Ancient Greek, the name of the city was Ἀθῆναι (Athēnai, pronounced
Classical Attic) a plural. In earlier Greek, such as
Homeric Greek, the name had been current in the singular form though, as Ἀθήνη (Athēnē).
 It was possibly rendered in the plural later on, like those of Θῆβαι (
Thêbai) and Μυκῆναι (
Μukênai). The root of the word is perhaps not of Greek or
Indo-European origin, and is a possible remnant of the
Pre-Greek substrate of Attica,
 as could be the name of the goddess
Attic Ἀθηνᾶ, Athēnā,
Ionic Ἀθήνη, Athēnē, and
Doric Ἀθάνα, Athānā), that was always related to the city of Athens. During the medieval period the name of the city was rendered once again in the singular as Ἀθήνα. However, after the establishment of the modern Greek state, and partly due to the conservatism of the written language, Ἀθῆναι
[aˈθine] became again the official name of the city and remained so until the abandonment of
Katharevousa in the 1970s, when Ἀθήνα, Athína, became the official name.
etiological myth explaining how Athens has acquired its name was well known among ancient Athenians and even became the theme of the sculpture on the West pediment of the
Parthenon. The goddess of wisdom,
Athena, and the god of the seas,
Poseidon had many disagreements and battles between themselves, and one of these was a race to be the Patron God of the city. In an attempt to compel the people, Poseidon created a salt water
spring by striking the ground with his trident, symbolizing
naval power. However, when Athena created the
olive tree, symbolizing
prosperity, the Athenians, under their ruler
Cecrops, accepted the olive tree and named the city after Athena.
Different etymologies, now commonly rejected, were proposed during the 19th century.
Christian Lobeck proposed as the root of the name the word ἄθος (áthos) or ἄνθος (ánthos) meaning "flower", to denote Athens as the "flowering city".
Ludwig von Döderlein proposed the stem of the verb θάω, stem θη- (tháō, thē-, "to suck") to denote Athens as having fertile soil.
In classical literature, the city was sometimes referred to as the
City of the Violet Crown, first documented in Pindar's ἰοστέφανοι Ἀθᾶναι (iostéphanoi Athânai), or as τὸ κλεινὸν ἄστυ (tò kleinòn ásty, "the glorious city"). In medieval texts, variant names include Setines, Satine, and Astines, all derivations involving
false splitting of prepositional phrases.
 Today the caption η πρωτεύουσα (ī protévousa), "the capital", has become somewhat common.