Why is Melbourne also Called Naarm? [Here’s What I Found]


Before I start this piece, I want to acknowledge the Yalukit-Willam people who are the traditional custodians of the land I live on and on which I am writing this article today. I pay respect to their elders past, present and future for the wisdom they have passed down for thousands of generations.

I grew up spending a lot of time in South Africa and saw that through the reconciliation process there, many were places changed back to their traditional names. The Travsvaal became Gauteng, the Eastern Transvaal became Mpumalanga and even though it hadn’t been officially renamed, I often saw references to Pretoria being Tshwane.

I am surprised then that after four years of living in Melbourne, the first time I heard a reference to the aboriginal name of Naarm was less than a week ago. And I found it not through a news article, a sign or a conversation, but on searching for questions about Melbourne on which to write for this website.

So on that discovery, I decided to do the research myself.

I produce this piece without pretending to be an expert in Australian history or aboriginal culture, but through curiosity about the history of the name Naarm and why it gets so rarely used. If I make mistakes or am unintentionally insensitive at any point I am happy to be corrected, but I thought others may also be interested to learn about what I found.

So here it is, everything I’ve learned about Naarm and Melbourne.

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Why is Melbourne also Called Naarm?

Naarm is the indigenous name for the area we now know as Melbourne – or at least the CBD part of Melbourne.

It was the original name given to a small part of the Port Phillip area area by the original people of the lands here.

The name is thought originally to have come from the Boonwurrung tribe who covered the area from around the shoreline of north and east Port Phillip and all the way out to Gippsland.

It is often attributed to the Woiwurrung people who originally signed the treaty with John Batman, as their territory covers what would now be Melbourne CBD, with the border between the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung people round about St Kilda.

I’ve read that Indigenous Australians prefer the mentioning of “Kulin Nation” or “Gunditjmara Land” as it acknowledges the tribes who were displaced and are traditional owners. It also sounds better, “Melbourne, Kulin Nation, Victoria, Australia.”

READ NEXT: The Best Things To Do in Melbourne (From a Local)

How is Naarm Pronounced?

Naarm is pronounced how you would expect it to be from the spelling, though it the two ‘aa’s seem to get elongated so it feels a bit more like Naaaarm when spoken.

The video above gives an example of the pronunciation at the end.

Why are there Different Spellings of Naarm?

several hollow log coffin made by aboriginal people inside ian potter centre ngv australia in melbourne
Several Hollow log coffin made by aboriginal people inside Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia in Naarm/Melbourne

The aboriginal languages were purely spoken, with few written records. When European settlers arrived, some were captured using western characters, but this led to multiple spellings of the same words.

Naarm has also been recorded as Narrm, Nairm, Nerm, or Neerim all of which could be pronounced very similarly.

Because the languages were oral, not written, there is technically no correct spelling, but Naarm has become the most common.

Naarm and the AFL

During the 2022 season, the Melbourne Football Club (nickname the Demons) renamed their club to Naarm Football Club during the Indigenous Round, which has been played annually since 2016.

The club consulted with the local Wurundjeri Worwurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation ahead of the move and released limited-edition merchandise for the round.

What is Naarmcore?

why is melbourne also called naarm?

During my research, I found lots of references to ‘Naarmcore’.

Naarmcore is a mix of the words ‘Naarm’ and ‘Normcore’, which is a style of dress that intentionally involves unremarkable or unfashionable clothes.

It became a trend on TikTok with Melbourne creators using it to describe their fashion sense but got a backlash from Indigenous groups for appropriating the word without any reference to the people who used it.

Where Does the Name Melbourne Come From?

naarm melbourne cbd 1

The European name Melbourne, was chosen by Queen Victoria (after who the state is named) in honour of the Second Viscount Melbourne who was the British Prime Minister at the time.

There is an almost unbelievable truth though that Melbourne was nearly named ‘Batman’ after John Batman, the founder of the modern city of Melbourne.

FIND OUT MORE FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT VICTORIA: 30 Interesting & Unusual Facts About Victoria

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AUTHOR – BEN REEVE

Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.

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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie

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Patrick MGhee
1 year ago

Lived in melbourne for nearly 3 decades and never herd the term Naarm. Another fictitous re3writing of history, Who made this up!!!

6 months ago

Well written Ben. I personally think it’s great to see more acknowledgement of traditional custodians by appropriate use of names and language. I live on Yalukit Willam land and have been trying to identify what the traditional custodians called their settlement at Point Cook. I use Naarm as the location for my business in my social profiles but would love to know the original name for the important encampment and trading place.

Josie
1 month ago
Reply to  Patrick MGhee

Hand drawn map circa 1830’s showing traditional names: Map of Lost Place Names for Port Phillip | PROV

Rick
2 months ago

OK, not to nit pick, but it is the Melbourne Football Club, not clan… Just as it is Melbourne, not Naarm. Naarm may have been the name for the area they hunted and lived in, yes, but has nothing to do with the city of Melbourne. Melbourne is NOT an Aboriginal City – there was never an Aboriginal settlement here before the city was founded. Additionally, to the Kulin, who were transient Hunter Gatherers, never built or used permanent settlement. And before the comments come in citing Bruce Pascoe, he is not a real Aboriginal, let alone reliable historian. He… Read more »

Tony
2 months ago
Reply to  Rick

I wholeheartedly agree with what you said Rick. We have to move forward and not constantly look back. The denying of, or rewriting of history, is a negative approach to us all living together in this beautiful country.

Josie
1 month ago

Good on you Ben for sharing this information. I am surprised that it is not more well known and also at some of the comments here. Every major city has an equivalent Traditional Place Name not just Naarm. Australia Post even acknowledges and posts mail addressed to the Traditional Place Name. More information about the name and history is available here: Naarm: exploring the Traditional Place name of Melbourne – Australia Post (auspost.com.au)