Municipal Name, City Crest/Coat of Arms

Municipal Name, City Crest/Coat of Arms

How St. John’s was named
St. John’s Crest/Coat of Arms

How St. John’s was named

How St. John’s received its name is a mystery open to much dispute, and there are several theories. 

A popular theory is that John Cabot named St. John’s as a result of visiting the port on St. Jean the Baptist Day on June 24, 1497. However, given evidence that Cabot made landfall in Bonavista on that day it is unlikely the source of the name.

The most likely source is credited to Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real, who first visited Newfoundland in 1500. The earliest record of the place name appears on a Portuguese map by Rienel, 1519, as Rio de San Johem. It is believed Corte-Real or one of his contemporaries named the now Waterford River, St. John’s River. Hence the ‘s in the name.

Sixteenth century nomenclature:

Year Name Attribution
1519 Rio de San Johem Rienel
1527 Haven of St. John Rut
1546 Sam Johem Freire
1555 Sainct Johan Le Testu
1578 St. John’s Parkhurst
1583 St. John’s Hayes
1610 S. Jones Velasco
1620 Saint Johns Mason
1588-1622 St. John’s Whitbourne
1680 St. Ieans Harbour Visscher
1689 St. John’s Harbour Thorton

It appears Parkhurst was the first to record the common spelling. He was an English Merchant who made four voyages to Newfoundland in the 1570's.

There is also possibility its name was given by one of the early English mariners. Not far from where Cabot sailed from in England, is the Church of St. John the Baptist, known as St. John’s-on-the-Wall. It was in or on the old quay from the Church to Froom Gate, the dock used by Cabot and others who sailed to Newfoundland around 1500. Many of the sailors on those early vessels likely came from the British parish of St. John’s and they may have named it for their home parish.

Another theory comes from Judge G.R.F. Prowse, a noted historian. Prowse theorized that Cabot called his landfall the Isle of St. John’s in commemoration of the feast day on which it was discovered. Prowse concluded the name St. John’s Isle became associated with an indefinite part of the east coast of Newfoundland and maintained that it would have been known as the "harbour of St. John’s Island.” This would account for the possessive form St. John’s instead of St. John.
Based on excerpts from the book: O’Neill, Paul. (1975). The Oldest City, The Story of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Erin, Ontario: Press Porcepic. 
St. John’s Crest/Coat of Arms 
The coat of arms of the City of St. John’s was granted on March 1, 1965. 
Official Crest description

Gules a Paschal Lamb proper between two chief Escallops Argent a Chief of the last charged with an ancient Ship sail set pennon and flag flying upon Water Barry wavy proper And for the Crest Issuant from a Mural Crown or a Rocky Mountain Sable thereon a Lion passant or between two Roses Gules each charged with another Argent barbed seeded slipped and leaved proper, Mantled Gules, doubled Argent. On either side a male figure the dexter habited as a Mariner of the Fifteenth Century holding an Escroll Argent inscribed thereon the numerals 1497 Sable and the sinister habited as a Mariner of the late Sixteenth Century holding a like Escroll inscribed 1583.
Memorial University of Newfoundland interpretation

The saint after which the city is named is symbolized on the shield by the lamb, carrying a banner bearing St. George’s Cross, and scalloped shells. The ship, sailing on waves at the top of the shield, refers to the province’s early discoverers and explorers. The shield is supported on the left by a mariner of the fifteenth century bearing the year the island was discovered by Cabot. The supporter on the right is a mariner of the late sixteenth century, bearing the date 1583 - the year Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed the island for England. The stone wall of the crest stands for civic authority, while the lion and roses refer back to the city’s British heritage. "Avancez" or "advance", the City’s motto, can be seen at the base of the coat of arms.