What’s in a Name, Places in Switzerland

Ah, yes, “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet”. Thank you William Shakespeare.

So, what’s in a name? Honestly, there are some weird and amusing names of places in Switzerland. Some are just weird to the English ear and some because of their meaning. For example, are the people in “Lachen” (SZ*) [which means laugh] happier than the people in other places like “Witzwil” (BE) [Joke village]? Is “Paradise” (TG) a better place to live than “Ende der Welt”(BE) [end of the world]. Would you rather live in “Gross”(SZ) or possibly “Les Arses”(FR)? Exactly how smart are the inhabitants of “Moron”(BE)? These are all real places in Switzerland. Really, really, really!

Are you Hungry? Let’s go to “Egg”(ZH) but probably not “Bad Egg” (ZH) or worse yet “Rotenegg” (BE). You can eat your fill in “Chäs und Brot” (BE) [Cheese and bread]. Or prefer to only have “Cheese”(VD), would you like a “Donat” (GR) with that or maybe some “Melon”(ZH)? No? Then let’s just go to a “Baar” (ZG), eat “Apples” (VD) and forget it.

What’s the weather like in “Rain” (LU)? Duh.

Up here for the holidays? Let’s go to “Bethlehem” (BE) or “Weinacht” (AG) [Christmas] or “Engelberg” (OW)[Angel mountain]. I’m sure you know who lives in “St. Niklaus” (BE).

Where am I? In “Moskau” (SH), “Petersburg” (SH) or Libanon (LU). Switzerland is international through and through.

Same and Similar Place Names

place namesSwitzerland has 4 official languages. Depending on where you are and what language is being spoken you might say the name differently. For example “Lengnau” (where we live) is the Swiss German name, in French it is “Longeau” (although most people don’t know that). Sometimes the languages spoken in the town are incorporated in the official name like Biel/Bienne. Both German and French are spoken there. Due to this somewhat confusing aspect, often tourists get totally bewildered. Many a tourist has ended up in the wrong city because they thought Lucerne was the German pronunciation, Lausanne the French and Lugano the Italian pronunciation for the same city. In reality they are three completely different cities in three completely different regions.

After you get used to the names of the places, you realize there is quite often two places with the same name. If not the same, then extremely similar. There are two Lengnaus, the place where we live and one about 1 and 1/2 hours away . When we were changing the location of our business from Berne to here our Notary put the wrong Lengnau in the official papers! We caught the mistake in time. My sister-in-law bought a train ticket for Lengnau at the station once. When the ticket controller came by he told her she was on the wrong train. She looked at the ticket and saw that she had gotten a ticket for Langnau and not Lengnau, two completely different places.

International Booboos

Not only Switzerland has more than one place with the same or similar names. We have friends who went to Sardinia on vacation. They were going to drive to Genua (Genova) and then take the Ferry to Sardinia. So they packed their things, got in the car, programmed their GPS and off they went.

The drive took 5 hours. They got to their destination 10 minutes before the Ferry was to leave but there was no port and no Ferries in sight. In fact, they were in a small town in the mountains. In their best Italian they asked where the port was. The locals raised their eyebrows, smiled and said about 2 hours away. The navigation system does what you tell it to do. If you program it to take you to the the small town of Genola instead of Genova that’s what it does. Needless to say, they missed the ferry (but did eventually get to Sardinia).


* The names of the cantons are in parentheses behind the names of the towns.

AG – Aarau
BE – Berne
FR – Fribourg
GR – Graubünden
LU – Luzern
OW – Obwalden
SH – Schaffhausen
SZ – Schwyz
TG – Thurgau
VD – Vaud
ZG – Zug
ZH – Zurich

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