Most Romance languages have an "r" in their renditions of the British capital's name: Londres, Londra etc.

Outside the Romance family, I only found it in Turkish Londra and Breton Londrez, but those definitely look like borrowings from Romance languages.

Etymonline suggests it's from Latin Londinium (c.115)

This means that "r" appeared in Latin on some stage after AD 115, but I failed to find out when and how.

How did that "r" end up in Romance names of London?

  • The Domesday Book (1086), written in the official Latin of the Norman Court, uses the phrasing Terra epi Lundoniensis. This shows that the Latin spelling was quite fixed well into the Middle Ages (and after, with no trace of -r- appearing.
    – Michaelyus
    Jul 10, 2015 at 11:43
  • @sumelic: r in hombre looks promising. Is there any other Romance language where a similar thing would happen?
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 10, 2015 at 13:13
  • Est. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Oct 6, 2016 at 8:59
  • @A.M.Bittlingmayer it says intervocalic s becomes r in pre-Classical Latin, but there is no s in Londinium, and it seems by the time London was given its Latin name this process has long since been history anyway.
    – Quassnoi
    Oct 6, 2016 at 10:49
  • I was not suggesting it as an explanation in this case, just answering your question. :-) Oct 6, 2016 at 13:40

3 Answers 3


Besides the fact that Londres and so on originate from Latin Londinium, I unfortunately have not been able to find any dictionary entry that explains the etymology of this word and the sound changes that occurred.

However, I did find a post on the Wordorigins Discussion Forum archive that gives some information:

It's a regular sound change in Old French whereby Cn > Cr in post-tonic (after the stress) syllables. Londiniu(m) > *Londne > Londre (the Old French form), just as ordine(m) > *ordne > ordre 'order' and diaconu(m) > *diacne > diacre 'deacon.' – language hat

There seem to be similar examples of this sound change in Spanish. Using the Diccionario de la lengua española online, I found the following two examples of a Vulgar Latin sequence -ndin- becoming modern Spanish -ndr-:

  • liendre < lendinem (V. Latin *lendis, *lendinis)

  • landre < glandinem (V. Latin *glando, *glandinis)

These words may not be exactly analogous to Londinium, because they have a short i. I haven’t been able to find a definitive statement on whether the i in Londinium was short or long; Wikipedia suggests that it is unclear.

But it looks like the phonetic result was the same: in any case, the first i in “Londinium” was elided, and the resulting cluster /ndn/ was changed to the easier-to-pronounce /ndr/.

The sound /l/ could also become /r/ in this context, as seen in Spanish alondra from Latin alaudulam. However, it doesn't seem necessary to postulate an intermediate change of /n/ to /l/ to explain the words above with -ndr- from -ndin-.

I don't know if the change of n to r in these contexts is a common sound change from before the Romance languages diverged, or if it was a parallel development, possibly due to regional influence between the languages that show this change.

In Spanish, n furthermore became r after other nasals in some cases, with an epenthetic voiced plosive inserted in between, as in hembra from Latin feminam or hombre from Latin hominem. However, it seems nasal + nasal clusters developed differently in French: the cognate French words femme and homme don't have r. (Actually, the situation in Spanish seems to be more complicated than I initially thought, since there are also examples like dueño < dominus; see the following WordReference Forums threads for more discussion: "Spanish words of type homBRe & hemBRa" and "Londra, Londres - the origin of the /r/ sound in Romance for "London"").

I don't know how the stress ended up on the first syllable ("Londinium" would be stressed on the second syllable according to the regular Classical Latin stress rule, but the Latin stress system evolved, partly due to things like loss of distinctive vowel length, so stress sometimes falls on a different syllable in the Romance languages vs. in Classical Latin).

  • 2
    It's possible that other languages borrowed the term from Old French. Oct 6, 2016 at 12:00
  • This makes the most sense. For some reason I missed it when it was just posted!
    – Quassnoi
    Oct 6, 2016 at 14:30
  • regional influence between the languages that show this change - There is no regional influence between Western Romance and Romanian, where monumentum becomes mormant, fenestra becomes fereastra, etc. These words are ancestral, and not the product of recent borrowings. Notice that, in all the above examples, both yours and mine, the n was intervocalic in the original Latin.
    – Lucian
    Nov 6, 2021 at 17:51

The insertion of a non-etymological /r/ after a nasal + stop cluster is very common in lots of different languages. Sumelic has already mentioned Spanish hombre.

London does indeed come from Latin Londinium. This is not a "suggestion" but a generally accepted fact.

Turkish Londra is a borrowing from Italian. The cited Breton form is borrowed from French.

  • If you can swallow the change of intervocalic n to l, the rest should be easy (VndĭlV → VndlV → VndrV). Change of l to n is more common, but since the underpinning of that change are the acoustic similarity of l and n, there is no reason that the confusion couldn't go the other way once in a while.
    – user6726
    Jul 10, 2015 at 20:41
  • And per Blust (2009) "Palauan Historical Phonology: Whence the Intrusive Velar Nasal", n → l is a sound change characterizing Palauan.
    – user6726
    Jul 11, 2015 at 1:23

How did that “r” end up in Romance names of London?

Most probably by a combination of rhotacization and metathesis. It is not uncommon for intervocalic n to become r (e.g., Latin monumentum yielding Romanian mormant), nor for constructions of vowel-r to become r-vowel (e.g., Latin per becoming archaic Romanian pre).

  • 1
    What would be the metathesis? Londinium > Londirium > Londriium? I think metathesis is unnecessary: all that is needed is syncope of the i. Is there some reason you think the explanation I gave in my answer is not correct? Aug 25, 2015 at 5:18
  • @sumelic: The metathesis of r is quite frequent in Romance languages, so that's why I immediately thought of that (e.g., pater/padre and mater/madre in both Spanish and Italian). I also don't see how my answer contradicts yours.
    – Lucian
    Aug 25, 2015 at 6:34
  • I don't think either of those is metathesis... from what I remember, Spanish and Italian forms are generally descended from the Vulgar Latin accusative, so it would actually be padre < patrem and madre < matrem. Metathesis, as you say, requires two sounds to switch places. Our answers contradict because I say that no metathesis took place, and you say that metathesis did take place. Aug 25, 2015 at 6:44
  • @sumelic: Do we at least agree on the rhotacism of intervocalic n then ?
    – Lucian
    Aug 25, 2015 at 7:05
  • 1
    No; I actually don't know if the n was intervocalic when it was subject to rhotacism. We do agree on the rhotacism of n, though! Aug 25, 2015 at 7:22

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