The Cleveland Hills in England, Image Credit:


The Two Clevelands

-By Ezra Ellenbogen

Cleveland is a city in Ohio in the United States, but Cleveland is a region in Britain that was formerly a county. It’s easy to get the two confused. You’ve probably encountered this phenomenon before – two towns with the exact same name! Whether it be Toledo, Ohio and Toledo, Spain or Newcastle, Australia and Newcastle, Britain, there are many towns and cities whose names are the exact same. Two of these name-twins are Cleveland in the US and Cleveland in the UK. It is no wonder that they’ve been paired as sister cities since 1977![1]

As you know, the sun did eventually set on the British Empire, but many names of theirs have stuck around – a lot of them. In fact, BBC America estimated that 650 cities in the US have an English town as their namesake.[2] Another interesting fact about this phenomenon: Richmond is the British place name most copied internationally.[3] And if you haven’t heard of these twin-named-cities, take out a map and take a gander at such cities as London, Ohio, Birmingham, Alabama, and even Boston, Massachusetts. But the story of the two Clevelands is not just another tale of an American city named after an English city.

To mention, there is a common falsehood that Cleveland in England and in Ohio have two separate etymological origins. As you’ll see, they do not entirely.

Cleveland in England got its name from the old English clif meaning slope and land meaning land. The area’s name means “cliff-land,” in reference to the Cleveland Hills that bore the same etymology. Although, when the county was established, it did not include the traditionally defined Cleveland Hills area.

However, Cleveland in Ohio got its name from Moses Cleaveland, the person who began the settlement of the city. The city remained Cleaveland until 1831 when The Cleveland Advertiser dropped the ‘a’ in the city’s name because it was, according to them at least, superfluous.[4] This change created a new norm and the city has been known as Cleveland ever since. It is funny to note that the Herald newspaper continued its usage of the ‘a’ at least a year after the spelling changed.

To look further, the surname Cleaveland actually has two possible meanings. Firstly, it could come from an Americanized spelling of the Norwegian surname Kleveland/Kleiveland, which came from the Old Norse klief, meaning cliff, and land meaning land. Secondly, there is the surname Cleveland/Cleaveland, which fits the explorer’s last name perfectly. This name actually is a direct reference to the Cleveland area of England and means ‘of Cleveland.’ Essentially, the two surnames bear the same meaning.[5]

Looking into Moses Cleaveland’s genealogy, we make the following observations. First, his family had no need to Americanize their name considering that their name was Cleaveland before Americanizing names was even common. Second, since the family has direct ancestry from England, it is more than most likely that their surname originated from the common surname Cleveland in reference to the English region. So unless you think that someone from Norway Americanized (or rather, English-ified considering the concept of Americanization didn’t even exist then) their surname and went to England to influence Moses Cleaveland’s ancestors to adopt the name, then it is safe to assume that his last name comes from the English region of Cleveland.

So, Cleveland, Ohio was named for Moses Cleaveland, whose last name meant ‘of Cleveland,’ in reference to the area of England. Thus, Cleveland was named for Cleveland, despite the common falsehood.

It was no wonder when Mayor Ralph Perk sought out Cleveland, Britain as a sister city in 1977.[6] Besides just their names, the two Clevelands have much in common. The two cities industrialized at similar times, with Cleveland, Ohio becoming an important industrial city in the mid to late 1800s[7] and Cleveland, England playing a large role in the 19th century iron boom.[8] For a while, Cleveland had a similar population to its English counterpart, but our headcounts have since diverged. A fairer comparison would be between Cuyahoga County and the Cleveland region. That comparison would show that Cuyahoga County’s population is almost twice that of Cleveland, England.[9] However, Cleveland, England’s population has been growing as the area continues its development. Unfortunately, Cleveland has not been an official county since 1995, but its name lives on as a regional name, such as with its usage as a postcode district (and also in the borough of Redcar and Cleveland).

So, Cleveland and Cleveland are two twin cities, with their names having an intertwined history. The two coastal areas will always have a connection, and Cleveland is proud of our relationship with our English counterpart.

Ezra’s blog: One Page Stories