If you're like me, you may have grown up seeing the name of the capital of Ukraine spelled Kiev, and gotten a little confused when news outlets started referring to it as Kyiv. There are actually a lot of different spellings, including Kyïv, Kyjiv, and Kyyiv, as well as the obsolete Kiou, Kiow, Kiovia, Kiowia, Kiew, Kief, and Kieff. The reason for all this was a lack of standardization on how to transliterate Ukrainian toponyms into English. Kiev was widespread from the 1920s onward because it was under the sovereignty of the Soviet Union and that was the Russian way to write down the city name. However, when Ukraine got independence, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs began a campaign to replace Russian linguistic relics. This started with formally changing the names of cities in the 1990s (this included other cities like Odessa instead of Odesa, Lvov instead of Lviv, and Kharkov instead of Kharkiv) and then lobbying Western media to update their stylizations. This didn't really pick up steam until Ukraine became more relevant on the national stage following the Russian invasion of Crimea and the current war. By this point, most news outlets and state departments have adopted Kyiv and the other spellings as correct. Going back in time, Kyiv has traditionally been thought to be named after its legendary founder Kiy, but similar to the Rome-Romulus situation, this is probably folk etymology. More likely, it's from a local word meaning something like "stick" or "club," but that's uncertain.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.