San Francisco, Сан-Франциско in Russian, is a Spanish name meaning "Saint Francis".

The Сан in the city name is a direct phonetic adoption, but the Франциско differs from the Spanish in the inclusion of the ц. It seems to me that with modern transliteration norms the city's name would be spelled Сан-Франсиско.

Perhaps the ц came from the Italian name of the saint himself, Francesco d'Assisi, already adopted as Франциск Ассизский. Still, at least for the modern Italian pronunciation, a Ч seems a better match than the ц.

How did the ц get into these names?

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    Pronunciation of c in Romance changed over time, in Spain it's more like theta. The convention to use ts is common to Central and Eastern Europe, it's not peculiar to Russian. Eg German Zentrum. And not peculiar to this word, eg соцсети. It probably started when prescriptive Latin pronunciations were favoured over vulgar Italian, let alone Latin American ones. Now convention stuck. We likewise will use r for French r and Portuguese r even though their pronunciations have shifted far away. Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 20:10
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    One exception to this was the decision to use г for h eg Гамбург and in hindsight it was a big mistake. Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 20:15
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    @A.M.Bittlingmayer Maybe this was influenced by southwestern russian dialects which indeed have h for г? They'll not see any problem here.
    – alamar
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 13:52
  • @alamar Yes, something like that. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 10:11

1 Answer 1


As you can notice nobody calls in Russian Francesco d'Assisi Франческо д'Ассизи - and I'm not saying this in ironical way. For instance, Leonardo da Vinci is indeed called Леонардо да Винчи. The thing is that traditions of transliterating names are not straightforward - some names are transliterated more or less at they "are", some names - do not.

This holds true even for the name originally coming from the same source language. For instance, in Russian we refer French kings named Henri as Генрих though actually one rather can expect them to be named Анри. The same with Карл - who quite often were actually Charles (Шарль).

At the same time we have Эркюль Пуаро, not Геркулес Пуаро. Or Артюр Рембо, but not Артур Рембо.

This is because names of some historical persons come for us through some other mediator language. In case of Карл and Генрих it obviously was German.

In case of Франциск it was actually Latin - in Latin it's Franciscus - strictly speaking we don't know for sure how ci is supposed to be read in Latin. In fact, even in modern Italian to my knowledge there are some dialects where c in ci is pronounced rather as /t͡s/ than /tɕ/. There are different traditions of pronouncing Latin words - one of them to pronounce сi as /t͡si/ - and this is actually a German tradition of Latin pronunciation. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia article dedicated to this issue:

enter image description here

Historically German school of pronunciation of Latin words was widely adopted in Russia. This how San Francisco ended to be Сан-Франциско in Russian. It comes from that times when even Francis Drake who's now Френсис Дрейк was referred as: enter image description here

  • Great answer, shabunc. Can you share any insight into why the word "Saint" was kept in Spanish while the man's name was adopted in Russified form?
    – user8359
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 16:16
  • @AaronBrick thanks. Well, my guess would be that "Сан" prefix was already pretty known and accepted up to the moment Сан-Франциско was first mentioned in Russian. For some other cities you can find evidence of using Санктъ where we now use - (Санктъ-Яго, Санктъ-Елена) - but to my knowledge Сан-Франциско was always Сан-Франциско
    – shabunc
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 16:56
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    wow. wrt Санктъ-Яго, now i've seen it all (and i used to live in Сантьяго).
    – user8359
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 18:27
  • Геркулес Пуаро - а вот где-то я видел именно так :-D
    – Arioch
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 17:17
  • I believe he is always ФрЭнсис Дрейк, not ФрЕнсис.
    – se0808
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 20:58

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