The Arab village of al-Majdal or al-Majdal Asqalan (Arabic: المجدل; Hebrew: אל-מג'דל, מגדל), was established a few kilometres inland from the ancient site by the late 15th century, under Ottoman rule. In 1918, it became part of the British Occupied Enemy Territory Administration and in 1920 became part of Mandatory Palestine. Al-Majdal on the eve of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War had 10,000 Arab inhabitants and in October 1948, the city accommodated thousands more refugees from nearby villages. Al-Majdal was the forward position of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force based in Gaza. The village was conquered by Israeli forces on 5 November 1948, by which time most of the Arab population had fled, leaving some 2,700 inhabitants, of which 500 were deported by Israeli soldiers in December 1948. The town was initially named Migdal Gaza, Migdal Gad and Migdal Ashkelon by the new Jewish inhabitants. Most of the remaining Arabs were deported by 1950.
In 1953, the nearby neighborhood of Afridar was incorporated and the name "Ashkelon" was readopted to the town. By 1961, Ashkelon was ranked 18th among Israeli urban centers with a population of 24,000. In 2017 the population of Ashkelon was 137,945.
The name Ashkelon is probably western Semitic, and might be connected to the root š-q-l ("to weigh" from a Semitic root ṯql, akin to Hebrew šāqalשָקַל or Arabic θiqlثِقْل "weight") perhaps attesting to its importance as a center for mercantile activities. Scallion and shallot are derived from Ascalonia, the Latin name for Ashkelon.