A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What's the origin of the name Cleveland?

October 12, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

Being from Cleveland, I have often wondered what exactly is a Cleve? A type of mushroom? A small toad? A unique tree? I've walked around downtown trying to find the answer and all I see is homeless people, garbage and prostitutes. Are these "Cleves"? Was there ever a mythical "Land of Cleves'"? Or was this something snatched from a Dr. Suess book?

SDStaff Terey and SDStaff Ian reply:

In 1796 Moses Cleaveland and a group of investors known as the Connecticut Land Company laid the groundwork for a new town named Cleaveland. Three years after most of the other founding investors returned to Connecticut, Lorenzo Carter established the first permanent settlement. The spelling of the city's name was eventually changed to Cleveland.

The original Cleaveland is a town in England whose name goes back at least a thousand years, maybe more. There is some dispute as to the name's origin, but it's likely a reference to its geography, either from "cliff land" for the surrounding terrain or "clay land" for its muddy soil. There's a legend that the name derives from the Latin name "Caluvium," said to be one of the Roman soldiers who first conquered the area, and then decided to settle there. Being named either for a pillager or a mud bog may be a preferable to being named for garbage and hookers, but presumably this was only done because "New Jersey" was already taken.

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