Word nerd alert: Origins of the name Orlando

In the past I’ve had great fun researching interesting words and learning how they came to be included within the Americanized-English language.

Yes, this is the kind of thing true word nerds do. It can be fun though. I once wrote a college paper on the history of the word toilet. Received an A and my professor actually read part of it in class. Yee haw!

Toilet Trouble Game
Toilet Trouble Game

So one day I began to wonder about the name Orlando. Where did it come from and how did it get applied to one beautiful and popular Central Florida city?

Now, I’m not quite stupid enough to think that it was named after the handsome and dashing Orlando Bloom. I merely wanted to highlight an excellent employment of the name.

Orlando Bloom

My first thought, beyond Orlando Bloom, was the vague recollection of a Shakespearean character named Orlando. Yes, indeed. Conducting a little research to refresh my memory, I confirmed that Orlando is the lead male character in As You Like It. This meant the name was at least as old as the English Renaissance.

I read one website that said the name was Germanic but many other websites stated that the name was Italian. Then came the bombshell. Orlando is the Italian form of Roland, which is in fact Germanic. That’s not the bombshell though. The bombshell is that Roland is my father’s name. So, inadvertently, I was now researching the history of my own father’s name!

Wowie. Too cool!

Statue of Roland
The Statue of Roland at Metz railway station in France

Digging further, I discovered the earliest known record of the name Roland hails from the year 788 AD. Roland was a military hero and possibly a nephew of Charlemagne. I only found the nephew reference on one website though, which made me suspicious.

What is more than evident is that Roland the military hero was quite admired and beloved. He was later romanticized in Medieval and Renaissance culture through poetry, songs and statues like the two shown here.

Statue of Roland in Latvia
Statue of Roland in Riga, Latvia

So, now that I’d learned all that it was time to move on to how Orlando came be the name of my present city of residence. One interesting detail is that Orlando/Roland is derived from the Germanic word hruodland, which literally translates to “famous land.” Amazing that the city of Orlando went on to become a famous land throughout the world because of the dreams and aspirations of Walt Disney.

Beyond that knowledge however, how Orlando ended up getting it’s name is quite murky. If it was a lake, you’d never see the bottom. One detail that is definite though is that the town of Orlando was originally called Jernigan, so named after an early settler to the area. Doesn’t roll off the tongue nicely like Orlando does it? Rolls off like a mouth full of rocks actually.

Looking-west-down-Pine-street-Orlando-Florida (2)
Pine Street in Downtown Orlando – 19th century

In 1857 the name was changed to Orlando. Where did the name come from? Sticking true to Florida’s notorious reputation for nuttiness, the simplest answer is…. we just don’t know. Possibly the town was named in honor of a soldier named Orlando Reeves…. or it could have been named for the aforementioned Shakespeare character in As You Like It…. or it could have belonged to an employee of Judge James Speer, an early Orlando resident.

Or, best of all, it could have even been named after some random person with the name Orlando who was crossing through and just happened to die here (this one makes the least amount of sense, which means it just might be true.)

Orlando Reeves Memorial
Orlando Reeves Memorial

Historically, the Orlando Reeves version has been the most popular, as can be seen by this memorial. However, there is a gigantic hole in that story: there is no War Department record of an Orlando Reeves dying in Florida during that time. Plus, one of the main streets running through downtown Orlando is named Rosalind, which is the female lead character in As You Like It. This lends more credibility to the Shakespeare connection. Hmmm? See what I mean about the murkiness?

What is true is that present day Orlando is a beautiful place to live and one of the fastest growing areas in America. The population is diverse and has grown so rapidly that the vast majority of the people who live here were not born here. Folks have migrated from all over the country and the world bringing together many various cultures with differing beliefs, not to mention differing driving skills. Seriously, driving around here can get pretty crazy sometimes.

IMG_0966 (5)
Lake Eola – Downtown Orlando – JoAnn Ryan

Of course, best of all is the connection between my own father and the city I currently live in. Just goes to show you never know what you’ll discovered when researching words and names.

More interesting Orlando facts:

  • In 1875 when the town was officially incorporated, Orlando had only 29 residents. Today the population of greater Orlando is 2.5 million.
  • Orange County was originally called Mosquito County–not quite as appealing for tourism.

Read more about Orlando, FL history here:





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