-city suburb of Ultimo is ultimately a celebration of legal loopholes. Back in 1803,
military surgeon and magistrate John Harris was charged with ungentlemanlike conduct and disclosing the votes of a court martial, but got off on a technicality. Apparently, the charge referred to the date of the offence as the 19th ultimo, meaning ‘of last month’ instead of the 19th instant, meaning ‘of this month’. Harris commemorated the blunder by naming his local mansion ‘Ultimo House’, and the rest is history.
Camping isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you gaze upon the luxe abodes lining the likes of Queen St, but this elite eastern suburb takes its name from the Aboriginal word meaning ‘camp’ or ‘a sitting-down place’. The word was used by Indigenous Australians for Woollahra Point before a politician by the name of Sir Daniel Cooper took the name for his property. Neighbouring suburbs Bondi, Tamarama and Coogee are all also ‘borrowed’ from Aboriginal names, though each have been slightly lost in translation. Most notably, Coogee is said to have said to be taken from the local Aboriginal word ‘koojah’ which means ‘smelly place’.
Blues Point on the harbour isn’t the only place named after the legendary convict Billy Blue—Blue Street and Blues Point Road in North Sydney, the Billy Blue College of Design, and Blues Point Tower all pay homage to the Sydney celebrity too. Born in Jamaica, NY, Billy was a chocolate maker who was convicted of stealing raw sugar and sent to Australia on the convict ship Minorca in 1801. Once he served his sentence, he became a charismatic but kinda shady water bailiff who was fond of smuggling rum and harbouring runaway convicts, but got away with it because of his larrikin-like personality.
Billy Blue’s daughter’s original house sold recently in nearby McMahon’s Point. Built in 1834, it’s been marvelously maintained and improved.
Ancient history buffs probably recognise the word already, but those of us who are a little rusty on our Arthurian mythology mightn’t be across it. The affluent beach side suburb of Avalon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches is actually named after the paradisiacal island where King Arthur’s famous Excalibur sword was cast, and also where he may have been taken to die. Not a bad place to live out your final days, that’s for sure.