What does the word ‘Manchester’ actually mean?

Even if you do have a vague idea about its origins, there's a good chance you don't know the full story behind it.

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 3rd September 2021


A global powerhouse of a city that’s instantly-recognisable for its rich industrial and historical background, its impressive architecture, vast cultural landscape, musical exports, media links, scientific and engineering output, social impact, sports clubs, famous faces, transport connections, and so much more.

Not to mention, it’s also home to a growing population of more than 2.8 million people – the best people in the world, we might add.

But what does the word Manchester actually mean?

And how often do Mancunians genuinely stop to have a think about where our city’s name comes from?


Our guess is probably very rarely.

Perhaps it’s a thought that pops into your head once every blue moon (or red moon, if you’re from that side of town), but you never think to act on finding out the answer, and then before you know it, you’ve forgotten about the thought entirely and you end up carrying on with your life none the wiser.


Even if you do have a vague idea about its origins, there’s a good chance you don’t know the full story behind it, so let’s get the the bottom of it then, shall we?

The history of the Manchester name began during the Roman conquest of Britain.

If we’re explaining it in simple terms, it all started when a simple timber fort – constructed to help defeat a local Celtic tribe named the Brigantes – was built sometime between AD 78-86 on a rocky outcrop at the place where the River Irwell and River Medlock met.


This fort was then rebuilt in stone at the beginning of the third century and was given the Latinate name Mamucium (also known as Mancunium).

Mamucium means ‘place of the breast-like hill’, and was named for the mound on which it stood.

While these names are generally thought to represent a Latinisation of the original Brittonic word mamm – meaning ‘breast’ – and have become known as the accepted etymology for Manchester, more recent work does however suggest that it could come from mamma – meaning ‘mother’ – which is in reference to a local river goddess.

The ‘place of the breast-like hill’ definition is the first reference of occupation of the area, although the fort and small village that sprung up beside that breast-shaped sandstone bluff are understood to have been abandoned after the fourth century, with the next settlement being situated just a mile away at the site where Manchester Cathedral now stands on Victoria Street in the city centre.

It didn’t quite end there though, as the evolution of the settlement continued over the centuries, with the Anglo-Saxons changing the fort’s name to Mameceastre in 1086.


This is believed to have come from the Old English word ceaster – which means a ‘Roman fortification / Roman town or city’ and itself being loanword from the Latin castra, also meaning ‘fort or fortified town’ – which you may also recognise as being similar to the name of the nearby city of Chester.

And as the years went by and the usage became more frequent and widespread, the name Mameceastre gradually evolved to be known as the name we so proudly use today – Manchester.

But what about the adjective to describe the city’s brilliant people?

Well, this one’s a little easier to work out.

The word has directly evolved from the medieval Latin form of the place-name, Mancunium, with linguists and historians believing ‘Mancunian’ was most likely a neologism (new word) coined in the Victorian times, before eventually being shortened to Manc

So, there you have it.