According to historians, the city was named after two old men who were tasked with finding a location where a city could be built for gold prospectors. These two shared the same common Dutch name, Johannes. The name “Johan” was a popular Dutch name for males.
It is believed that the city was named after Johann Rissik, the first clerk in the office of the surveyor-general, Christiaan Johannes Joubert, the Vice President of the Transvaal Republic, and a third man, Johannes Petrus Meyer, who was a farmer known by the president of the time, Paul Kruger. Meyer was also believed to be associated with the area long before the gold rush. President Kruger, also bearing Johannes as a second name, made a decision to name the city after the popular name.
Here’s a historical look at some of the Johannesburg neighborhoods names and how they got them.
Soweto is home to over 1 million people, approximately 40% of Johannesburg’s population. It was home to popular struggle stalwarts Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The township got its name in 1963 after William Carr, a chairperson of non-European affairs, initiated a competition for naming the townships located in the South-west region of Johannesburg. One of the suggestions from those who participated in the competition included KwaMpanza, meaning Mpanza’s place, after James Mpanza led the first land invasion of the area and brought in about 20,000 people. However, the city council settled on Soweto, an acronym for “south west townships”. The name became internationally known after the June 16, 1976 student uprisings, where students marched against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools, and state police responded with violence.
Braamfontein, located north of the Johannesburg city centre, got its name as early as the year 1853. Braamfontein, meaning blackberry fountain, was the name of Gert Bezuidenhout’s farm, located north-west of Randjeslaagte. While still keeping the name, a suburb was eventually established on the farm between 1888 and 1889. The suburb was officially included as an extension to the city of Johannesburg during this time. Braamfontein is also home to the University of the Witwatersrand. Before being transferred to Johannesburg as the Transvaal Technical Institute in 1904, the university was originally established in Kimberley in the Northern Cape Province as the South African School of Mines in 1896. Full university status was granted in 1922.
Today, Braamfontein is the seat of the City of Johannesburg’s local government. Additionally, it is a commercially and culturally diverse business district with a mix of student accommodation, office blocks, hotels, retails outlets, and restaurants.
Saxonwold is one of Johannesburg’s oldest suburbs, as well as one of the city’s most affluent areas. According to historians, the suburb was a farm bought by Hermann Eckstein to explore for minerals. It was eventually converted to a timber plantation in 1891 after Eckstein failed to find any minerals, and was renamed Sachsenwald. The area was then Anglicized at the beginning of World War I, and the area was renamed Saxonwold. The area attracted a lot of tycoons who became rich as a result of the gold rush, and built impressive mansions as a show of their wealth. These mansions can still be seen in the area today.
Places of interest near and in Saxonwold include the Johannesburg Zoo and Zoo Lake, as well as the South African National War Museum.
Hyde Park is one of the city’s wealthiest suburbs located in the Sandton district. It is named after London’s prestigious Hyde Park area, and enjoys the same reputation. The suburb is reminiscent of the tycoons who boomed as a result of the gold rush, building mansions and lining streets with the popular Jacaranda trees. It was declared a residential area in 1955, and maintained its elite residents.
Hyde Park is home to the affluent Hyde Park Corner mall, which is home to international designer stores such as Alexander McQueen, Giorgio Armani, and Cartier.
Being home to Sandton central, the richest square mile in Africa, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and a variety of multinational companies, Sandton is known as South Africa’s business hub, as well as an affluent area.
It was home to the San people who built an economy on metalwork and agriculture. Voortrekker settlers moved into the area in 1843 after Britain annexed Natal, and a well-known family named the Esterhuysens, occupied a farm named Sandfontein. The area continued to grow as more people moved from rural areas to Johannesburg, as a result of the mining industry. The name Sandton was formed in 1969 through combining the names Sandfontein, Bryanston, and Sandown. The latter two were the surrounding suburbs during that time.
Carletonville is located in Johannesburg’s West Rand region, and it is one of the principal mining regions that is still active today. The area boomed in the 1930s with the discovery of rich gold deposits.
Carletonville was named after engineer, Guy Carleton Jones, who was a principal player in the discovery of the West Wits gold field. He worked at the Gold Fields Ltd mining company, which decided to establish the area as a town in 1946, calling it Carletonville.
Germiston is a city in the East Rand region of Johannesburg. It got its name from two gold prospectors: John Jack from the farm of Germiston near Glasgow, and August Simmer from Vacha in Germany. The men made a fortune from gold mining. By 1921, the world’s largest gold refinery, the Rand Refinery, was established at Germiston.
Germiston is the seat of the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality which includes much of the East Rand. Notable people from the area include anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, as well as golfer Ernie Els.
Rosebank is a cosmopolitan and upmarket suburb in the northwestern part of Johannesburg. It was once a farm known as Rosemill Orchards, which was owned by Mr Lorenco. Plots in the area were sold by auctioneer Richard Currie in 1896, and from 1919, the City Council renamed the streets and area in honour of British Admirals of World War I. The main road that runs through the area, Oxford Road, was named after the popular British university, Oxford.
Rosebank is Johannesburg’s second largest business district, and it also houses the popular upmarket mall, The Zone@Rosebank.
Mogale City, formerly known as Krugersdorp
Mogale City is located in Johannesburg’s West Rand region. It is home to the popular paleontological tourist site, the Cradle of Humankind.
The area was first inhabited by the Po people of the Batswana clan under the rulership of Chief Mogale. It is believed that the chief ruled over a kingdom of miners and traders of gold who had an influence as far-reaching as Egypt.
The region’s stability was first disrupted by the invasion of Mzilikazi kaMashobane, a general under King Shaka’s Zulu Kingdom, who wanted to established his own kingdom in the 1820s. Further destabilization was brought on by the Voortrekkers in 1830, who wanted to establish their own land outside of the British administration. The Voortrekkers, under the leadership of Paul Kruger, eventually drove off Mzilikazi and his kingdom. They later established the area as their own and named it Krugersdorp, meaning ‘Kruger’s Town’, after Paul Kruger. The area’s importance and wealth grew from the gold rush; in 1888, Krugersdorp was proclaimed a separate gold field.
Parktown is one of Johannesburg’s largest suburbs. It is also known as the Parks, for it consists of Parkhurst, Parktown North, Forest Town, Westcliff, Parkwood, and Parkview.
It was established by the Randlords (entrepreneurs who controlled the gold and diamond mining industries of South Africa during the early stages of the industries until World War I), who turned the formerly known Braamfontein Farm into an elite residential area of mansions and beautiful lawns.
The area still maintains its affluence and signature style of avenues lined with Jacaranda and Plane trees. It is home to three schools, including the University of the Witwatersrand, which is namely a medical school, the Wits Business School, and the education campus. It is also home to the popular Four Seasons Hotel in Westcliff.