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I was thinking about the city of Los Angeles and how I rarely refer to it by its full name but rather its abbreviation, LA.

It doesn't seem unbelievable to me that, in a mostly illeterate society, this abbreviation (or perhaps a homophone of it like 'Elay') would evently replace the more difficult to pronounce full name.

Are there any historical examples of an abbreviation or acronym replacing an existing place name?

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    Istanbul. It is not an acronym but for a thousand years was an informal name for the most central district of Constantinople only. – Adam Bittlingmayer Jul 26 '17 at 19:34
  • DC. DF in Mexico. – Adam Bittlingmayer Jul 26 '17 at 19:37
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    Technically “Los Angeles” is an abbreviation, of the older Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula. Quite rare to hear it referred to by this full name indeed. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 4 '17 at 13:25
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One famous example in such respect is the name of Pakistan, which however was coined purposedly when it became an independent nation. It comes from an acronym formed from the names of the five northern provinces of the British India: Punjab, Afghan Province, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan (see here). The i vowel was inserted for euphonic purposes. However, the word paki has also a separate meaning in Urdu (where it means 'pure').

Another such artificial creation is the name of Banzare Coast, coming from British-Australian-New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition that discovered it (see here).

You probably prefer some natural developments rather than an artificial creation. I am sure there are many examples. I can mention two Russian cities. First is Saint Petersburg which is commonly known, and effectively called, Piter by the native speakers. Someone calls it by the acronym SPb, even if more in writing than orally. Another example is the city of Yekaterinburg which is commonly abbreviated into Ye-burg, including also the spoken language.

The city names in the Spanish domains in South America were often derived from quite lengthy phrases with some religious content. Later they underwent spontaneous abbreviation. This is the case of Buenos Aires coming from the former denomination Puerto de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre (at least, according to the popular sources)

P.S. I suppose I don't need to mention Frisco for San Francisco.

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    Many years ago, while in Pakistan, I was told this but the 'i' was included as standing for 'Indus'. Is that not correct? – Gaston Ümlaut Jul 27 '17 at 21:52
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    @GastonÜmlaut: Probably not, given that the s already stands for Sindhis, which means Hindus, since the initial Indo-European s becomes a h in Greek. – Lucian Aug 29 '17 at 21:03
  • SoHo, Manhattan. – Mark Beadles Nov 28 '18 at 4:33
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There's a wiki list of geographic acronyms and initialisms for this (I should know, since I compiled it) but only a few (if any) qualify as being a replacement name for the longer term. Perhaps sometime in the future New Orleans may officially be changed to NOLA. And I'm unsure if Soweto (South West Townships) and Nemato (Nelson Mandela Township) were originally known by the longer names. There's a couple merged cities in Ontario (Walden and Kenora) that are acronyms of the predecessor cities. Those might qualify. If you count those, there's a section with more merged cities in List of geographic portmanteaus

ETA: Soweto does not qualify. There was a contest in 1959 to name the communities and the judges selected Soweto as a neutral name. (some of the names were quite racist.) So while the name is an acronym, it wasn't of the previous name of the area.

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"The UK", "The US", "The USA", "The EU" are all more common than the unabbreviated versions.

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  • I don't think this is what the question is about. An easy way is to try forming an adjective; nobody says /ueseiian/, /ukeiian/ or /eejuian/ (and I hope it will never happen :) – bytebuster Nov 28 '18 at 7:23

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